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Influencer of the Week: Ashley Judd

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I proudly select a Harvard scholar as my Influencer of the Week. A scholar who serves as a global ambassador for YouthAIDS. A dedicated individual who has testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One who has presented to the National Press Club.

A scholar who's also been lambasted by that very press this week for -- wait for it -- a puffy face.

Ashley Judd has taken it on the chin. Make that the cheeks. If you haven't heard of the controversy, just type "Ashley Judd" into Google search and see the viral frenzy surrounding her "puffy face." You'll read elegantly descriptive words such as "cow" and "pig."

Who's oinking now? Ashley.

This Phi Beta Kappa has come back swinging in The Daily Beast with an essay that she's calling "The Conversation." She's grabbing the opportunity to influence women and men alike on the often damaging and self-destructive link between outer presence and inner self-worth.

"The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately," Ashley writes. "We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification."

Let's pause there: "Our worth ascertained and ascribed."

Bravo, Ashley.

This scholar from the University of Kentucky with a post-graduate degree from Harvard University understands that we minimize ourselves by allowing other people's appraisals of our outer shell to define our inner core. The 43-year-old activist/actress writes about how her psyche has evolved as she matured, saying, "I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy to any person, place, or thing outside myself."

Here's an enlightened human being who has learned to rid herself of what she calls "otheration" -- which I believe is tying our inner self-worth to others' criticisms and bullying. Ashley further nails it when she points of that this is often a woman-on-woman crime. Women often disassemble and criticize other women's appearances as sport.

I believe girls and women are particularly vulnerable to "otheration," causing us to cling to the hope that a layer of war paint on our faces and highlights in our hair will mask our secret feeling of unworthiness.

The truth is that we actually undermine our own integrity and dignity when we define ourselves and others by outer presence.

In fact, I believe we've got this outer presence thing all wrong. Contrary to popular belief, my years as an executive coach (and prior to that, two decades as a television newswoman), taught me that outer presence is not what we look like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real skinny is this: our presence is how we make people feel.

Ashley Judd has been named among "The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World" by People Magazine three times running. Her ability to influence "The Conversation" gives her a new spotlight to help women feel better about themselves, to shed self-destructive fears and practices.

Join the conversation. I urge all of us to step out of the shadows of destructive behavior and beliefs and to stop measuring ourselves by how others respond to our outer shell. Focus on developing a peaceful, purposeful inner core.

That's what makes Ashley Judd suddenly stunning in my book.