THE BLOG
10/26/2015 11:48 am ET | Updated Oct 26, 2016

The 3-Letter Word That Cuts Women Down Every Day

Carla G. via Getty Images

The seasons have just changed, and I always want something new. Recently, I was looking in the mirror after a shower. I decided I wanted change. I have a very love-hate relationship with my hair. I love its uniqueness -- it seems signature to me. But I'm never really satisfied. Frustrated, I decided to text my friend. After a quick exchange of opinions about my hair, our conversation ended with, "Well you don't want it to be too short or too long." What she said was harmless, but it still caused an epiphany.

There is no proper way for a woman to cut her hair, let alone do anything right in this world. There seems to be an unobtainable one-millimeter-wide mark of perfection, and none of us can reach it. Everything is too this or too that. We see it every day in the tabloids. For example, one day a female celebrity is too revealing and the next day she is too matronly.

In my experience, I rarely hear too thrown around about men. You hear someone say, "He's short," but you seldom hear "too short." I hear women and men alike each day describing women as too something. But what does it really mean when you call a woman too? I asked myself, "too what?" I have determined that too means you're calling a woman too far away from your idyllic vision of what a woman should be. Something as small as calling a woman's dress too long or her muscles too built has a much larger social construct. With all the varying tastes and cultures in this world, it is impossible for a woman -- or anyone, for that matter -- to fulfill everyone's criteria. And why is it our responsibility to satisfy them, anyway?

My epiphany about this word surprised me. I view myself as a well-versed feminist, but I never realized how deeply a three-letter adverb could cut. Of course I'm not deeply offended by something as innocent as my friend thinking my hair is too short or too long. What makes me furious is the constant strain on females to find their unreachable perfect self. This realization really struck me when I figured out that I've never been satisfied with myself. My internal opinion is always that I'm too this or too that. I, like most women, have been deprived of self-satisfaction and appreciation because of this word and this attitude.

I spent this past summer being a counselor at an overnight camp. Before I left, I remember feeling slightly too thin. Nothing medically concerning -- my concern was more innocuous than that. It had been a stressful year, and I saw myself as gaunt. Then I departed for one of the best summers of my life. Being a counselor was truly transformative; it was the first time I felt really impactful. It taught me so much about myself, and it was critical to my growth to see the world through a child's eyes once again.

Sadly, though, those wonderful few weeks at camp passed by. As soon as I arrived home, I took a look around to see the changes in my house -- and, finally, the mirror. "Hmm, a little too plump," I thought to myself. How in the span of one summer did I go from one opposite to another? I didn't. I weighed myself and I was at the exact weight I had been when I left. I was never too anything; I was just myself. It was all social pressure and perception. Instead of reflecting on what a beautiful and salient journey the summer had been, I was focusing on an irrelevant and made-up detail. Part of that is admittedly tied to my personality. But I think it's also related to the continual cultural flaws in the way we view and critique women. It's immensely difficult to prioritize what's important when we critique ourselves constantly as a result of the world's harsh judgment.

How would anyone feel if they were trying their hardest to look presentable, be successful in their career or education, raise children, have an engaging love and social life, and hold it all together -- all as they were told it wasn't enough. It is suffocating to walk through the jungle of media and vanity that is our world, as it subliminally whispers in your ear, "You're not what you should be." It goes beyond looks, even. In every context, it seems to be damned if you do and damned if you don't for women. It's either she's too prude or she's too promiscuous, she's too delicate and girly or she's too aggressive and masculine, she's too dumb or she's too bookish. The list goes on.

So what can we do? Well, there are an avalanche of issues women face -- from rape to pay inequality to the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I would love to wake up tomorrow morning and see a completely egalitarian world outside, but I am not naive. Women are still objects to a disturbingly large number of people. If society continues on in this way, women will always be unfairly judged. But there are small and achievable steps we can take. We should call on both genders to cut the word too from their vocabulary when discussing women. If we ever want an end to the way females are put in boxes, this is the beginning of an important and tumultuous journey ahead.

As I looked in the mirror at my hair that day, I wanted change. After more thought about the word too, I now need change. Not the kind of easy change that can be achieved with an hour or so at the hairdresser's -- the kind of change that prevents those young female campers who changed my life from ever feeling like they are not enough. The kind of big change that positively alters our society's conduct towards women as a group.

On the women's side of this issue, we can create change by telling ourselves and others, "I am more than enough, and I am exactly who I should be." Every day we should remind ourselves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Not just in a literal appearance sense, but in every part of who we are. If someone calls you too bitchy, for example, do not be afraid to remind them that you're not too bitchy, you're the right amount of assertive and empowered. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for women to stand up for themselves. It is not our fault that we are treated unfairly and always considered "too" something. We are the right amount of strong to counter this bullshit.

I'd like to conclude this rightfully indignant rant by taking personal responsibility. A whole lot of sexism is in how men treat women, but there is another facet to misogyny: internalized sexism. Internalized sexism happens when women themselves mistreat other women based on their gender. Even as a devout feminist, I have personally described women in harsh ways that I'd never apply to a man. I have used the word too in an insensitive way when describing or analyzing a woman. But after teaching myself this lesson, I am taking a vow to ban the word too from my vocabulary. I encourage others to take a look at themselves on the spectrum of injustice. We are all a part of it, and it is important to make a personal change, if that's not too much to ask.

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