The concept of empowerment, and especially female empowerment, has been hijacked in recent years by debates about female nudity, or clothing in general. When Kim Kardashian got her boobs out boobs out on Twitter a couple of years ago, it triggered a debate about whether or not she was a feminist hero or someone to be shamed, pitied or burnt at the stake. Kim claims what she did was ‘empowering’. Now some may argue that with all her naked selfies and plastic surgery Kim is actually having some self-esteem issues, but I am not her therapist. And to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she is feeling empowered, and if so, well good for her.
A disempowering world
But what about the majority of people who want to feel empowered, without having to agonise over whether or not to get semi-naked on Twitter? We live in a disempowering world. We’ve got more pressures on us than ever to do well in all aspects of life; at work, in our relationships, our social life; but because of the demands of a consumerist society we’re also expected to look perfect, have the perfect body, own the right things, drive the right car, go on the right holidays and always be in the pinnacle of good health; it can be draining.
If you think about what the average person has to deal with on a daily basis, there really is no surprise that we’re feeling so disempowered. Firstly we have multiple industries trying to sell us things (many of which we don’t need) to make us feel better about ourselves. In order to do this they need us to first feel bad about ourselves, so we will buy their products that promise to make us feel good.
Then we have television, films and magazines giving us a glossy, edited, Hollywood filtered version of what life looks like. Even attempting to live up to such standards is a recipe for disaster as the reality is so distorted as soon as we examine it in any detail it is laughable (take any post-apocalyptic disaster movie and notice the women are still diligently shaving body hair). The subconscious mind is constantly paying attention so even if you’re conscious mind snorts in derision at the image of the Hollywood character running through the jungle with perfect hair and makeup, or the girl flicking her shiny hair on the shampoo advert, thanks to being shown on average 200 images like these a day, our subconscious mind is drip fed until we can’t help but feel just that little bit bad about ourselves.
Social media can be another drain on how empowered we feel. The nature of the beast means we only ever see the highlights of other people’s lives, which can make us feel as if we are somehow falling behind, that everyone else is doing better, achieving more – even eating better brunches than us. This bombardment of apparent joyful “otherness” is at best irritating, and at worse totally disempowering.
So how can we feel empowered in a world that constantly brings us down? There is a central process that needs to be understood: empowerment is an internal process and not an external one. Meditating (literally or figuratively) on what really makes you tick, what makes you feel confident and powerful, even if it doesn’t fit in with all the “should’s” and “should be’s”. What you want and what makes you happy?
Being told not to compare yourself with others is useless ,as there is an element of tribal connection we feel from “fitting in”. Forming strong social bonds involves a degree of judgement and comparison so we make healthy decisions about whom we want to bond with and how. If you watch young children forming social bonds, they often copy one another to build rapport.
Subsequently we will always be at risk of being brought down by other people, of being pulled and pushed by the media and capitalism, none of that is ever going to go away. The only thing we can do in the face of everything trying to disempower us is strengthen ourselves at our very core. Imagine you’re like a ship on the sea, you cannot control the elements but you can control how well you sail, and how strongly you have tightened your ropes.
Tightening the ropes
How you do this of course is up to you, perhaps you already have things in your life you know make you feel more empowered, where you can totally be yourself and make those self-enquiries. Perhaps you do yoga or meditate or go running or dance or write or paint. Time where you can really connect and converse with yourself.
Perhaps you don’t have such a practice yet, but even spending a few minutes each day to still your mind or connect with nature can start the process of self-reflection and enquiry that leads to building that inner strength, and filter to toxic forces as you become more aware of what serves your power and what is there to disempower you. Like fine tuning an ariel.
It can also be really useful to encourage your self-enquiry by seeing a therapist or coach to support you in your empowerment journey. Anything that promotes self-enquiry helps with empowerment. Empowerment is a life-long process rather than a goal – the road itself and not the destination. But one thing is certain; in this world of disempowering forces, making the decision to empower yourself through self-enquiry and self-love, is one of the most radical things that any of us can do, even more radical than getting your boobs out on Twitter.