Have you ever been described as a “strong woman”? Sometimes, it can be difficult to decipher whether this descriptor is a compliment or an insult when used to describe a woman in her personal and/or professional lives. Sometimes, it seems as though this term is used as a “nice” way to label a woman as controlling, annoying, unlikeable or stubborn by loved ones, friends or colleagues.
In general, strong women are likely to be opinionated, passionate and driven, yet they can also be sensitive, thoughtful and loving. They confidently proclaim what they want and how they believe it should be done, yet they’re usually open to suggestions from others and, not unlike most of us, they appreciate approval from others.
Whatever it means to be a “strong woman,” people are often challenged to interact positively with these women in professional and personal circles alike. It’s not just the occasional man who thinks strength is unattractive in women or that women aren’t capable of being decision-makers and leaders. Women engage in a culture of disparagement against other women all the time, sniping at one another for everything from motherhood choices (think working moms versus stay-at home moms) to appearance (think too fat, too thin, too average and the perpetually hurtful, “She could use some work”). In the professional world, strong women often encounter a predicament of conformation—be liked or be respected. This phenomenon is excellently described in this article by Catalyst, a research and advisory organization aimed at building inclusive environments and expanding opportunities for women at work.
Regardless of the intent of the comments, it’s important for women—particularly those struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder—to own their strength. Here’s why.
Strength is an integral part of eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders are vicious illnesses that destroy what you love and take away the things that make you, you. In the throes of an eating disorder, people long for strong relationships – personally and professionally. They believe they will never “have it all” – a loving partner, a supportive family, a large network of friends and a rewarding career. Effective treatment teaches the skills to restore health and hope for the future, while maintaining eating disorder recovery takes commitment, perseverance, hard work and perhaps most importantly, strength. It is essential to never lose the belief that full recovery is possible and can happen to you. Even when you feel weak or defeated, be strong in your values and commit to choices and paths that emphasize health over the illness.
Despite the sometimes derogatory cultural narrative around “strong women,” being strong is a good thing! Strength may look different from person to person, but some aspects are fundamental to all. Be kind to others, be good to yourself and be proud of who you are and what you do. Figure out what is meaningful to you and act in alignment with those values, even in the face of obstacles and adversity. Don’t change or hide who you are to chase praise or in response to criticism, even if you tend to be a “people pleaser.” And be wary of defining yourself by what you are instead of who you are. Titles, prestige, accolades, labels—these definitions can change rapidly, sometimes by choice and other times by external pressures and/or needs. Strength of character and strong values transcends all else.
What makes you a “strong woman”? How has strength played a role in your personal life, professional life and/or eating disorder recovery?
Photo used with permission from Eating Recovery Center