One Friday morning on the way to class I began listening to Emma Chamberlain’s podcast episode, “The Feminine Mold,” and found myself thrown back into some of the most performative years of my life and the times where I had to constantly build my self-esteem back up after being brought down. In this episode, Emma opens up about her realization in middle school that she didn’t fit the “stereotypical mold of a woman.” Of course, at a young age, we shouldn’t thrive to be a woman, but I agree with Emma when she asserts that it’s more than being a woman: it’s being the “ideal” woman.
This raises the question: what does the stereotypical woman look like, and how does this impact a young girl? Well, at the time, the stereotypical mold of a woman has always been white, skinny but curvy, blonde girls — the models you see on billboards or the celebrities on posters. Over the years, one can argue the expansion of the mold, but it remains a tight fit. And during the years of developing self-esteem, struggling to fit that mold and feeling like you’re not good enough impacts a growing child. For me, I grew up the only Asian girl and always the biggest size in my friend group. I was surrounded by loving friends and family, but I was never the object of someone’s affection. While I loved my friends immensely, it was painfully obvious that I didn’t look or act like them, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was five steps behind everyone else. I watched boys flounder around my friends and ignore my existence, and while I didn’t harbor any romantic feelings for these boys, it stings when you’re never even given the opportunity to entertain them.
Something I want to clarify is that male validation should not — and does not — determine someone’s self-esteem; however, when you already feel like you’re at a disadvantage with fitting the stereotypical mold and nothing proves you wrong, you start to feel inadequate. Thus, when you’re thrust into the world and put into situations where your femininity is at the forefront, you start to doubt your self-worth. My first (and only) relationship in high school was with my long-time guy best friend, and despite having a history of platonic love, I went into the relationship feeling extremely under-qualified for the intimacies of a relationship. I felt under-qualified in my physique and looks, I felt under-qualified in my ability to communicate, and I felt under-qualified in my capacity for intimacy, all because I grew up with wrecked self-esteem with the knowledge that I’d never fit “the feminine mold.”
During this relationship, I realized my broken self-esteem followed me throughout my developmental years and into my first experience of intimacy, and although I was now the object of someone’s affection, I was still fearful of not being enough. Alas, my relationship ended before college, but I have no regrets because the start of my personal journey began. I can look back and admit that my first relationship helped me get over my intimacy boundaries and understand that I’m worthy, and it also helped me also see that I let go of a lot of my fears without realizing it during that time. I entered the next stage of my life with a different outlook and perspective of myself. I began to accept my body and looks for what they are, not because a boy liked them, but because I realized that I didn’t need to alter myself at all for the likes of others. I let myself stop aiming to fit the stereotypical “ideal” woman because I am not that. I’m not skinny, tall, blonde, and white — I’m a short, curvy, Asian woman who couldn’t even fit the mold if I wanted to, and I’ve released myself from the struggle of trying to obtain it.
Accepting the fact that the ideal feminine mold is unattainable for some and that you don’t have to fit a stereotype to fulfill your self-worth is one of the most liberating things you can do for yourself. I’m tired of feeling like I need to be a certain person for others to find me worthy of their time and affection; who I am through and through should be enough. It’s time to stop caring about what society thinks you should and shouldn’t be, and allow yourself to be accepted all or nothing.
For so long, I was held back by the fear that I would never truly be seen or heard because I didn’t fit into the feminine mold. When I finally grew to appreciate myself for who I am and not the person women are told to be, I opened myself up to a world of authenticity and acceptance that should’ve been granted to me years ago.