Here’s how I answered: http://whatiseeproject.com//story/what-do-you-see-when-you-look-in-the-mirror633 …Oh how I wish I’d actually prepped for it. And worn lipstick. But anyway
So, what about you? Do you see the physical stuff? Or do you see beyond that? Maybe a bit of both? I think that this is the very best thing about the What I See project – it collects the thoughts of women from all backgrounds, races, creeds, professions…. but its really the diversity of their answers to That Question that is the most startling.
I suppose the obvious answer is that I see me - blonde, blue/grey eyes, smiley, soon to hit 30. But then even that, even the physical stuff. My view of me is just that – MY view. Other people probably see me differently. And their view is undoubtedly kinder than mine.
Going beyond the physical, I see someone who is pretty tough on herself – I am often my own biggest critic, the loudest voice of dissent, the biggest bringer of doubt and keeper of worry. I’m also rather too familiar with the concept of Imposter Syndrome. Even on good days, I kept expecting someone to arrive, measure me and find me wanting. That feeling that I am kind of ‘conning’ my way through life. I’m really not that good, I’m just lucky. And one day, someone will realise this and I will be unemployed.
Worryingly, I know that I am not alone in this rather bleak viewpoint. Many of my friends, all wonderful, talented women, feel the same. That they never quite deserve success (because they’ve just lucked into it), and even when they do become successful , that ‘burden’ is lightly borne (read: laughed off).
I have a sneaking suspicion that Imposter Syndrome is particularly prevalent in female physicists and engineers (my inherent bias may come into play here!). But I’ve honestly lost count of the number of times a deserving female colleague has resisted putting herself forward for promotion, has held back on publishing new data, or has only applied for a conference after being pushed by a colleague. On an almost daily basis, I’ve seen friends focus on one dark spot of negative feedback rather than seeing the positive stuff surrounding it. In the male-dominated world of physics and engineering, I believe that this, more than anything else, is what continues to hold many women back.
But I also believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because this is not something embedded in the culture of research, it is not a sinister undercurrent of sexism in science, it is not something thrown at us by male colleagues in the lab. We do this to ourselves.
This is not as depressing as it might seem. In fact, it is WONDERFUL. Because it means that we can stop doing it ! Today, tomorrow, we all have the ability to not do it any more. But how, you might ask? What magic solution does this nerdy girl propose?
Talk about it.
Simple as that. Be honest about how you see yourself to your friends and family. Think about how you approach issues of conflict or confidence and next time, try doing exactly the opposite. It might feel so good that it’ll change how you respond forever. Or it might feel so scary that you get sweaty palms. Either way, it’s a positive thing because you’ll have actually taken ownership of it. And who knows, maybe you’ll soon be able to look yourself straight in the eye (in the mirror) and say “Enough of the doubt. I am me. Time to tell the world”. That way, we can teach our daughters to recognise the signs and work hard to conquer them. We can also help our fathers, brother, sons and colleagues to realise that this issue exists. All just by talking. Isn’t that flipping fantastic?
That is exactly the type of thing I’ve been trying to do over the last couple of years. Be honest about what I really want, and take action to get it. Take more risks. Be less tough on myself. All positive things. But it’s taken me until now to realise that it has started to come together, in a weird blob of contentment.
Now, I see a female scientist. I see a writer. I see a kind, thoughtful person. I see my mother and my grandmother. My sisters and my friends. My enemies and my many roadblocks. I see my past and a wonderful future. I see the sum of all of my experiences to date. I see my potential. I see me. I still might not be too enamoured with my physical appearance, but at last I can say “Enough of the doubt. I am me. Time to tell the world”.
Taking part in this project has been a bit of a revelation for me – it’s been the catalyst for this blog post, but it has also been the excuse to actually sit down and be a think selfishly for a bit. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking part, but I want you guys to get involved too – feel free to comment below, or even better, contribute to the site itself: http://whatiseeproject.com/submit – you can upload a video or image, share your story, or even just send a tweet. Please do consider contributing – your voices will make the project all the richer… and will make us all feel more positive about the future of womankind. What have you got to lose?!