We are reminded every day that we live in an imperfect world. We see tragedy and comedy. We see crime and good deeds. We see war and peace. You get the picture. We are all impacted by this imperfection in different ways. I'm not directly impacted by war, or crime, or poverty, but I am impacted by discrimination.
This topic has come up more than ever recently. It seems like every day I am viewed or judged to be a little girl in some form or fashion. Yes, I am short. Yes, I am very young-looking. Yes, my voice is a little higher-pitched than normal. I'm pretty sure that I have to "defend" myself more than the average woman.
Who am I really? Well, my name is Rachel, I am 26 soon to be 27 years old, I'm college-educated, I'm bilingual, I have a great job, I'm pursuing a professional designation, I'm athletic, I'm sit on a couple of boards, et cetera.
Who am I taken to be? A cute, perhaps 21 or 22 year old girl. Not too long ago, a woman at my gym thought I was 15. I laughed at her comment because she is very sweet and wasn't being offensive. But it's things like that that seem to happen every day that remind me of how I appear to others.
The other day I had a meeting at work which involved two coworkers and a guy from a local company here in Louisville. The guy was around 40, very attractive, seemed pretty smart, etc. I didn't say much during the meeting because it was involving a project with which I am not yet too familiar. Post-meeting, one of my coworkers was walking this guy out and I hear the guy say, "How about that cutie pie you've got here?" talking about me. I avoided his gaze and quickly moved up the stairs.
I was talking to a new client on the phone the other day who I have not met in person yet and he admitted that when he first heard my voice he thought I was fresh out of high school. I talk to plenty of people on the phone daily and get my fair share of "sweeties" and "honeys." I WILL say that one time I told a customer, "Please do not call me sweetie, my name is Rachel, thank you," and hung up the phone. The next time we talked he was extremely polite so that brave moment paid off.
I could go on for a while with stories like those, stories that frustrate me to no end. I am a book, and I am being judged by my cover. I suppose that we are all judged by our covers, but some have more advantageous ones than others. Are you a man? Advantage. Are you tall? Advantage. Are you trim? Advantage.
Recently I was talking to a friend who is in medical school. This friend was on a psychiatry rotation and was talking to a girl who was very upset because she did not think herself pretty. My friend handed this girl a magazine and told her to point to every person in the magazine that she found attractive, and she pointed to nearly all of them. My friend had her do this exercise because his point was that being attractive is a common quality, and if being attractive is so common, you've got to set yourself apart by what's inside. You're pretty or you're handsome, so what? What else you got? I thought his way of interacting with the patient was pretty unique and clever and that story has stuck with me.
How can I apply that to my own life? If being pretty, being cute, or looking like a teenager is the only thing that seems to speak to strangers or new acquaintances, how can I change that? How can I stop others from thinking that that's all there is to Rachel? Is it possible?
Yes and no. I inherited this baby face and I think it's here to stay. Accepting my youthful look might be a lifelong battle although I will probably appreciate it in the future. However, I know one way that I could potentially work the system and that is by being more assertive. Growing up, I was pretty shy and passive. It's hard to break old habits, but in the past couple of years I've really stepped up being assertive. Whether it's defending myself or forcing myself to share an opinion, stepping out of my comfort zone is scary but it is reaps rewards. Being assertive isn't being aggressive - it's about being honest. I found this quote from an article: "Assertiveness is a way to get your needs met without offending others. It is so powerful, yet no one is hurt. That does not mean that people will not at first reject your new found assertiveness. However, if they do, they will eventually respect you, because real assertiveness involves both respect for yourself and the other person."
I suppose that my "need" is for people to take me seriously. I don't want to be taken seriously all the time because I love joking around, but that initial respect is what I crave. Again, we live in an imperfect world and I know that I may have to deal with gender (and youthful?) discrimination for the rest of my life. But I want to rise above the frustration that I feel. By being honest and showing respect for others, I think I might be able to win over those who think I am just a cute face.
Have a great week - rise above!