Stepping into VisibilityThe authentic self is the soul made visible. ~Sarah Ban Breathnach
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about visibility after a two-day retreat dedicated to bringing my business to the next level.
For women, visibility can be a very mixed bag. And until this past week I hadn’t quite connected the dots around how our beliefs and fears about personal visibility so deeply impact our ability to put ourselves (and our heart-centered businesses) out there.
I grew up in the West Village of New York City in the 80’s. As a pre-teen walking the streets of NYC I attracted a lot of unwanted attention from men.
I can remember getting in trouble over and over again with my mother for wearing my headphones walking on the street, music blasting through my earphones. She had a rule about not wearing headphones on the street because she thought it was dangerous, since she figured I couldn’t hear the traffic around me.
So I’d get punished again and again. And she never asked me why I consistently risked punishment to wear my headphones outside.
My shameful secret was that I was harassed all the time – on a daily basis – by men as I walked down the street. Sometimes it was annoying, sometimes upsetting and scary. Some of what they said turned my stomach and made me hate the way I drew their eye, made me hate my newly developing breasts and hips. They made me feel ashamed of myself for provoking them.
They made me wish I were invisible. They made me angry and frightened. They made me feel incredibly out of control over the way I was seen and treated. And I had no words for what was happening to me.
So I got angry. And because it never felt like an option to avoid their stares, I got mean, and cultivated a volatile F-you attitude.
“You want to stare at me? I’ll give you something to stare at. I will make myself unattractive to you.”
I became the angry rebel girl, with thick, black make-up and ripped up clothing. I scowled, talked too loud, and acted obnoxious on the streets with my friends.
In addition, while I thought I looked awesome, my increasingly tough appearance disqualified me for much of the unwanted attraction I had been abused by for years.
So visibility, for me, was first something to shrink from, to avoid, something that brought threats and frightening behavior directed at me. Then it became something that I flaunted, that I cultivated specifically to irritate people, put them off of me, discourage them from approaching me – I wore my visibility as a porcupine wears her needle-sharp quills.
The way I looked, the reactions of people shaking their heads at me, was my armor. And it was a connection to many, many other kids who felt similarly.
Fast forward to today. I’m 39. I have a 6-year old daughter and my own business that I love. And I’m still carrying a little bit of that young rebel in my heart. I have tattoos. I’m more comfortable in jeans and high-top sneakers than anything formal or business-like. I rescue pit bulls and volunteer with compost and worms in my free time.
And I just realized how my old beliefs and fears around visibility are totally keeping my business smaller than it wants to be – they’re limiting the amount of women I can reach and support.
Here’s why. My old belief—from way back when—is that visibility is threatening, dangerous, shameful. And my reaction from back then was to make myself unattractive, off-putting, and abrasive.
I got so used to my safety being tied to that image, to the knowledge that I looked a little crazy, a little rough around the edges, a little far outside the box…and I’ve carried that with me all this time.
Fast forward 15 or 20 years. I’m a small business owner and a loving, involved single mother. I’m the sole representative for a service that guides women to their inner wisdom, to creating balance and joy in their lives, to creating healthy relationships, and devoted self-care.
But I’m still shrinking from being seen.
In my head my old image, the one that kept me safe, is in direct opposition to the new, business-owning, woman-serving, hugely-shining woman I am today.
Whenever I’ve had an opportunity to put myself and my coaching business out there, I would hear the old fearful believe—no one’s going to want to work with me, no one will take me seriously, that I won’t be viewed as a person who can inspire and guide other women.
Now, I know that’s not true. I know that there are so many women whom I have immensely helped, who have benefited from working with me.
I know that when women meet me, the ones who are my ideal client are inspired by me, by the way I walk my talk, by the way I stand for what I believe in, by the way I refuse to conform to anyone’s expectations or definitions, by the way I create my life and do what I love.
And I’m working really hard on knowing that I can be visible AND safe – that it is okay and safe to be me … to stand tall, show up, attract attention, and get noticed.
Because it’s time.