what if girls were rewarded for being authentic instead of being thin?



Stop the presses. Kim Kardashian lost the baby weight and has her hot body back!

Give a typical teenage girl the choice between learning about Kim’s dramatic weight loss, or the new female CEO of General Motors, I think I know which story she would pick.

Girls aren’t stupid. They know what’s relevant to how they themselves get judged everyday. Mary Barra’s rise to power is all very well, but does she look good in a bikini?

There’s an anecdote that another female corporate giant, Sheryl Sandberg, likes to tell. She was doing a Q+A with Facebook employees and informed them that she would take two more questions.

Later, a young woman informed her: “After you took those two final questions, I put my hand down and all the other women put their hands down. A bunch of men kept their hands up and then you took more questions.”

Sandberg admits that she hadn’t even noticed.*

Sandberg reminds me of a teacher in a classroom who favors the boys without realizing. Boys feel entitled to the teacher’s attention. They call out the answers. They raise their hands even when they’re wrong because they know the teacher will correct them and they will learn the answer anyway. The girls raise their hands only when they are one hundred percent convinced that their answer is the right answer. For them, there is no room for error. The risk of social humiliation – the deep brutal wrongness of being wrong – is too great.**

But this isn’t just an issue of who raises their hand – or leans in – and who doesn’t.

Recognition is power.

Recognition is currency.

Recognition is a limited resource.

When you translate recognition into those kinds of terms – power and wealth –- you see the real lesson in the classroom (unless the teacher makes a conscious, concerted effort to call on boys and girls equally).

The boys scramble for power – and are rewarded.

The girls keep quiet – because they don’t want to speak out of turn (and be considered rude or obnoxious), because they don’t want to be wrong (and therefore less than perfect), because they don’t want to compete with the boys (and risk not being liked or desired).

Good girls don’t chase power.

Power isn’t feminine.

Many of these girls grow into women who equate being quiet and small, being polite — being good — with being safe. But if this was true, violence against girls and women would not be such a global epidemic. It would only be safe to be powerless if the powerless were always protected.

And if keeping yourself small was the essence of femininity, if turning away from power was a natural feminine state, the constant online conversation about women’s desire to play a bigger game wouldn’t exist.

What if we could offer girls a version of femininity that allowed them to be just as outspoken as they wanted to be – as outspoken as any boy? That celebrated their messy, glorious, imperfect selves? That rewarded them for being bold, for playing big, for taking risks, for making mistakes, for coloring outside the lines, for living off the very edge of their comfort zone – and expanding it?

What if being feminine meant being entitled to pleasure, to appetite, to sexual satisfaction?

What if it meant choosing instead of being chosen?

What if popular culture rewarded girls and women for being authentic instead of being thin?

What if the appointment of a female CEO happened often enough that the ‘female’ part was no longer considered newsworthy?

If we allowed feminine to be synonymous with badass – so that you wouldn’t have to single out a woman for being a ‘strong woman’ (implying that the average woman is not) or a ‘powerful woman’ (implying that the average woman is not) — so that a woman like me would never think of writing a blog post like this – what would happen?

Would power reinvent women?

Or would women reinvent power?

* see the book KNOWING YOUR VALUE by Mika Brezezinski

** see the book SCHOOLGIRLS by Peggy Orenstein

Dec 17, 2013

19 comments · Add Yours

Thank you for being bold enough to write this article. My feminine badass soul deeply appreciates it.

I’m newly divorced and dating for the first time in 26 years. Very scary!
I recently dated a Dr. (psychiatrist). I knew there was a problem after the second date. I took note that he hadn’t asked me one single question about my professional or family life. Not one mention. When I mentioned this to him and he went blank.

Dates 3 through 5 I began taking the liberty of speaking up and sharing things about my work as a profession as a professional Psychic Medium and Author. Still blank…….

I of course ended the relationship or whatever you will call it.
I expressed exactly how I felt about his lack of interest in any area of my life that didn’t involve making out on his living room floor.

I told him he was self-absorbed, spoiled, and arrogant. Finally a reaction! He had nerve to be shocked.
His next words were “no one has ever talked to me that way, or said things like that to me before.”

I came back with “I might be new to dating but I am no fool, you think you are superior to me because of the letters behind your name and your zip code.

I finished with “at this age I’m only interested in making out on living room floors with a man who can proudly share his platform with an intelligent, smart, sexy, woman.”

Great article :-)


The one note I got sent home with in grade school was for speaking without being called on. I had to assert myself because the teacher ignored my hand being raised and addressed the boys who called out. I remember being so embarrassed trying to explain to my parents why I spoke out. Funny that was the year (3rd grade) I started an “underground” newspaper. It was underground because my teacher didn’t know about it!

This was a brilliant piece. My favorite line is about being rewarded for choosing rather than being chosen. Yes! Yes! That is a life changing trajectory.


All those rewarding, expanding, outspoken, celebrated, varied and “what if” versions of femininity ARE flourishing! The growing sport and community of women’s flat track roller derby allows women to experience all those new definitions and define what feels comfortable for themselves. It’s amazing to see the impact it has on the lives of the women, as well as girls who play in junior derby leagues, as they recognize themselves as powerful and full of power.


Brilliance, as always, Justine. Badass brilliance. :)


@Janis I agree! And I hold out hope that one one day a roller derby woman will be on the cover of a mainstream pop-culture magazine instead of yet another picture of Kim Kardashian. :)


Simply put, Justiine Musk, you da bomb! Keep it coming, Justine.
Thanks for a very provocative essay.
Marla Miller


Keep it coming, Justine. The goal is to raise little girls to believe their worth is connected to their sense of accomplishments and we are getting there. As for Kim K, in time I hope she uses her media power to create something of value for little girls like her daughter. I do believe a base of power is money-she could do a lot of good and maybe she will someday. I will say this about her-she has helped girls with less than ‘skinny’ profiles feel better about themselves-sounds trivial but really isn’t. Girls with some meat on their bones do admire her for enjoying herself at the family table and not feeling bad about enjoying food…that’s something in this society.
Thanks for another very provocative essay.
Marla Miller


@Marla Miller That’s a really good point about Kim K promoting a different body ideal. I’m not against beauty or hotness; we have an inborn fascination with them. I just want to see *options*, whether it’s different types of beauty or other ways that girls and women are actively encouraged — by the popular culture at large, and not just certain elements of it — to seek recognition as creative and accomplished human beings.


Hi, Justine.

I’ve been lurking lately (due to lack of time and doing most of my blog reading on my iPhone while lying next to my daughter as she falls asleep … not conducive to leaving comments), but just had to drop a note on this post because you’ve hit on something so important here.

My daughter, who will be ten next month, is a bright and spirited girl who is engaged in a quiet, but ferocious battle to find her footing and her “place.” She does not fit any of the typical stereotypes (for which I am eternally grateful), but – although I applaud her individuality and creativity – I can tell she sometimes feels pulled by the gravity of labeled identities: dancer, cheerleader, popular girl.

Reading your post, I was struck by how simple and yet powerful just giving recognition – paying attention – can be. So often, as you point out, young girls (and grown women, too) are given attention for being or doing things that are superficial at best and artificial at worst. Through years of incorrectly targeted positive reinforcement, they learn to place the highest value not on their own unique ideas and strengths, but on whatever bits and pieces of themselves conform best to the others’ expectations.

Such a shame.

I always try to pay attention to my daughter without any prejudice or assumption. I try to recognize her for who she really is and the magic she brings into the world.

Maybe it’s time I started doing the same for myself, too.

Thanks for this post.


Wonderful post, Justine! I feel so lucky to have spent time with you and the other badass women at the retreat last weekend. This is hugely important stuff, and I can’t wait to see where you take it.


Great post Justine! I shared it with my audience on Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s great that you mentioned Sheryl Sandberg in this light. I still don’t know what her intentions are about this whole ‘lean in’ thing, but I came across this interesting piece that I think you’ll like as well – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/11/corporate-feminism-capitalism-womens-working-lives

There is no doubt that the media continue to broadcast these ridiculous stories about all these female celebs regarding superficial things. On the other hand, women and girls are guilty of consuming it. So I feel as much as we need to demand more from our media (advertising, etc), we have to demand more of ourselves. We could start a movement that whenever these trash mags have these types of stories, that we don’t buy them. Anyways, just a thought.

Oh, and here’s another article you’ll get a kick out of – http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/16/its-a-mans-world-and-it-always-will-be/#ixzz2niFYigcK.

Well, keep kicking ass and reminding women and society in general, what we ought to be striving for!


The designer in me thats sat through lots of branding meetings makes me think we either need a new word; or that “feminine” needs a good re-branding. I’ve never liked the word much. Practically by definition it means small, delicate, (delicate i.e.: breakable). I prefer the word “womanly” myself. Seems to have a bit more weight and power with it.

I think society as a whole as started calling bullshit on the patriarchy here recently. And not just for women, but for men, gays, lesbians and trans folks as well. I think its slow, and will come from the ground up – but its happening.


Yeah, people started calling bullshit on patriarchy during the first wave of feminism in the 1800s (and probably before then). The problem is that we advance and then retreat, make gains and then lose them in the inevitable backlash. Look at the erosion of reproductive rights, for example, or the fact that we are *once again* debating whether women can or should combine motherhood and a career (otherwise known as “having it all” — because all women want the same thing, right?) And the battles change for each generation — young women now tend not to think there’s a problem until much later in the game, when they’re married with babies and suddenly confronted with much less ‘choice’ than they were led to expect (and still doing more housework than their partner).

This culture is built on a contempt for the feminine, which means it needs to perceive the feminine as exactly how you described: weak, frivolous, girly, etc. We could switch to another word (womanliness is a good one) but it still doesn’t change this idea that feminine = weak, and so long as that idea is still out there, the damage will continue to be done. Even women (some women) learn to distance themselves from ‘the feminine’ — to mock it, to disdain it, all those bad jokes about Lifetime movies –, in order to align themselves with power or identify themselves as powerful. Which, when you think about it, is a rather neat mindfuck….to be a woman who is essentially disowning her own womanhood. Thing is, if you look at depictions of femininity before patriarchy whitewashed and downsized it, you can see that it was actually pretty badass (as represented by goddess figures like Inanna. She rocked it.) I’d like to see it not rebranded so much as reclaimed, filled out, made whole. Imagine what it would be like if ‘feminine’ was a concept that inspired you and made you proud — what that might do to your sense of self. Now that would be a revolution.


@justine musk Yes! A reclaiming rather than a re-branding. I’m one of those women who’s disowned their own womanhood and I’m trying to figure out now how to reconcile it, or if I should – ect. I honestly don’t even know what ‘femininity’ / womanhood is if it isn’t babies and baking cookies. I’m not even trying to be sarcastic – I don’t know. I know I am a female, and I do as I please – so is that ‘feminine’? Not sure I have any answers, but its kinda confusing.

Innana is one of my favorite badasses. I’d also give a shout to Kali, The Morrigan, and Sekmet. :)


Yes! The choice to be authentic is in itself power. And as we claim that personal power, we somehow release others to do so also. Thanks for your empowering message!


I just found this link through someone else’s blog. I just had to comment that I am one of those girls who you described…not answering a question unless I am 100% sure, being quiet means being safe, etc. This also describes my daughter. After reading this, well…I think you just changed my life.


A very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your point of view.


Fantastic article. So true. However, I think we as women or girls have to come to a point in our lives where we make the decision to defy society. From a personal point of view: I am almost 6 feet tall, have ridden big, spirited horses since I was 7 years old and big motorcycles since about 16 years of age. I get a lot of compliments about my looks so I know I’m not unattractive because of my tomboyishness. The older I get, the more I defy society’s demands on me as a woman. I’m not afraid to ‘live large’! I never had children but if I’d had daughters I’d have encouraged them to totally be themselves and embrace who they are, not be shrinking violets because that’s what society expects.



Lovely thoughts.

Hitting the nail on the head is quite different to hitting the head on the nail.
The difference is a shift, a change of state…Silence, solitude and soulfood helps. I am notaadvocating running off to the Himalayas. There are more treacherous climbs and descents deep within.

There is an ocean of creatrix out there, waiting to be discovered. It is just that they are not in the right state. They have been conditioned to believe that they are defective pieces that need mending, are incomplete and need additions. Addition is the biggest misconception in humankind. The idea that we need to ‘ add” to ourselves to progress. This is far from the truth. We are born perfect and complete. We need to subtract. We need to rid ourselves of the unnecessary, the noise…


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