Consider throwing away all the extras and showing your boyfriend the real you. If you don't, if you choose instead to hide behind fake eyelashes and highly reinforced hair, if you primp and prod in order to look as much as you can like Angelina, or Beyoncé, or Rihanna, remember that if we're lucky and play it right life is long, and you don't want to spend every moment trying to live up to a false self you constructed in the beginning of your relationship in order to attract that certain someone.
No matter how it may have begun, as soon as you can get a handle on the situation, revert to the real you, to your authentic self, to make sure that you are accepted as you truly are. Otherwise, your life could become reduced to The Barbie Chronicles, starring you. Living as a fake self gets exhausting pretty fast.
There is a fine line between your real self and an unengaged self, however. So, this is not a call for women to kick back and "stop trying." It is not a call to succumb to sloppiness and pajamas at noon. Even fake eyelashes are, admittedly, fabulous in the right context. But, as an overall attitude and approach to life, dignity and self-respect can be the female calling card: sexy and smart; funny and serious; self-assured and open to blissful abandon. Empowered women know that they can call their own shots.
Yet, such self-confidence is not easily accessed, especially during the teen years, twenties, thirties and maybe even (come to think of it) our forties or fifties, too. Often, developing a healthy sense of self takes quite some time, if not a lifetime to accomplish. Rather than waiting for it to strike, though, like lightning in an open field, isn't it better to cultivate genuine self-regard and compassion toward oneself, as an inside job, instead of waiting for it to materialize somehow from the outer world? It might be a long time coming.
It is important for everyone to understand, women and men alike, that expecting self-confidence to arise of its own accord is the first big mistake. Freedom, self-responsibility, unconditional positive regard, learning to be one's own best friend; these approaches to personal development take considerable discipline and effort. By risking to be ourselves, by leaving the makeup off for a day here or there, by not holding in our stomach fearing that someone is looking, by surrendering to our authentic selves, we open to the extremely heady feeling that women go wild for: a fortified female identity that tells a woman she is free to "just be" herself. Period. You can't get more "Sex in the City"-confident than that.
Acting in "Stepford Wives" kinds of ways by minimizing ourselves while going overboard to stroke our partner's ego does no good for anyone in the long run. In the first place, inauthenticity is a turn-off because it eliminates spontaneity and the potential for real, passionate engagement in the moment. There's nothing less appealing to a woman than feeling the pressure to be other than she actually is, left to believe that she is "not enough," or that if she doesn't Barbie-ize herself, she may lose out to one of the always-available Barbie-like women out there, maybe even one with a Corvette and a Dream House. This dead-end is one in which many of us have found ourselves at one point or another in the course of past relationships, contorting into our best version of a "bombshell" as we have come to define it through the eyes of our partners, in order not to lose them. While it made us queasy to play the role, we felt compelled through fear of loss to do it anyway.
It is clear that women have to be very careful, because in our essential feminine energy, we can be our own worst enemy. As women, we have a natural tendency to nurture, take care of and put others before ourselves; babies need their mothers, and mothers need to be needed by their babies. In fact, based on the best of circumstances, the mother-baby bond develops into a mutual admiration society. A mother's main biological job from the very first moment of her offspring's life is to nurture her child. So, with this natural tendency alive in all of us, whether we have children or not, we need to be on guard against our propensity to give all of ourselves away to the other people in our lives.
Giving one's self away, running on empty or being a martyr are surefire ways to become depressed or anxious, feel a listless sideways drifting or lose a sense of direction in life. Sooner or later, it dawns on some women that they are simply "going through the motions" in life, rather than actually living the real thing, and the weight of the false construct becomes unbearable. After all, how long can someone fake it? If, on the other hand, women can choose to be true to themselves (and everyone else) from the very start, they may be able to escape this otherwise unavoidable face-off.
The main lesson is this: In order for women to reach their fully realized potential, they've got to learn to be themselves at all costs -- no matter what. Consider this a female call to arms: Be yourself! We do no good by playing ourselves smaller than we actually are -- meek, ineffectual and inhabiting an antiquated view of femininity. Instead, we owe it to our mothers, our grandmothers and their grandmothers to live this life "out loud," to be bold, and to be ourselves. It is a legacy of empowered female presence and inter-generational relationship. It is a precious heirloom passed from them to us, down through time, that we may protect it and nurture it, and ready it for the next generations of women who wait and watch and learn from the examples we set.
Dr. Rockwell and her grandmother, Regina Rockwell, 1988.
This column was originally published in Ambassador Magazine.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.
Follow Donna Rockwell, PsyD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drdonnarockwell