Dear Societal Expectations: I Quit

Portrait of a young woman running her hands through her hair.
Portrait of a young woman running her hands through her hair.


You've been telling me how to be a woman all my life. You, with your glittering perfection and your attractive bar of expectation and your promises for love and acceptance and significance, if I'll just do this.

Just this being perfect. Just this juggling everything--home, love, family, career--and making it all look easy. Just this flaunting your definition of a perfect body.

I see your expectations in the eyes of my sisters. I see them in magazines, where models have hourglass figures and smooth skin and sculpted limbs. I see them in the heroines you splash in the plot lines of television shows and movies--those strong women who are always great business women and yet loving mothers and caretakers at home with their perfectly groomed and well behaved children.

I see your expectations everywhere, because, somewhere along the way, we all bought into your idea that perfect is synonymous with woman.

Perfect body, perfect life, perfect job, perfect careers, perfect husband, perfect home. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

The story you tell is an alluring one. That I could be loved and celebrated for being perfect is an appealing thought. That I could do it all and do it all well enough to call it easy is a daunting yet coveted dream. That I could be made to feel desirable for wearing a perfect body even after six babies have stretched and torn and marked this one is a lovely idea.

But what you don't always say, what we often have to discover for ourselves in ways that feel disappointing and terrifying, and, sometimes, shameful, is that your story is no more than a pretty little lie.

Being loved and celebrated for a perfection that doesn't exist is nothing more than being loved and celebrated for wearing a fake skin and fake smile and fake attitude that everything is just fine the way it is, even if it's not. We reinvent ourselves, sharing only the parts we think the world will find worthwhile and beautiful, and our real selves with its thoughts and mistakes and black struggles are buried beneath the weight of a life that wears perfection like a shell but cannot hold up to the shaking storms. Hiding our imperfections means we lose, all around.

Doing everything and doing it all well is an impossible feat, so of course it will never look easy, of course it will never look simple, of course it will never look as wonderful as we're promised it will look. Because there are always snotty noses to wipe and dishes to wash and toilets to clean and emails to send and a partner to please and time to give and papers to sign and work to do and hearts to mend and sleep. This kind of life, trying to find balance and make it look easy, will mostly make us want to sleep.

The perfect body, what might this look like? Glowing face, dolled-up eyes, unlined neck, stick-thin arms, perfectly symmetrical breasts, tiny waist, wide-but-not-too-wide hips, muscular-but-not-too-muscular legs, pedicured feet? Maybe more? Who gets to decide the dimensions of this perfect body? Men? Women?

Your expectations are just like your story. Pretty little lies, all of them.

So I have come here today to tell you this, societal expectations: Thank you for your standard, but no thanks.


I don't need your dazzling ideal of what a real woman should be, because I know that who I am is a real woman. I am a real woman with my imperfection and my imbalance and my body that doesn't look like all the magazines say it should. My sisters, with all their different pasts and all their different realities and all their different sizes, are real women, too.

We are much more than false realities and easy achievements and bodies that fit into our jeans today but may not tomorrow.

So what if our story holds some pits along its path? So what if we're falling into those pits right this minute, because danger and disappointment and mistakes are often hard to see until you're right down in the hole of them? So what if our lives don't look like all those fairy tales because we have to work really hard at choosing love every single day?

So what?

So what if our career isn't quite where it would have been had we not gotten married when we did or had kids when we did or just chosen to quit when we did? So what if our home has dust on every surface and dishes piled in a dirty sink and enough lint on the floor to clog four vacuum cleaners? So what if we just yelled at our kids because they were being really annoying and we just couldn't take it anymore and then we had to apologize and agree that, no, it wasn't the proper way to talk to each other?

So what?

So what if we carry a little weight around the hips because we really like chocolate and it's coming up on the holidays, and there's really no point in trying to lose it now because it's just a losing try? So what if we don't every day painstakingly apply that makeup because we don't really care about standing out in a crowd or being seen for the beauty we can paint on our skin? So what if we didn't get around to working out today because the baby was a little fussy or a friend called and wanted to talk or we just wanted to sit out in the cool air of fall and soak it up while we could?

So what?

We're tired of living up to your standards, society. So we'll make our own:

The real story of our lives is way better than the fake one.
Today's work is enough for today, even if we did absolutely nothing.
Forget the beholder, beauty is in the eye of us.

We will bare our imperfections with fear that steps around fear and shares those scary pieces anyway. We will do what we can, right now, today, without agonizing about what someone else is doing and how they're doing so much more than we are. We will wear our yoga pants and our unbrushed-hair ponytails and our naked faces with pride, because we believe we are beautiful, and that's all that matters.

We are Woman. Hear us roar.

A version of this article originally appeared on Rachel's web site. Find Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.