… But not too much

This is Anna and I being "Too Much"

This is Anna and I being “Too Much”

I can’t remember exactly when my deep fear of being “Too Much” started, but I remember it was young. I started counting the number of times I answered a question in elementary school. I wanted to make sure that I answered just enough questions that my teacher knew I understood and that I was bright, but not enough to seem like I was “too much”. I would limit my number of answers per day and make sure that I didn’t raise my hand even when I knew the answer. I didn’t want my class mates to think I was a know it all. I was smart… but not too smart.

From a very early age I learned the game of being female and avoiding being “too much.” I learned quickly that being too smart, or too athletic, too funny, too emotional, or too opinionated would leave you on the outside, and as a social butterfly I never wanted to be an outsider. If I was going to be popular I would have too learn how to be just enough- I always wanted to avoid that horrible word “bossy” given to girls who are too much. I had to be assertive… but not too much.

I wish I could say my counting ended at elementary school. I continued to learn the lesson of being enough.. but not too much. When I got to the age of crushes I learned that if I wanted a boy to pay me attention I had to be enough… but not too much. I no longer was worried about the word “bossy” now I was worried about the word “intimidating.” On dates I would count the number of times I brought up some interesting fact, I didn’t want to seem like I knew too much. I counted the number of times I asked for help versus offered it. I noticed every time I mentioned sports and all the sports I played. I wanted to be athletic… but not too much. I counted the number of times I disagreed. I wanted to have my own opinion… but not too much. It all seems controlled and calculated but I was so accustom to it I wasn’t even doing it on purpose. I had to be accomplished… but not too much .

I learned as an adult that the way you look can also be too much. I think the first time someone told me that the way I look could be a stumbling block I learned that even my body could be too much. So I learned to pretend I didn’t hear the compliments, because they brought me joy that quickly turned to shame. This was only compounded when a superior told me I was very beautiful, but that I shouldn’t dress so stylishly because it was too much. I have heard of co-workers who were called in because they appeared too frumpish, and didn’t take good enough care of themselves. You need to be beautiful as a woman…. But not too much.

I know what too much feels like so when I read the news following our presidential debates and I heard that Hilary was being accused of being too much I wasn’t surprised. She needed to be friendly and approachable.. but not too much. Don’t smile so big. She needed to be poised and put together.. but not too much. She was over prepared. She needed to be tough but not too much. She shouldn’t have brought up the past mistakes of her opponent.

I’m sad to say that this is what we have been doing to women – and what women have been doing to each other – for generations. We have (all of us) created a culture and society where women are juggling and balancing so many expectations that it seems like we’ll never be enough – simply because we are too much.

When is this impossible tug-of-war going to stop?

I recently got to be part of a podcast that was simply women talking about being women, and it made me realize that it is vitally important for us to name all the times we have been perceived as too much and how damaging that can be. I’ve been surprised by all the e-mails, messages and tweets of people saying thank you for being you

Wow. I guess there are places and people who needed me to be ‘too much’ so they could be just enough.

I have the most beautiful niece in the world, Anna. I hope she is never going to feel she’s too much – because from where I stand, it would be impossible. She is funny, smart, beautiful and compassionate. She has a little artist’s soul and laughs with so much abandon; I never want her to feel the pain of being ‘too much.’ I want her to live out loud and realize that who she is exactly who God made her too be; her abundance is her gift, to herself and the world. I want to protect her from all the places and people who will tell her that she can’t be or do something just because she is a girl. I want her to know that the day we found out she was a girl we rejoiced because we knew what the world needed was another tough little Heath girl.

Will you join me in protecting these girls? Will you come alongside me in championing the talented, powerful women in your life? Straight single guys, will you consider taking a chance and dating that amazing girl whom you feel a little edgy around because she’s so darn impressive? Will you join me in talking about our female leaders in ways that are supportive and productive? Will you speak up when you hear someone discussing a female leader’s gender instead of the issues at hand? Will you help me give birth to a world where little girls never worry that their presence is too much?

I hope so. With the challenges our planet is facing, we need all hands on deck. It’s no time to be playing small – our future depends on it.

  1. Laurie Allison says:

    When I was working as a nurse in the 1980’s I remember reading in a Nursing Journal about why are we”eating our young”. As working nurses we were not nurturing the new nurses starting out. It sounds so strange but as you said, we have been doing this for generations. I felt it watching Hillary Clinton in the recent debate. Don’t get shrill, don’t do this, don’t do that or the media will crucify you.

    I’m with you Sarah, we need to stop this and I pray we are all strong enough to change our responses and nudge others to do the same. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this was never an issue for our granddaughters?!

  2. Carolyn Farmer says:

    yes let’s set our daughters and nieces free! I thought it waS a southern thing- this submissive way I learned to maneuver around men. I blamed my mother so Im not teaching my daughter anything except to treat everyone with respect. I guess it was society not just my Mom. Thanks Sarah for inspiring me to think this through.

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