Transformational leaders inspire by challenging what we hold to be true. They demand that we examine our assumptions, question their validity, and encourage discourse.
Especially when doing so makes us uncomfortable.
Jess Weiner, in her recent article, "Loving My Body Almost Killed Me," in the September issue of Glamour, shows that she is this transformational leader. In sum, Weiner argues that overweight women rationalize ignoring their physical health as a response to the thin-obsessed culture we live in. Make no mistake, Weiner clearly understands the profoundly negative consequences for all women chasing the thin body ideal. But she is also drawing attention to a body acceptance movement that convinces women to turn a blind eye to the very real health problems linked to obesity.
It is essential to women's emotional health to love their body in spite of the constant messages we get that we only deserve to do so if we are as thin as we are told to be. But somewhere along the way we lost the overall point: women's emotional and physical health are interconnected and we do ourselves a grave disservice if we don't take care of our physical health because we are so busy defending ourselves from the emotional tyranny of being thin.
Weiner had this epiphany at a moment when self-reflection was probably the last thing she wanted to do. Weiner was challenged by a woman in a public forum about her right to speak on woman's health because she herself was overweight. This woman forced Weiner to look at a very uncomfortable truth. Superficial leaders would have responded with a quick dismissive comeback; never having the courage to recognize any of the truth in the speaker's question. True leaders take these difficult moments and face them head on. That is exactly what Weiner did. As she writes in the Glamour article:
I'd written books and magazine columns, appeared countless times on Oprah and other TV shows, and given hundreds of speeches telling women to love themselves no matter what their size. But now it was time to consider not just my self-esteem but also my wellbeing... I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to the doctor. My body wasn't anyone else's business, but had I done everything I could to make it my business?
Weiner's call to action is not limited to herself. It is also a call to action for other women. But some may not see it that way. Instead, Weiner's argument may be labeled by some as disloyal to overweight women. It is not. When we require ideological purity in our discourse, we by definition stop the authenticity of that discourse.
I know something of this experience. When I first started writing about the mean things girls do to each other, some of my colleagues believed I was wrong to bring it up. I was accused of being disloyal, unfairly blaming girls, or creating conflict within the girls' self-esteem movement. What I believed, and continue to believe to this day, is that girls and women are only able to reach their true potential and have authentic relationships if they are honest and self-reflective. It's just too easy to accept the easy answers and silence the difficult ones.
It doesn't matter if the issue is women's weight or girls' cruelty. Women, individually and collectively, must challenge themselves. They must see that loyalty is speaking the truth precisely in those moments when you know something is wrong; when you fear rejection and backlash from your community but you speak out anyway. As a leader in the body acceptance movement, it is critical that Weiner's article fosters dialogue among women. By doing so she's not only taking care of her emotional and physical health but also role-modeling what it means to be an empowered courageous leader.