These words were meant to break these women. But the opposite happened.
They are bravely putting the names they've been called out there for all to see.
You probably see women like them all the time.
Self-assured. Making waves. Moving and shaking out in the world, trying to make a difference and succeeding. There are women doing this everywhere you turn. You might work with some of them. You might be one.
I bet you would never guess by looking at such strong women that they likely endured some really vile put-downs throughout the course of their lives (and probably still do).
You may not guess that they struggled with internalizing those names and phrases, taking years before they could sort out what was true about themselves from what wasn't — that somewhere in the recesses of their psyche, there is still a small voice asking them if they're sure these names aren't true.
Every day, these women wake up and decide to give the middle finger to that voice in their head and whoever first planted those nasty names.
This happens to men sometimes, too.
To be sure, there are men who endure bullying and terrible names, and also have to find internal fortitude to succeed in spite of someone trying to take them down a peg. That happens. It seems for women, however, that it's not a crapshoot of whether they'll endure such abuse but rather a foregone conclusion of a lifetime of it. A bonus gift that comes with the package, if you will.
Maranda Pleasant, founding editor of Mantra magazine, started collecting stories from women who are ready to put these names to rest.
When I asked her why her new ongoing feature "What Have You Been Called?" is so important to her, she put it perfectly:
"We can't heal things that we don't talk about. Shame and silence are so linked. We are rising together, and this is going to happen very very quickly. We're ready. The sisterhood is powerful."
Meet these five brave women (featured in this month's Mantra magazine, along with 13 more) willing to put the names they've been called out there for all to see and to officially label them what they are: bullsh*t.
(Trigger warning: These aren't nice words. Some are cruel and threatening. But they're important for people to see.)
1. Laura Dawn
Things she's been called/told: vain; you walk like a whore; aggressive; bitch; bossy; the Mozart of pushy; awfully smart for such a gorgeous girl; difficult; you work for me so I'll f*ck you if I want to.
"That's just a small sample. I used to take this kind of thing to heart. I used to ask myself, over and over again, what I could have done differently? Could I dress differently? Not wear makeup? What was it about ME that invited these kinds of comments? Street harassment and these kinds of digs, plus more subtle forms of intimidation, were just part of my life as a young woman who has worked across several industries.
Learning to speak up for myself, learning to advocate for myself and to set acceptable limits has been one of the most empowering aspects of aging as a woman... as an activist and filmmaker, spreading the message that how we treat women in a society actually affects the health of the entire society, is one of my top priorities."
Things she's been called/told: good for nothing; lazy; ugly.
"These are words that rang in my ears many times over the course of my life. When I was younger, such invectives would really hurt me. Sometimes making me feel horrible about myself or how I looked. I actually questioned whether they were true, spending time examining my looks or actions for shreds of validity. I have learned two important lessons from this name calling. First, the only way another person can make me feel bad about myself is if I let them. Second, almost always, the person that called me the name didn’t really believe I was in fact ugly, lazy, or good for nothing. Generally the person projected the qualities in me that they least liked about themselves. Learn to love yourself unconditionally by loving others unconditionally."
3. Sara Agah
Things she's been called/told: brown cow; Miss Piggy; loud; flirty; impulsive; overly emotional.
"These are a few of the names that have stung since childhood. I wish I could tell you that I've risen above all of them, but truthfully, I'm still a work in progress. They are still empowering mantras for the woman I am today. Being called 'Brown Cow' in school for being Persian made me want to stand taller and proud of my heritage. Body shaming sucks and being called 'Miss Piggy' led me to question my body image. I still have times when I love my curvy body and times when I don't. ... I live life to the fullest. I laugh, play, and love hard and I'm not ashamed of any of it. I'm grateful that each of these words has given me the chance to reflect on my true self."
Things she's been called/told: cougar; f*cking bitch; difficult; worthless; too sexual; too direct; bossy cunt; domineering.
"I’ve lived my life believing labels, and carrying them like commands, living them out since I was a child. I was ridiculed for not having a father by other kids and beaten, leaving scars on my body and deep fear in my bones, by my caretaker. I carried the worthless label most of my life, attracting partners that would validate it. The importance of this piece was recognizing and embracing the words and beliefs that bring us shame, and taking them back, along with our power. They stopped owning me. This released me from a lifetime spent in shame."
5. Zoë Kors
Things she's been called/told: crazy; slut; too much; not enough; f*cking bitch; cunt.
"When people call me names, the sting is always accompanied by a certain satisfaction. It means I am doing a good job of waking them up. The only reason someone would feel the need to diminish me is if what I am presenting is powerful enough to threaten their sleepy complacency. And that is exactly why I do what I do, to shift paradigms. A wildly-expressed woman cannot be a good girl. The point is not to be liked, but to serve."
This happens to nearly every woman you see.
After seeing such horrible names met with unrelenting determination and grace, we can start talking about it and sorting out the vitriol that we might have internalized, too.
Later this month, Pleasant is plastering all 18 of the images from Mantra in over 200 locations around Paris. Shortly after, she plans to do the same in New York and Los Angeles. She wants women to have the experience of knowing that they aren't alone in being told some pretty nasty things about themselves. She's on a mission to heal the women of the world so we can keep moving forward to reach our individual and collective potential!
So let's start right now with ourselves. If you saw a piece of yourself in these images and stories, let's share this on Facebook and talk about the kinds of names we ourselves have been called. It's time to let them go.