When she came out as a transgender woman, I was in awe. The courage it took to defy the expectations of an entire, narrow-minded and defiant society is unfathomable.
When she revealed herself as Caitlyn, I was dumfounded. Her beauty was mesmerizing, as was her confidence to introduce herself to the public so spectacularly. I can only speculate as to the amount of fear and anxiety and nervousness she experienced, before she graced that popular cover.
When she spoke at the ESPYs, I was inspired. Her words of encouragement and pleas of acceptance were emboldened. I believed it was a speech everyone should hear, knowing that at least one person was made to feel a little more understood that night.
And then I listened to it again.
While I do believe the bulk of her speech was beautiful, I found myself cringing at the beginning. Jokes about hair and makeup and being judged for what she wore, afraid people wouldn't accept her outfit or the way she looked in it. Speaking about the difficulty of preparing for a night out and how she "finally understands, ladies" how hard it is to be a woman who must primp and arrange and groom and brush.
And, honestly, it's insulting.
Caitlyn Jenner has an amazing opportunity to re-define what society thinks it means to be a woman.
After all, she was a woman way before she put on a dress and smiled for a famous photographer.
She can fight back against the stereotypes that teach young and impressionable ladies that they must look a certain way, weigh a specific number, fit into a certain size and be interested in a distinct set of things, in order to be validated as women.
And she's waving at the opportunity as it passes her by, perfectly manicured fingernails and all.
Imagine the potential self-love the struggling transgender teen could feel if he or she heard such a prominent figure, tell them it didn't matter if they "passed" as a male or female. Imagine the power of a very small, seemingly insignificant message: that convincing others your identity is valid isn't essential, of concern or at all necessary.
Think of the strength women around the country would feel, if they were told that liking what they like doesn't have to depend on how "feminine" it is. That they don't need to fit inside a carefully crafted box of femininity in order to identify as female.
Imagine the empowerment women would feel, if we could redefine what it means to be beautiful. If we reminded women that, while contrary to popular belief, your hair or shoes or wardrobe do not define your loveliness. What if we could instill a sense of self-worth in women that goes beyond the physical; deeper than their skin and into the marrow of their personalities and intelligence.
Consider the change that could occur if, instead of hearing about how hard a woman's life is because it takes her a long time to "get ready" for an evening, we heard about how hard a woman's life is because of blatant misogyny and overt sexism and dwindling reproductive rights and disproportionate wages. Those things are the culprit of a woman's difficulties, not the number of hours she spends putting on fake eyelashes.
I can only attempt to fathom how difficult it is, trying to find your place in a particular part of society after spending sixty five years as a public representative of another. I am sure that she's using these debilitating cliches to help her feel more accepted by a society that, unfortunately, believes them.
I don't doubt that Caitlyn is indulging in activities characterized as "female" because, for the majority of her life, she felt they were off-limits. While many take those activities for granted, she considers them a novelty and that is more than understandable.
But relying on outdated, out-played and just plain outrageous stereotypes to somehow confirm your identity as a woman is more hurtful than helpful. It tells women that if they do not spend hours on their makeup or worry about fitting into a particular dress or "pass" a specific set of standards set for them by a society that cares more about what they look like than who they are, they aren't women.
It solidifies the dangerous belief that a woman is less than if she is not perceived to be perfect, effortless and flawless.
It whittles down the beautiful complexities of every woman and, instead, defines her solely on her appearance.
And that, Caitlyn, isn't what being a woman is about.