Wandering Through Nothingness

A Little Something from Molly Barker

The Naked Face Project: My Last Post, April 21, 2012

Well…as some of you have noted, I’ve not mentioned the Naked Face Project lately.   I think I’m basically just done with it.  As a matter of fact I have felt a kind of “pushing away” of it and am ready now to continue (and pursure more opportunities) to cultivate a world where every girl and woman recognizes and activates her limitless potential and knows the joy of being!

While I had NO idea the media frenzy and or reach the experiment would have, I am personally very glad I did it.  The three major outcomes for me go a lil’ something like this:

1.)  The spirit-me…you know that one that was here before my body was born and the one that will be here after my body dies…is at last crazy in love with being human. I think for most of my life I have felt an internal conflict…a conflict I couldn’t have named, but I just know it felt like a tug-o-war competition.  The ego me and the spirit me were in constant pull and push mode to see who would win.   This experiment opened my eyes to the incredible joy possible because I AM able to experience WHO and WHAT I am through the human experience.  For those of you not “getting” what I’m saying, might I suggest a great author Eckhart Tolle.  I’ve read his books for years, but in the last several weeks have really understood, at a much richer level, the content of his work.   My yoga practice has also become a much more joyful experience.  The precepts of yoga are very much wrapped around the notion of finding JOY.  The spirit-me can only know of its existence through the consciousness provided in this human experience.  How awesome to have a body, my senses, ways to communicate, my thoughts, nature, relationships, pleasure…all the “things” that come because the spirit-me is on this fabulous, rich and joyful human journey.

Interestingly…how this has shown up…has been having a more light hearted approach toward my body and my appearance.  The first thing I purchased, many people were surprised to know, was a colorful pair of high heeled shoes.   I’ve also purchased more colorful clothing and jewelry.    I’ve recognized that in the past I’ve had a more “puritan” approach toward expressing myself physically and am enjoying the color, the fun and the light-heartedness of sharing the joy of ME through how I show up physically.  This is not to say that the joy of being ME can’t be communicated through other ways besides appearance…of course it can…but now, I’m also getting a kick out of showing up with more color both in spirit and in personality!

A fabtastic group of girls, in Bentonville, AR gave me this tutu. They run in these during their Girls on the Run 5k. I promised them I would take my picture in it at the airport gate. Here's the proof!

2.)  I’ve  become a lot more open about the complexities of figuring out “how to be a our full spirit-selves” in a world that uses words/labels to distinguish who we are…words like woman, mother, wife, founder, runner, athlete, leader…have all been used to describe me.   I’ve learned that I remain the same no matter what “role” I’m playing.  I always hope that my authenticity shows up first and foremost…but in order for what I have to say and what I wish to experience with another human to be at its fullest capacity, I must be aware that how I show up phsyically, does have an impact. In the past I would have seen this as a negative…there’s that tug-o-war going on again between the spirit self and the human one…but now I see this as a gift.  Showing up human and having the opportunity to experience YOU…is awesome…and showing up and having the opportunity to experience ME is AWESOME  too.  Using HOW I show up to further share the spirit of me with you is fun, celebratory and down-right joyful.

3.)  I’m laughing a lot more and certainly less judgmental.  I’m sure this will ebb and flow, but I have to say…and I’m not sure why (any takers want to chime in on this, go for it in the comment section), I’m no longer judgmental, at all, of someone’s appearance, how they show up, their bodies, their clothing.  It’s all gone.  All of it.  There are as many “reasons” for why women and men choose to dress the way they do, opt for plastic surgery, not opt for plastic surgery, wear lots of makeup, don’t wear any makeup, as there are people.  I realize that in the past I was filtering my own internal conflict on the subject through the decisions others had made in regards to their own physicality.

My desire now is to encourage every girl and woman…heck, every person…to lean into their joy and where they find it.  When she, you and I are emmersed in what brings us joy, the spirit-self is fully engaged and the “how we look” in that moment no longer matters…at all.  I want to hang out THERE, with her, you, US!

This is why I so love the work I do.  Standing at the finish line of any Girls on the Run 5k…I am FILLED TO THE BRIM with joy.  I am present, alive and BEING…and it is in each moment in THAT space where everything else truly slips away.

This will be my last public post on the topic.  I have noticed that when I am one-on-one or in small groups of women, they are fascinated by the experiment and want to ask a lot of questions as well as share their own views on it.  I think this is because it is a far more complex issue than it may appear on the surface and it really fires up THE conversation between how we navigate this human experience as the joyful, light-filled and radiant spirits we are.

I am more than happy to converse with anyone on the topic privately now, but do find that I no longer want to discuss the topic publicly.  I want to spend more time in the space of my joy…and that’s conversing with you on a more intimate and authentic level…spending time with the girls in our program and breathing in this delicious world around me.

Namaste ya’ll… and this time I really mean it.

8 Comments »

Language and the Big Pink Bow

Alright…so go with me on this.

When we are just little babies, we obviously don’t know words.  So…our parents escort us into the world of words by pointing at a variety of objects and naming them for us.

“Look at this Molly.  This is a chair.”  The dutiful parent points to the chair and says the word “chair” several times over and over.

Eventually, a child begins to repeat the word (or something close to it) and the power of words now becomes one of many ways we communicate within the human context.

Words are wonderful.  They allow us to share our thoughts with one another.  I can visually see something in my mind’s eye and then share that image with you through words.  “Remember Helen, when we laughed so hard at that conference that I nearly had soda come out of my nose?”  (Nice visual, uh?)  Shoot, even now as I write I can start to feel the giggle come up within me.

Words are also very powerful.  They carry a lot of energy.  When I say the words “a mother” a whole spectrum of additional words as well as images can come up…as varied possibly as there are people in the world.  So take a minute.  Say out loud the words you associate with the words “a mother.”  Perhaps jot them down on a piece of paper.

To demonstrate how powerful words can be, now say “My Mother” and see what words come up.  If you are going with me on this little journey, write the words down.

Now look at the difference.

Before we learned words, objects carried very little meaning.  Objects just were things with no label.

Somewhere around the age of 3, we begin to identify with two of the most powerful words we will ever encounter in our entire lives. Boy and Girl.

What got me thinking about all this was something I saw a few days ago while waiting at the airport departure gate for a plane ride home.  A woman was there with her two five year old twins.  One was a boy and the other was a girl.  The boy was dressed in saggy jeans, a t-shirt and some brown coyboy boots.  The girl was dressed in a pink frock and was sporting a HUGE pink bow on her head.  The bow was as big as her head actually.

Well, as anyone who knows me well knows, if there are kids around I am just naturally attracted to them (and they to me.)  Before you know it, the three of us were engaged in a pretty serious conversation about clouds and how much fun it is to fly right through the middle of them.

As i talked with them, I also carried on a bit of a private conversation in my own head.  When we were initially getting to know one another, I found myself automatically conversing with Addy about her big pink bow and how pretty it was.

“Wow!  Your bow is so pretty.  I really like it!”

With Sam, I never engaged him at all in regards to his clothing.  We talked about other “stuff” and while I also talked about all that fabulous “stuff” with Addy, my initial “entry” into conversing with her was over that big bow on top of her amazing five year old brain.

At Girls on the Run events I never comment on a girl’s appearance or relate to her in that realm much at all.  She may bring it up (as in the fabulous tutu I was presented this past week in Arkansas), but I typically don’t stay in that space for very long!  We always converse on the “stuff” of their lives…their fave Girls on the Run lesson; how they felt during the Girls on the Run 5k; what gifts and talents they possess; where their joy comes from…really big stuff as well as the big REAL stuff.

Honing in on someone’s appearance is an easy way to engage…not only with little girls but also with other women.  We do it all the time.

“Wow you look like you may have lost some weight.”

“Love those shoes.”

“Great haircut.  It really frames your face nicely.”

“You look so much better than last time I saw you.  I’m glad you are feeling better.”

I realize that we are all just trying to be nice, conversational and friendly–and it is that friendliness and approachability which so wonderfully connect us, one to another; but I wonder if we aren’t somehow doing a disservice to start with appearance.  I’m in no way suggesting that wearing a big pink bow, wanting to look great, wear a sassy pair of shoes and get the best haircut possible is the negative here.  Quite the opposite.  Sometimes, adorning ourselves with clothes that we feel express or bring out something about who we are is fun…and is one awesome gift of being human, but I do think that maybe leaning  first into something beneath the appearance connection might be a good place to start with someone, especially little girls…little girls who are trying to make their first steps on the path toward womanhood.

At Girls on the Run events, after I’ve introduced myself to a girl in the program, one of my favorite conversation starters goes like this:  “Well Addy.  Nice to meet ya.  So girl…tell me something about you.  Something I need to know.”

The answers I get are as varied as the little girl who answers me, but do you know, not once has the content of what a little girl shared with me been rooted in anything to do with her appearance.  It’s always about what they like to do, their favorite sport or book, or some other remarkable trait that embodies more of the BIG who of who they are, rather than anything to do with how they look.

This morning, I was going for a solo ride on a spin bike at my local gym, when Mary, a good fried of mine, walked over.  We started talking about a number of interesting topics, but somewhere in there she shared with me that she was 61.

“61!” I responded.  “Well gosh, you certainly don’t look 61.”  I said this with as much enthusiasm as I might have felt winning the Lottery.

But the reality is this.  Mary IS 61…and my overly enthusiastic response certainly suggests that there is a normal way a 61 year old looks and she isn’t it…and rooted even more deeply into my exclamative remark is the deeper core belief that “Wow Mary.  You don’t look 61 and isn’t that awesome.  Who would want to look 61 when they are actually 61.  Because after all we all want to look younger than we actually are!”

Now…I’m in no way suggesting that looking young, being youthful or feeling young are things that we should avoid or criticize ourselves for desiring…but I’m back to wondering if there might be another way for me to connect with women outside of the “age” and “appearance” conversation.

I don’t know, but I’m going to give it try.

I’m going to see if I can be more aware of the words I use.  And try to set my radar for times I could use words which see to and speak to the spirit, courage, strength, gifts and talents of someone as opposed to how all that fabulosity shows up physically.

I figure now is as good a time as any to start.  So,  come on now…why don’t you tell me something I need to know about you.

7 Comments »

The Playground: The Naked Face Project

I just came across an article posted by Ashley Judd in response to the media frenzy surrounding the news of her “puffy face.”  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html

I simply can’t imagine what the world must be like for women in such highly visible positions…whether it’s the entertainment industry, politics, news, sports figures…the quick analysis of the person based on their appearance is often both the starting and ending point for many conversations.  I wonder what it must feel like to be portrayed as something you are not on the cover of a magazine, air-brushed and altered.  The pressure to live up to even your own unattainble standard must be excruciating.

I just find that I feel so helpless.  The way women are portrayed in so much of what we see in the current popular media (and further reinforced by the comments made anonymously by those beneath many of these articles) goes beyond just appearance and whether a woman is pretty or not.

A woman’s worth is often tangled up in her “sexual-willingness” and her desire to please others.

Or because there are still so few seats in the corporate boardroom we fight for our chance to sit in one.  We are labeled as bitchy or manly. On the other hand if a woman expresses too much emotion she is labeled hormonal, premenstrual, or professionally inappropriate.

This creates a natural divide between women.  Competing for attention, there is only so much room in the spotlight and we oftentimes nudge each other out to just get our toe in that circle of light.

I tend to think all of this competition starts on middle school playgrounds when our true worth often begins its complicated game of tug-o-war with our sex sppeal and appearance.

(For those of you who have visited here lately, a small portion of what follows is a repeat.)

I think practically every woman (and man for that matter) has a memory that dates back to middle school when this tug-o-war between our true worth and our search to find it externally  begins.

For me, it began in sixth grade.   My best friend Frances, “physically matured” and I didn’t. The attention I had previously received on the playground, especially from the boys began to wane, at least in comparison to the attention Frances was getting.  The spotlight I had previously enjoyed standing in, for being smart, funny and a good athlete disappeared and a new spotlight appeared…one that focused on physical parts I just didn’t have.

I felt invisible. I wanted to be “mature” like my friend, Frances.  A tension between the two of us arose. We drifted apart. Playing “girl” came to her much faster than me and it’s like the two of us were living in two very different worlds; and because I suddenly felt invisible, like any little girl just trying to make sense of it all, I blamed my good friend, for caving, for giving into “being popular” instead of realizing that something else was going on here. I blamed her for my feeling less than, invisible, unloved. I blamed her as if she was intentionally pushing me away. And when I was 11 and feeling “yucky” the easiest way to relieve myself of all that unexplained angst, of not feeling loved, liked or accepted was to speak unkindly of what I thought was to blame.  And in this case it was my good friend Frances.

I’m convinced that the Great Divide that separates women begins here…in 6th grade.

In 1996, I started Girls on the Run.  The program began right here in Charlotte, NC with 13 girls.  Thanks to the hard work and passion of literally thousands of volunteers and staff, the program now serves over 120,000 girls in 200 North American cities.  The program creatively integrates running into a curriculum which provides girls with an opportunity to lean into the challenges that come during adolescence, when this limiting mindset many of us get around that time that somehow who we are isn’t quite smart enough, pretty enough, sassy enough, good enough, can take root.  The girls support each other, open their hearts to one another, grow, evolve and stretch together.

I’ve learned so much from these girls.  Their spontaneity of spirit and curious minds have at times been unsettling in their candor; but it is thanks to the time I spend with them and the values woven within the Girls on the Run fabric, that I’ve taken a really hard look, and even more so recently thanks to the Naked Face Project, at how I may at times, unintentionally perpetuate this culture of separation, this culture of comparison that starts as early as our middle school years and plays out on numerous playgrounds of our lives since then.

It’s hard to stay away from the 6th grade drama, even in our adult lives.  These playgrounds exist everywhere. The temptation to hit the link to a story on Jessica Simpson’s latest “weight issue” or Demi Moore’s current “mental status” is not only strong, but so easy to access. Skipping over the “Housewives of….” series where women are pitted, one against the other is difficult. Putting away the pop-culture magazines and television shows that question whether Sarah Palin has breast implants or Hilary Clinton looks old and haggard is tough.  I mean this stuff is everywhere!

I’m beginning to see, at least for me, that the only way to shift this culture rooted in appearance, competition, and harsh judgment of one another, that starts as early as 6th grade, is to realize we are all valuable, worthy and important to society–every last one of us–me, you, Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Snookie, my mom, Brooke, the girls I serve.  It’s quite simple really…we are all human, just trying to figure it out, brave in the attempt and worthy for simply being here.

So I’ve made a decision, for my own daughter and the daughters of so many in Girls on the Run:  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and put aside anything–conversation, commentary, magazines, television, music, systems, mindsets and philosophies—that compare and pit women, one against the other, and channel all of my energy (and the additional amounts I’ll have as a result of letting all that stuff go) toward the elevation of my little sisters, each other and ourselves, to as the Girls on the Run vision states, cultivate a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.

Recently, a Girls on the Run coach shared a humorous exchange she overheard between two of our participants during the Girls on the Run 5k.  A friendly spectator had placed a sign on the course that read “Run like the wind!” One of the little girls read the sign and said, “Run like the wind? That’s impossible!” The other little girl said, “I can run like the wind. I just choose not to.”  I am beginning to see that what I choose and choose not to do is entirely up to me…and that our culture…the one I wish for my daughter and all our daughters is a direct result of the choices, the words, the thoughts and actions I take in my own life.

The world I live in begins with me.

Leave a comment »

The Power of Complaining, April 1, 2012

I’m at the beach with my kids…it is their spring break.  I am headed out to the beach and of course, the fun part of this whole Naked Face Project will be exploring what I will add back in.  (Yes…I shaved this morning. :) )  Think about that!  What an awesome place to be.  I feel NO obligatory need whatsoever to HAVE to return to any of my previous beauty habits…because if truth be told…nothing changed.  Absolutely nothing…at least as far as other people’s response to me.  What did change of course was this incredibly elevated sense of comfort I now have in my own skin.  I will wear make up again (not nearly as much)…I will fix my hair (not nearly as much) and get dressed to the nines (not nearly as much)!  But I won’t be doing it because I think it makes me look better, prettier or makes me more valuable in some way.  I’ll be doing it because it’s fun, I feel like it, I want to express myself in some way, or the formality of the occasion merits it…you know…a kind of respect for the environment.

I really do feel like I am in alignment with what I practice with the girls I serve.  It’s not about anti-cosmetics, beauty, being pretty, judging those who love to wear it and those who do not…its about the WHY we partake in any of those…and if there is (or was as the case is now) any part of that “why” that isn’t delighting in my own awesomeness…how can I expect the girls to delight in theirs…ESPECIALLY with the pressures they are going through right there at adolescence…many of these pressures for the FIRST TIME!

And that got me thinking…which for me can be a very dangerous activity. :)

The POWER of the complaint.

Complaining is an interesting activity.  We use complaining to bond with other people, to relieve anger, sorrow, frustration…but I think, for me anyway, complaining is the activity I choose when I feel like I don’t have any control over a situation.  Simply put, there is something I don’t like and so I complain about it.

For years I’ve been complaining about the influence the media and elements of the advertising industry have on the emotional, mental and physical health of girls.  I’ve complained a lot.  I started all that complaining in the early 80′s when I started teaching high school.

In 1996 I started Girls on the Run International (www.girlsontherun.org) to tackle many of these cultural challenges and negative messages by empowering girls…let’s empower them so these messages will fall on deaf ears.

But then…I realized my ears were still listening.  Listening a lot…often times without my even KNOWING I was listening.  And because I was still tangled up in it…I was still complaining…unaware that I could even go deeper…peel off more of my own buy-in to those messages and go deeper into my own increasing levels of empowerment.

Something quite marvelous has happened over the last sixty days.  I feel like I am actually doing something about it.  I’ve consciously decided to no longer complain about it, but DO SOMETHING!!!!  I realize now (although I couldn’t have told you this when I started the Naked Face Project) that I was just SO TIRED of all that complaining…it was taking me nowhere.  Things for girls just didn’t seem to be getting any better.  Cutting, starving, eating, drinking,  drugging, cyberbullying, suicide…we read the news reports and its more than I can take.  I simply WON’T take it anymore.

But when I look back over the last sixty days…unraveling from our culture’s overemphasis on appearance and leaning into what beautiful REALLY is…has empowered me more than I ever thought it would.  I’m not going au naturel, burning bras or getting hairy for some cause.  Nope.  I’m marveling in my fabulosity, your fabulosity OUR fabulosity.

Joy Has No Limits

Their isn’t an ounce left in me that believes I somehow need fixing, propping up, need a different body, age, hair color, face, skin texture, different lips.  I’m all good, thank you very much.  All of me.   I am no longer choosing to be influenced by those cultural messages that tell me, even in the most insidious ways, that I’m broken, need fixing, am too old, too wrong, too wrinkled, not okay.  I am no longer choosing television shows or commentary that portray women as mean, stupid, demeaning to one another or nothing more than their appearance.  I just can’t do it anymore.

And guess, what…the complaining is reducing in its volume and its frequency.

A friend told me about a great billboard he had seen.  It went something like this.

“Don’t like the traffic?  Well guess what?  You ARE the traffic.”

I’m going to start examining with delight…what I complain about.  I believe more than anything that cultural change begins with me.  What I complain about provides a portal into what changes I can make personally..because after all as much as I don’t like things in our culture…I AM the culture and any action I can take…big or small within the circle of my influence to no longer BE the parts of our culture I do not like, is indeed doing something about it!

I’m tired of complaining…so I think now, instead,  I’ll lean ALL THE WAY IN to my joy…at least for a while until something else gets under my skin and then, maybe then, I’ll decide what I can do about it.

But for now, I’m going to dance.  Come on now.  Let’s do this!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYP4MgxDV2U

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.   What are you doing to do about it?  What do you complain about?  Is there possibly a way to do something about whatever IT is with a slight or small move within your own daily life?  Let’s talk about it.  Right here, right now.

6 Comments »

The Naked Face Project: My Conclusions

First of all…I want to send out a huge thank you to my fellow sojourner,   Caitlin Boyle.  You are wise, empowered and beautiful.  I am so grateful to have shared the last sixty days with you.  You are an old soul…and I have learned a lot from you.

Second…if you are new to the Naked Face Project, please head over to the details page on my blog or visit www.thenakedfaceproject.com.  I never thought something so simple as this would literally engage women from around the world in a conversation…and I am grateful to each and every one of you who have encouraged me, written me, shared your stories with me.  Many of you, who read this now, have never felt the need or desire to write…but I know you are there and I thank you for dropping by.   We are in this together.

Third…to my children.  Thank you for listening to me ramble on about this social “experiment.”  Everyday brought a new discovery and I’m sure there were times I’d be in the middle of unwrapping a thought and you needed my attention…and I may have missed that.  I’ve unraveled from much of what I got tangled up with, when I was your age,  and this has made me keenly aware of how impressed I am by both of you for staying true to your strengths and remaining honest with yourselves and with me.   Thank you for letting me be the fun, mildly eccentric and occasionally neurotic mom in your life.  I love you both with all of my heart.

I’ve split my conclusions into three categories…observations…what I’ve learned…and then of course what I would say to the 8 year old who asks, “So why do you wear make-up?”

1.  Observations.

a.  The project received (and continues to receive) a tremendous amount of attention.

The huge response to this, in the media and in private conversations between women and men was and continues to be overwhelming.  This says something.  I’m not sure what it says, but it says something.  Clearly the project struck a chord with something deep within our cultural  and societal DNA.  The project has been featured on radio stations, news stations and in newspapers in over 30 countries.

b.  Because of the immediate response, during the first two weeks, I was literally terrified.  I wouldn’t have told you that then, but I was very scared.  I’m sure my anxiety over the project was exaserbated by physically not having my game face on and being out of routine…but I knew deep down that I was hitting some irrational thoughts that had been planted within me at such a young age…not knowing what might happen if these beliefs I had relied upon (as irrational and at times counterproductive they may have been) went away.

c.  I was also aware of the fact that if this project was rubbing up against something uncomfortable in me, the potential existed that it would rub up against something uncomfortable in many women. I was worried about how others would react to this internal discomfort revealed in the conversations about the project and how it might play out in commentary about me personally and/or the project itself.

d.  But if truth be told and I know no other way…I was willing to risk this because of the work I do with young girls and the place I am in my own life.    As I review the motive in taking on this initiative, sure the question asked by the 8 year old girl was important, but I think I was also ready to answer it honestly.  I was just sick and tired of feeling like I had to defend my age, my wrinkles, my skin, my body,…and was prepared to dig deeply into releasing those illusionary thoughts and the defense mechanisms I used to keep them real and make room for something more beautiful, fuller and more meaningful.  I committed myself to this for reasons at the outset I didn’t even know…but in hindsight…I will be forever grateful for having the willingness to just go there…unsure of what would happen.

e.  In those first two weeks, I was completely shocked by the negative messages hiding out in my thoughts.  I suspected they were there and that the make-up and all the anti-aging products were covering them up, but I had no idea of their volume, both in number and in pitch.  I thought I had conquered all that.  The content of the negative self-talk was mostly around aging, being less attractive or appealing to the opposite sex, less visible, less valued…all measures of my worth in the world.  I would actually have negative self-talk about the negative self-talk.  I couldn’t win for losing!

f.  But as I spent more time without the makeup, the products, the primping (and I never did much of it to begin with) I began to just feel happier, more confident, self-assured.  I was laughing a lot, readily available to those around me, more engaged with my work and just generally as the saying goes “comfortable in my skin.”  I began to feel more youthful, more alive, more awake.  My thoughts gradually moved into a real love for this body of mine.  I’ve always, due to my athletic career, had a respect for my body and what it could do…but  as I moved further into this experience I began to have a love for and a more tender approach toward my body/my face/my humanness  and the joy in it just being here.

g.  As I review the project, from where I am now, in a nutshell, the last sixty days has been, for me, an opportunity to unravel from the messages I’ve received about the importance of my worth as it relates to my appearance and realize that these two things are completely unrelated.

2.  What I’ve Learned:

a.  There are lots and lots of women who do not use makeup, primp or color their hair.  They never have or if they did, they just stopped for reasons that vary as much as there are women.  Many of you were puzzled by this project and why it mattered.  It would be interesting to talk with you to learn more about why this process was never a part of your life.  Based on emails and conversations I’ve had with many of you it has a lot to do with the priority your mother or other significant women in your life put (or didn’t put) on their appearance.

b.  The big, bold and spirited me doesn’t change whether I have on make up, high heels, color my hair or get manicures  or NOT.  The big, bold, spirited me has been with me since before I was born and will be with me after this human experience.  It is beautiful and perfect in every regard.  Brilliant, radiant, and fully worthy.

c.  This means that the big, bold and spirited YOU dosn’t change either and it is as worthy as I am and I am as you.  I can no longer watch, participate in or listen to any media or advertising that speaks of a women’s appearance in a harsh, critical, demeaning or derogatory way.  Before all of this started I was projecting MY views on beauty, appearance and worth on your intentions.  This project has not only minimized (if not removed entirely) judgment of myself but of others as well.

d.  Nothing in my outer life changed at all, other than I had more time, money and room in my suitcase.  I went about my regular day of business, speaking, hanging out with my kids and going on dates.  No one unfriended me or told me I was unworthy of being here because I didn’t use those products. I realized that the quality of my friendships, relationships, work, sense of self is remarkable.  I am surrounded by the coolest, most authentic and loving people in the world.  My gratitude for them and my lifestyle continues to grow exponentially.

e.  On the other hand, I learned that we are human and with being human comes having, living, being within this amazing thing we call the human body.  We can’t avoid this and so with our physicality comes the fact that apperance does matter.  How much it matters varies from person to person and is a very complex and complicated conversation.  How much emphasis we put on appearance depends on a lot of things, but I do know that our culture’s current over emphasis on a woman’s appearance can lead to a large number of self-esteem and self-worth issues, starting and most commonly found as body dissatisfaction. (According to a recent statistic 80 percent of 17 year old girls experience dissatisfaction with theri bodies.)

f. Determining how much energy we give to our appearance is up to each of us individually and will surely vary depending on where we are in our own lives, but I know for me that what this project did was remove all those old irrational thoughts I had about my worth and it possibly being related in any way shape or form to my appearance.  That association is now entirely gone.  What has emerged though is this wonderful awareness of my body/appearance/face/ presence being another vehicle to express who I am on the inside.  I realize, even now as I write, the most thrilling and potentially early-on-confusing part of this experiment will be what I add back in.  I wish I could share with you now exactly what I will add back in, but the truth is I won’t know until I get there.  :))

How will who I am reveal itself through this awesome and amazing vessel we call the human body?

I do know and realize that everyday starting April 1st will be a journey into something I haven’t known.

My Response to the 8 year old girl’s question

“So Molly, why do you wear make up?”

Based on the experiences I’ve had with young girls over the last sixty days, I won’t get that question again.  If I had an event today that included any girls or young women I would choose NOT to wear make up.  I just do not feel any need or desire to do so.

Should I be in a situation, however, where a girl does ask the question…I know now I would be able to answer her honestly.  Why I wear it on any particular occasion will vary, but I know that it won’t have anything to do with needing to fix myself, to look younger, enhance my eyes or hair…it will be simply because on that given day I chose to.   Maybe it will be for fun, or out of respect for the formality of a particular occasion, but I do know it will be a choice.   I am, you are, she is the same with or without it and so too is the BEAUTY of who we are.

I wish I had a definitive right and wrong approach to this conversation, but I don’t. Where I prioritized appearance in my life in my 20′s is certainly not where I prioritize it now…but I do know that where I am now is all I can claim to know and be. And that for this woman…right here right now, beauty, at least the kind I see now and feel now, comes when I lean into where my joy is.

I find joy in a whole host of different ways…watching movies curled up on the couch with my kids into the early morning hours; attending a Girls on the Run 5k and seeing the smiles and hugs of every girl who crosses the finisih line; spending time with women and men who enjoy intellectual conversation on a variety of topics, everything from politics to religion to the humor we find in our own lives; running; practicing yoga; listening to an 8 year old recap her favorite movie for 40 minutes; sleeping in; geiting up early; sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee, holding hands with the man I love.

So…in conclusion…

Girls on the Run coach to her team of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade girls:  “So, can anyone tell me what it means to be comfortable in your own skin.”

3rd grade girl raises her hand.  “To not be itchy.”

I think that pretty much says it all.

(Sidebar here…I had this interview immediatley after finishing this piece.

http://www.fox30jax.com/mediacenter/local.aspx)

 

8 Comments »

The Naked Face Project, The Naked Truth: March 27, 2012

(Portions of this have appeared in a previous post.)

When I speak of the Naked Face Project with women, both friends and strangers, 99 percent of the conversations go like this.

Molly: Yep…I’m going 60 days without using any beauty products or performing any of my beauty habits. No shaving, No primping. No makeup. Basically, I’m down to a bar of soap, a brush, some shampoo and conditioner and a toothbrush and toothpaste. (I then tell a little bit of the background…the girl in Girls on the Run who inevitably asks the question, “If you say beauty is within and that I am beautiful just the way I am, why do you wear makeup? Why do you color your hair? Why do you shave?)

Other Person: I could never do that….(and then one of the following statements occurs):

That’s easy for you because you are young.

That’s easy for you because you are, well because of how you look.

My skin is awful.  Just awful.. Years of acne when I was a kid left it looking all rough and ugly. I have to smooth that out.

I don’t want to draw anymore attention to my legs than I have to.

I wouldn’t look good without it.

I wouldn’t look right without it.

I’d look old without it. (Please insert a very “downing” tone here.)

I would look awful without it.

I don’t like my natural hair color. It’s drab..

My face is too round.

My hair is too thin.

I have too many wrinkles  (Insert downing tone here.)

This list goes on and on and on and everyone of the comments is derogatory in some way shape or form toward the body or appearance..

In the first two weeks of participating in this project, I had the same conversation, but with myself. I would look in the mirror and see an old woman. An old haggard woman. An old 51 year old, unattractive, asexual, short, frail, flat-chested, bony, and too thin woman.

Interestingly, in the first two weeks I was embarrassed to admit that this negative body-shaming language still existed in my head. I thought as the Founder of a Girl’s Empowerment program I should (note the word should…a favorite word of shame) be past all that. But the further I go down this path, the more I realize I’m not alone. Many women laugh uncomfortably when I mention this project. Insert in any one of those response statements a kind of uncomfortable chuckle or even a “I could never do that nor would I ever want to” kind of hand gesturing wave that tucks it neatly back to bed…there is almost a hidden anger there.

I get it. I would never have seen the significance of this small action nor would I have WANTED to examine these things. They were just too scary.

Shame works like that. I’m beginning to realize that shame is the deep and dark unspoken in this conversation around the Naked Face Project.

I asked my Facebook friends to share with me how shame makes them feel and the responses I got were both profound AND richly felt by every single person who responded. Everyone knows shame. The problem with shame, however, is its cunning way of suggesting that you and you alone feel it. That is, of course, how it keeps us captive. Not only do we feel the shame, but the sense of being uniquely broken that comes with it, keeps us from being honest, vulnerable, open about it’s living here, in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.

John Tillet, my wise and responsive Facebook friend, wrote this: “When I dig down beneath the shame, I find that there is a core, closely-held and tenacious belief that I just flat out am unlovable/unacceptable. Upon further review, I find that this belief was generated by a young boy who was just trying to make sense of things that he didn’t have the ability to totally comprehend. So, my growth lies in growing out of this little boy’s belief.”

David Ingle writes: “Shame is about the self not being good enough whereas guilt is the feeling of having violated a principle or rule.”

My own sister Emily Wilmer, writes. “Guilt is rooted in sadness/remorse over the effect of our behavior. It is specific and concrete. Shame is rooted in anger directed on ourselves. It is also global as in everything about who we are…about us. Shame is rooted in a lie, Humility is rooted in the truth.”

Something happens to girls around the time of puberty, where a kind of shame seems to tuck itself neatly into the growing cells of our developing bodies.  I’m not sure why or precisely when it arrives, but it does for so many of us.  Could it be rooted in some kind of weird survival/genetic code from back in the earliest days of survival on the planet?  Is it somehow a protective mechanism?  I don’t think so, but I do know that very few women are not touched by a strange sense of shame or some kind of unsettledness within their skin, about the time their bodies transition from girlhood to womanhood.

I was a late bloomer…very late…and while the rest of the girls on the playground and in the classroom were reaping the benefits of a mature body by receiving the attention of the boys, I was feeling left out, unloved and somehow “not good enough.”

Hello shame.

What’s really interesting, as I even write those words on this page, I’m afraid to write that…I’m afraid because that’s how shame works. It wants us to believe it is right…and so it keeps itself secret inside of us. It’s the small dark box we tuck away under the bed and pretend isn’t there. We dust around it for years, tuck it further back under the bed. The box grows under there and expands out into many other realms of our lives. That sense of not being good enough or somehow being uniquely broken shows up in all sorts of other ways.  Overachieving, underachieving, eating issues, recurring relationship problems, depression, anxiety…an entire laundry list of emotional and mental disorders result when shame goes underground.

I’ve been reading a lot on shame. The process has been both deeply disturbing and wholly uplifting. Shame has been a force utilized for years that has kept women from their full potential. . I could write an entire dissertation about shame and the woman. Shamed for being too sexual, shamed for not being sexual enough. Shamed for being too thin. Shamed for being fat. Shamed for being too pretty. Shamed for being “ugly.” Shamed for being a mother. Shamed for being a working woman. Shamed for aging. Shamed for not being old enough. Shamed for being outspoken. Shame for being too quiet. This isn’t just an American issue. It is a global one.

It’s also not just about women.  Actually shame has been (and continues to be) a force used to keep many non-dominant groups from realizing their full potential.  Interestingly, the more I read about this, the more I realize that shame within those in the dominant group is often what drives them in using it to keep the non-dominant group…just that, non-dominant.  It could be race, economics, geography, religion…but hidden there underneath ALL of it, whether in the dominant or non-dominant group is the fear that we are truly broken…truly unloveable…truly unworthy.

While I don’t know precisely at what point I let shame live here, neatly tucked under the bed of this life of mine, I know that I did. I also, thanks to this project, realize that I am not alone. Not alone at all. And am finding a great deal of comfort in knowing that this universal, kind of woman-body-beauty-appearance shame can, if brought out into the light be a very beautiful and powerful resource to bring women together. Instead of continuing to tuck it away by projecting my fears onto the apperance or degradation of other women, I can bring it out and see all of us as beautiful and whole.

We can open up that big and beautiful box of shame and examine all the stories we make up about beauty, appearance, aging, our bodies, the way we live our lives so that we can once and for all embrace who we are, peel back the layers and get down to the wonder and beauty of just being ourselves…our most wonderful, glorious, full, rich, whole selves.

I could find an infinite number of historical and current references on how shame was and is used (whether intentionally or not) by the dominant group to keep those in the non-dominant group…just that,,,non-dominant. (Just observe conversations flying on Facebook pages and blogs about the current conversation on women within politics, public health and the media). But as one of the women on my Facebook page simply wrote, “Shame doesn’t live here anymore.” I realize that for whatever reasons shame has been used in the past, the present or somehow woven even into my own DNA, the moment I admit it iis here, it simply loses all its power and I am set free…I am free and no longer bound to or living into anything less than my biggest, most beautiful, most empowered spirit.

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” Jim Morrison.

(Brene Brown has done some absolutely AMAZING work around shame, fear and vulnerability. If you haven’t met her on the internet, or through her books, please consider visiting her in either one of those places. She has also given a fabulous TED talk which I will embed here…she gives us permission to see vulnerability around our “shame” as a strength. Amazing!

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

How does this blog post “hit’ you? If you want to share, but don’t want to share publicly, please feel free to email me at mollybarker1960@gmail.com.

1 Comment »

The Naked Face Project Celebration: Consider this an Official Invitation!

Alright sisters and brothers :)…so we are coming up on our last week “NAKED-FACED.”  The journey has been enlightening as well as conversational.  Thousands and thousands have talked about it in their local towns and communities…across the globe.  Radio stations have done entire morning shows around the concept, morning talk shows, conversations in the gym, around the dining room table, girl’s night out, in the carpool on the way to work…this has been quite a journey!

Through the process, Caitilin and I have developed a truly open and honest friendship. We have talked about so much…frustration, fear, hope, joy and love.  We both feel like there has got to be some way to use all that conversation…not just between us, but the ones that have occured between all of us…in a positive way…an empowering way…a compassionate way…a connected way.

So here goes:

I’d like to invite YOU to take part in the Naked Face Project Celebration for just ONE DAY.

Our last day of the project is March 31st, 2012…this Saturday…and we would love for you to give it a shot.  We know you can do it…one day to experience yourself in all your full and fabulous “HERE I AM WORLD” glory!  One day to truly focus on the awesomeness, amazingness and fabulosity (another made up word…I love these) of being you, us, women, girls, men, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, TOGETHER.

So remember…none of the Naked Face Project has been (nor is this celebration) about condemning or demonizing any beauty products (or of course the people who enjoy using them.)  It’s about taking one day out of our own lives…just one…to symbolically broaden our culture’s and society’s view of girls and women to include a bigger and more enriching picture of WHO we are and the gifts, talents, passion, strength and courage we bring to the world.

Consider this, therefore, an invitation.  No pressure whatsoever.  We’ve just had such fun with it, learned so much and have been so deeply impacted by all the amazing women who have shared their stories with us…we wanted to invite YOU to participate even if in a very small (and positive) way.

So…here we go.  Share in whatever capacity you wish, but join us and let’s use all that beautiful strength of ours to support our little “sisters,” each other and the world in which we live!

Feel free to cut and paste any portion of or all of this, into any kind of blog, document, facebook post, anywhere to encourage others to get on board.  And please, let me know how it goes.  Share, share, share!

To show my support of all the spirited, courageous and brilliant 8 year old girls of the world (including the spirited, courageous and brilliant one who lives in me), I am going to participate in the “Naked Face Project Celebration” for one entire day– March 31st.  I do this as a symbolic gesture…to bring attention to a broader, bigger, fuller, more empowered view of girls/women than is frequently portrayed in the media, our culture and society .  I want the world to see just how beautiful, strong, confident and connected girls and women can be and really ARE…everyone of us, no matter our age, our ethnicity, where we live in the world or our upbringing.  We are all beautiful, strong and remarkable in our own unique way!

I am choosing to participate in the Naked Face Project Celebration as a way to honor the strength, confidence, authenticity, wonder and beauty of all the amazing 8 year old girls in the world (and the one who still lives in me) by doing one or more of the following on March 31st!

 

  • Post a profile pic of myself on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media website, Naked Faced.
  • Write about it on my blog.
  • Invite all my friends and colleagues to participate.
  • Write a letter (or post on their website) to a magazine or television network and let them know you’d like to see more positive messages about girls and women in their publications and on their airwaves.
  • Take an 8 year old out to dinner and tell her how beautiful and amazing she is.
  • Take an 80 year old out to dinner and tell her how beautiful and amazing she is.
  • Send a thank you card to my mother for all she means to me.
  • Send a thank you card to my daughter for all she means to me.
  • Watch shows that portray women and girls in a positive light.  (This means turning off most reality television.)
  • Put away all pop-culture magazines that make fun of or judge women (including celebrities, they are after all girls and women too!) based on their appearance, and find something else to read that shows how strong women and girls really are.
  • Write a letter to a woman in politics and thank her for her service.  (For full effect, write someone who runs for office on the party ticket…you are NOT a member of.)
  • Volunteer somewhere.
  • Go for a run.
  • Post an Operation Beautiful Sticky note. (www.operationbeautiful.com)
  • Take an hour to just be alone and be quiet.
  • Sweat.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Do some kind of sport I have never done, but always wanted to.
  • Lift some weights.
  • Wear a costume for no reason.
  • Admit, at last, that I’ve been wanting to run for political office and do something about it.
  • Cook a great meal and eat it with your family on the floor of your living room, picnic style.
  • Have a sleepover.
  • Research girls’ empowerment programs and reach out to set up time to volunteer.  (Girls on the Run, Girl Scouts, Girls, Inc, to name a few.)
  • Write a letter to my younger self and post it on my refrigerator.
  • Skip somewhere.
  • Do something outside my comfort zone.
  • Smile really big at everyone I pass today.
  • Dance and sing really loudly in the car. (Windows down for full effect.)
  • Make a card for someone and deliver it personally.

What have I missed?  What else should be on this list?  Please keep your remarks to a G rating…as there may be a lot of awesome, fabulous young girls who visit here as well!

6 Comments »

The Naked Face Project: The Final Stretch, March 25, 2012

Alright…so this may turn a little dog and pony show.  Caitlin and I swore we wouldn’t go into GREAT detail about the physical changes we were undergoing as a result of going totally natural for sixty days…but I have to admit…in this last week I’m beginning to actually enter a stage of sorrow at the project coming to a close.

It’s just been so physically LIBERATING (I’ve spent the majority of posts discussing the emotional and mental liberation that has come with this) to have an excuse to go without my daily beauty habits…physically liberating in a number of ways:

1.)  The amount of worry in making sure I’ve got “everything I need” when I travel has literally reduced the amount of getting-ready-to-travel-time by many minutes.  This also has applied to just getting ready in the mornings both at home and at the gym.  Throw my clothes (which have been generally the same as well, jeans or slacks, nice shirt, flats) and I’m off.

2.)  My skin has never looked healthier.  People have even remarked at how healthy my skin looks.  There is a natural color on my face that is, as far as I’m concerned, just as good as the cosmetically blushed one.

But humorously there are a few things I HAVE found that I am really, really ready to be done with…

1.)  I’m ready to remove the body hair!  (Okay dog and pony show always gets a rumbling anytime Caitlin and I talk body hair!)  The truth is…I actually prefer the way my legs look when they do not have hair.  Whether this has been socialized into my view of what is attractive or not…I don’t know.  I just know I prefer being “sans hair.”

What’s funny though as I write…is this kind of weird sorrow I have at removing it. (Oh geez…am I actually writing about this?)   It’s like a natural part of me is gone.  I didn’t know what purpose body hair served until I had it.  It’s like a sensual stimulating system.  I could literally feel any wind or movement of air nearby UNDER my skin, thanks to the hair follicles being stimulated.  There was something about that…that had (and has) me feeling very connected to nature.  Nature girl…:)  (Speaking of “nature girl.”  Granola is here to stay…even my eating habits have undergone a change since I started all of this.  Nourishing my body has become critically important as opposed to “fueling it.”  Nourishing has a more nurturing quality.  More to come at another time.)

2.) And as far as underarm hair…it will be gone.  Prefer it absent as well.  I’m past the being self-conscious of it…got over that about three weeks ago.

3.)  I’ve highlighted my hair since I was sixteen or seventeen years old.  I was very much a natural blonde when I was young and by high school it was a light blonde/brown.  I started using lemon juice in the summers and by my sophomore year in college I was chemically treating it.  I did go a brief period without chemically treating my hair when I was pregnant with my kids…and back then, when the dinosaurs roamed as my daughter likes to mention, I didn’t have any gray.

Well…there is a lot of it now…and I’m totally psyched and excited to see what color my hair REALLY is.  The liklihood of returning to highlighting or chemically treating it is very slim.  Of course, I may change my mind in another few years, but right now, I’m loving the natural color and loving just showing up with what I got…a kind of very light brown with quite a bit of gray “salted” throughout.

The greatest result of all of this…and it has been life changing for me…is this just inherent love and respect I have for my body, my skin, my hair…my eyes, my mouth, how I show up in the world, just as I am.  I am truly appreciative and grateful to my body and the work it does for me as I navigate this journey we call being human.  My body provides for me a bridge, if you will, between the journey inward and the physical world around me.   The sense I’m having is very hard to describe…but it feels as if I’m ALL in…all of me is here…present…available to the world…to serve, enjoy, have some fun and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do, while I’m human.

I have a sense (although everyday my view on things changes) that when this is over, every morning when I’m getting ready for work, play, workout, time with my kids, a date, a speaking appearance WHATEVER the day brings, I will, with intention, choose how ALL of me wants to show up.  Whether that includes make up or not, will depend on a whole host of variables, but I know that I will evaluate each situation and determine what will allow me to BEST BE PRESENT…all of me, real, authentic and available to bring the BIGGEST ME, the most AWESOMEST (I know that isn’t a real word, but I like it anyway) ME, the SOUL OF ME to the situation.

I won’t use any products to “fix” my face, “delay aging,”  “make me look younger, or “produce flawless skin” and/or enhance what I already have or am…because (and here is the liberating and coming home to myself part) none of it needs fixing…nothing is broken…nothing is ugly.  The illusion that my body isn’t good enough, young enough or “right” enough is just that…an illusion and something I no longer buy into nor will I give any energy to.  I simply won’t do it because it’s all a lie.  A big fat lie.  All of it.

This also means, I  won’t use my appearance to manipulate, steer or try to “win” someone over. I will own who I am, accept me as I am and in doing so create a space for others to own who they are, be as they are and know that they are safe in doing so.

Who I am doesn’t change, with my appearance.  How I choose to present myself is up to me.  I’m not tied, anymore, into illusions so often presented by the advertising tactics of the cosmetic and fashion industry or our culture in general,  that who I am and the WORTH of who I am IS in anyway tied to my appearance, my age and/or my body.  How I choose to appear…show up…present myself CAN be an expression of who I am, but my worth as a human being has absolutely nothing to do with it.

There is great irony in all of this.  Appearance in the human world cannot be avoided.  We see, we look, we show up physically.  But whether I choose to see my appearance as a measure of my worth OR as one of MANY fabulous avenues to joyfully express who I am…are two very different approaches.

This TED talk was recently shared with me by a friend and I don’t know how I missed it.  Aimee captures, very eloquently, how  empowering “owning” our bodies (and this includes of course, our skin, our faces, our hair etc.) can be.

http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_prosthetic_aesthetics.html

Thoughts on this?  There are no wrong or right approaches…I’m just learning what is right for me.  Complex conversation.  Care to join in?

3 Comments »

The Naked Face Project: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Okay…so I’ve just got to say it.

I’m 49 days into the Naked Face Project and I currently feel happier and more comfortable with WHO I am, than I ever have.  Sure, it look a leap to get over the first two weeks, but once I’d done that the benefits of being my full, vulnerable and naked-faced self have just been amazing.  Whether or not I return to any of these beauty habits still remains to be seen…but I do know that should I add any of them back into my life…it will be because I choose to…not because I feel I need fixing…that I am broken…that I HAVE to.

I also believe I’ve “unraveled” from the years of what feels like “brainwashing” I’ve encountered as a woman in our American culture.  Admittedly, as I have shared before, I was born in a very Southern, very-need-to-be-pretty culture.  Let me reiterate, the way I see it, being pretty or even wanting to be pretty is just fine.  There is nothing the least bit wrong with either. There is also nothing  wrong with being fashionable, wearing cosmetics, pampering, primping or dressing up…even “glamming it up” as some of my friends describe it!

But where things get iffy for me, is when the fashion/cosmetic advertising or marketing companies as well as the content of  pop culture magazines and “news” shows suggest that how I am (as well as women in general) and how my body, face, hair and skin (as well as the bodies, faces and figures of  women in general) show up in the world needs fixing, is ugly, is wrong or is all she’s got.  The language is everything from blatantly critical to the insidious.  It’s the insidious messaging that gets me.  Something about this project has helped me to see how sneaky this messages have been relayed across the airwaves or the publications.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn5x6dFEGZw

I gotta say…I’m just over it.  This is my body after all and it’s the one I got!

Caitlin and I have received queries from more radio and television stations than we can recall…skyped in on talks shows in Florida, California and Australia.  We’ve talked on radio shows in New Zealand, Ireland and all across the United States.  Yes…a chord has been touched and I think I realize just which one it is.

It’s the shame chord.

It’s the one we got when we were 8 years old.  When someone called us fat or skinny, or made fun of our hair, or the gap between our teeth…when someone said something about our acne, or the texture of our hair.  It’s the one we got when we developed breasts too early or too late.  It’s the one we got when we couldn’t afford the clothes with name brands.  It’s the one we got for not fitting in…or so it seemed. This is also  the one that keeps getting played anytime an advertisement (or the company which creates it) suggests we aren’t “okay,”  “need fixing,” “don’t fit in” or are somehow “wrong for looking and/or being different.”

(I received a link to this article…which came out just yesterday on the bullying side of fat talk.  http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/16/living/body-image-kids/index.html)

I’ve received literally hundreds of emails from women who have battled their entire lives with the hurt of those years.  We all cope with it in our own way.  I know for me I tried a number of mechanisms to put it away.  I’m the first to admit that not all of them have been healthy.

I’m not going to judge or shame myself for the choices I have made over my lifetime…that just creates more of the same.  After all it was those “routes” to reveal the joy of just being myself in my own complicated and wonderfully unique way…that have made me the complicated and wonderfully unique woman I am.

It’s who you are too.  Complicated and wonderfully unique.

I have loved every email, conversation, story shared because they all lead back to the fact that we all…every one of us…just want to be connected, loved and aware of our worth.

It’s a difficult task trying to find the line between the priority appearance plays in our lives and the world’s work we have to do  We get so many conflicting messages.  Those started when we were just little girls.  That line has shifted numerous times in my life and will shift again.  Of that I am absolutely certain.  I also know that I can’t  (nor will I choose to) determine where that line is for a woman…that is hers to determine.  For me to suggest otherwise would be a lack of respect for her.  I have faith in my sisters and know that in the overall scheme of things…your journey is yours…each divinely orchestrated to move you toward peace in your own way and at our your own pace, just as mine has been.

But the awareness I am coming to for myself…as a result of this project is fueling my passion for why the work I do with Girls on the Run is so important.  I just want to be the “boss of my own brain.”  To shift MY mindset so that the girls I serve don’t ever have to shift theirs…to know from very early on…that who they are matters more than their appearance…and what they bring to the world is important, powerful and valued.

I recently  came across this letter.  It was an exercise I undertook as a way to not only heal, but accept myself…the choices I have made…the woman I am deep within and the various ways she has shown up in the world.  It’s a letter I wrote to my younger self, my thirteen year old self.  I think it’s currently very relevant to this conversation and so now is as good a time to share it as any.  I like the kindness of its words and the tenderness in its carry…loving, gentle and accepting. So here goes.

Dear Molly,

You are quite remarkable, you know. Everyone around you sees it. That sparkle in your eye…it was there the day you were born and is irrefutably the most beautiful part of you. I know, though, that at such a young age it might be hard for you to see it. As bright as your spirit is, the world tells girls, especially girls with a wild and wonderful side, that how you look is more important than who you are.

But Molly, I’ve got a wonderful and powerful secret for you. Anytime, you feel less than, ugly or somehow unworthy, you can (and I know this is hard to believe right now), listen to the inner voice inside of you that knows better.

I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that because I’m 51…and it looks like I’ve got it so together. But truthfully, in many ways, I’m no different than you. I have fears and doubts just like you. Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that I scream and shout and cry so hard I think my heart will burst, but the beauty of growing older and living a rich and often troubled life is the perspective it provides. “This too shall pass” was an expression your mom used to always say, and I didn’t quite understand what it meant until I got older and realized that the goal in life wasn’t always to be happy, but to be content.


Yeah…I’ve got news for you. Life isn’t always easy or fun. Sometimes it hurts so much you will feel like you want to scream and shout and run away. The pain sometimes will be unbearable. But you will survive, because that little inner voice is never fully gone. She is just waiting for you when you are ready to rediscover her.


Boys? Oh my God. In several years you’ll discover the power of your own sexuality and how easy it is to use it to get the attention the outside world tells you, you need to be pretty, popular and happy. But truth is, you already have everything you need to be whole. Oh, but I forgot you already know…that inner voice reminds you of that every morning when you head out the door for your morning run. When you are alone with the sunrise, the chilled morning air and the sound of your footsteps on autumn leaves, you hear her, talk to her and love her. But once the school day starts and the noise of the ”should and ought to” voices take over, she gets tucked away. That’s okay. Running will be your sanctuary, the window in your day, when you hear her and your power, beauty and strength are celebrated.


There is much irony in writing this letter to you. I want to tell you that you will be okay and that all the pain, fear and self-doubt you will feel and that will challenge who you are and at times in your life actually challenge your willingness to live, are going to lead you to your life’s calling, the wonder of parenthood and even your serving as role model to many, many girls your age now. But I can’t. No matter how much I want to protect you, warn you and tell you that you are beautiful, whole and powerful, this is something you will have to realize in your own time and in your own language.


Just know, Molly, that in those darkest moments, those most vulnerable moments, those moments when it’s hard to breathe and the ability to see outside the moment is blinded by self-doubt, you are not alone. I’m waiting on the other side…the powerful you. The woman you have become. Empowered, beautiful and overwhelmingly grateful that the life you are creating is mine.


I love you, Molly.

If you are having trouble remember how brave you were (and still are) promise me you will check this out.  Ladies…We rock, every last one of us… and that’s all I know about that!

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2012/03/19/pkg-moos-girls-first-ski-jump.cnn-jennifer-terry-getty-skype-salt-mine-storyworks

16 Comments »

The Naked Face Project: Getting Real and the Pink Elephant in the Room, March 17

Several posts ago, I wrote about the awkwardness (which sometimes turns into shame) women begin to feel around that critical age of adolescence.  My daughter is going through that time now.  I try to keep our house as open as possible…and I know for a fact that she tells me everything.  Yes…everything…and while I may not like or am frightened by what she shares with me…the only way we can work through the fear, the frustrations, the anxiety, we BOTH feel, is to get it out, talk about it, get real.

When I started this project, there was a yucky feeling in my gut that accompanied the liberation I knew I would feel in getting it out.  I couldn’t have told you what it was…but yesterday after speaking to a group of 7th graders…I think I know what is is.

I do feel that it is important for me to clarify the entire context of this conversation.  If you’ve seen the movie “the Help” then you know my upbringing.  I was born in the South in 1960.  I lived in an middle upper income neighborhood. I was an accomplished student, athlete and person.  I lettered in four sports, was the first female president of the student government at my high school and won the senior of the year award, went to college and majored with a degree in Chemistry.   Despite my attempts to prove  (I wonder who I was really trying to prove this to) I was a strong empowered young woman, I still felt valued primarily for my appearance.   I was a dubutante, in 1978, joined a sorority in 1979 and partied my way through college.  In 1982, I moved to Atlanta, without knowing a single soul and began my career as a teacher.  Fell madly in love with the handsome Biology teacher…followed him to Charleston while he went to med school, moved back to Charlotte when my heart was aching…and so the story goes.

1982.  My boyfriend took this photo.

I had virtually no female friends.

When I started Girls on the Run, I had no idea how amazing women-friends could be.  I had never really had any.

When I was in sixth grade, my best friend  developed breasts. I didn’t and never have, frankly. Not much of them, anyway. The attention I had previously received on the playground from the boys, began to wane (from my perspective)…at least in comparison to the attention my friend was getting. Popping bras was the activity of the hour and because I wasn’t wearing one…I was rarely chased, chosen, “liked.”

That's me on the right.  Fifth grade.

Now leap ahead seven years.  I worked at a summer camp on the coast of North Carolina.  That summer I started running, worked in the sun, sailed everyday.  Tanned, toned and with a new hue of golden hair, I returned to college.  Suddenly the attention I had longed for, came to me like I had never known.  I wasn’t invisible anymore…not at all.  The talk was everywhere that “Molly had finally grown into her body” and questions were asked, “Where did Molly go?  You are so pretty now.”

In 1971, sixth grade, I was invisible.  I wanted to like my friend, but the truth was (and thanks to the comments from my 7th grade friends yesterday, who just unabashedly threw this conversation into the ring) a tension between the two of us arose.  We drifted apart.  Playing “girl” came to her much faster than me and it’s like the two of us were living in two very different worlds…and because I suddenly felt invisible, like any little girl just trying to make sense of it all, I blamed my good friend…for caving…for giving into “being popular.”  I blamed her, rather than our culture, for my feeling less than, invisible, unloved.  As if she was intentionally pushing me away.  And when you are 11 and feeling “yucky” the easiest way to relieve yourself of all that unexplained angst…of not feeling loved, liked or accepted, you speak unkindly of what you think is to blame…and in this case it was my good friend.

The year after my summer camp experience, my social life in college went from absolute zero to richter scale 10…and if you know anything about the richter scale…that isn’t a ten fold increase, it’s exponential.  And while I was receiving the attention I had always wanted, I still felt invisible.  The strong, intelligent, empowered, girl who could run fast, out talk you on any political debate, speak of esoteric philosophies and converse on William Faulkner’s works of Southern Literature wasn’t of interest…or at least not in the world in which I currently lived…or perceived as the world I was in.

I had only a handful of girlfriends who really knew me and some of the others…well, I think they may have said really mean things, gossipped about my apparent “social escapades” and generally minimized who I was in their secret talk and social circles.  It hurt…a lot.

This kind of circular, never-ending, never being okay starts in 7th grade.  Maybe even earlier.  Yesterday I could literally feel the air in the room change, when we got the big Pink Elephant out into the middle of the room.  This unspoken desire to love our sisters and “be as one” with our gender…something I’ve longed for, prayed for, dreamed of…simply can’t happen until we are willing to admit that somewhere underneath all of the combined strength of our wisdom, are these competing forces that pit us against each other.

The spotlight for women on the world’s stage…is so  small (women make up 51 percent of the population but only 11 percent of elected officials) we all clamor even just to get our toe in it…and when one of our sisters is fully exposed in the spotlight, we nudge her out by harshly judging her.

I supposed I should position this whole conversation, speaking solely for myself and reword this entire document with the word “I” instead of “we”, but I think if we want to get anywhere…as a gender…as an empowered group…we’ve got to get honest about our fears of being invisible…unheard…un-valuable and take a really hard look at how we perpetuate this culture of separation.

I know I’m not alone. The temptation to hit the link to a story on Jessica Simpson’s latest :weight conversation” or Demi Moore’s current “mental status” is not only strong, but so easy to access.  Skipping over the “Housewives of….” series where women are pitted, one against the other, is difficult.  Putting away the pop-culture magazines that question whether Sarah Palin has breast implants or Hilary Clinton looks old and haggard is tough…I mean this stuff is everywhere!

But talking to my 7th grade friends…I look into their eyes and they look into mine and I realize that the only difference between the playground they play on and the playground I play on…is our age.  We really all are the same…wanting to be heard, valuable and loved.

I realize that the only way to shift this culture rooted in appearance, competition, harsh judgment of one another, reality shows, advertising gone haywire and our anger…yes anger and fear…that I believe started as early as 7th grade… is to realize we are all valuable, worthy and important to society…every last one of us…me, you, Hilary Clinton, my good friend, my daughter, Sarah Palin, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Snookie, my mom, the girls I serve …we are all human, just trying to figure it out, brave in the attempt and worthy for simply being here.

It’s going to be hard, but for Chloe who is a great runner, Savannah who is an amazing artist and Sarah who loves to write…I’m going to do my best to put aside anything–magazines, television, music–that continues to pit women against each other and shift the spotlight onto things that elevate them…my little sisters, our sisters…each other and ourselves…

My sixth grade friend…was an amazing young girl.  She had a sense of humor that would light up any room, could write a creative story like nobody’s business and really helped me through some tough times…she was a good friend and important to me…

How does this post hit you…what feelings does it provoke?  Let me know.  If you don’t want to post it here…email me at mollybarker1960@gmail.com

13 Comments »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 196 other followers