In my first article, entitled ‘Barbie Does Diversity’, I introduced the idea of Unmasking Barbie and removing the false pretenses or the masks that we each often wear. We take on these inauthentic masks for reasons that we think will help us to succeed, to be accepted, valued and also heard. They get in the way of who we really are, and our financial and physical well-being.
So here’s the question for this article! How do we unmask our Barbie-selves? ‘Barbie’ is the cultural norm that calls us all to be something other than ourselves, and this is, frankly, hard to live with. It gets in the way of letting our true gifts shine, embrace our powerful selves and make our lives productive. To answer this question, let’s take a look at what masks are and how we can remove them.
Masks, you say? Do I have them? We all do! Sometimes these masks are hidden to us and we don’t even realize we have them. Other times we are aware of them, but still can’t control them when they show themselves to others.
Here’s the problem and why it’s important to consider this. Masks become the lens through which we see the world. The masks we take on may readily cause us to judge others, judge ourselves, and judge situations unfairly from subconscious biases that we hold. To unmask Barbie, and live authentically and most productively — it is time to clarify how this works. Then we can make choices to get on with life.
Masks We’re Aware Of
Some of the masks we wear we know very well. Honestly, we do. By working with countless women over decades, I have identified two basic types:
- Masks that show up when we engage in becoming a different person in response to situations; ie. so that we can survive, accomplish, or just fit in.
- Masks that we know we have but don’t want anyone else to know we are harboring; which we are conscious of and hiding to serve ourselves in some way.
An example is an introvert who attends a business networking event. When necessary she puts on a mask to get the courage to network, meeting new people for the benefit of her company; but she has to set outside being her true self. Because this type of mask is one she is aware of, she may pull it out when she needs it. It works at the moment, but inside her comfortable self is abandoned.
Here’s a simple exercise for detecting the masks that you know you have but don’t want anyone else to see. For the exercise, you will need a mirror, and the courage to look closely at your own image in the mirror, to tell the truth about yourself.
Stand in front of the mirror or hold it
- First, ask about your perfectionist tendencies such as having to be it all, doing it all and having it all. Questions like, why isn’t my life the way I imagine it?
- Then, consider how you view your looks. Questions like do I like my body?
- Then move onto how you view your inner self. Do I feel comfortable being me?
- Having done that, ask this: what is it you hope people will never see or know about you? Try to think of times in the past when what you have been hiding from the world. Got that? How was some aspect of you revealed and how did you react?
When I first developed this exercise, I didn’t realize how much being perfect was important to me and such a big part of how I was acting out my life. It took a huge setback, one where I literally crashed and burned for me to face this truth about myself. The good news is what it taught me.
In my life, I had always tried so hard to be perfect. This resulted in me creating an exterior that looked perfect, as well as doing inner work so that I could become perfect on the inside, too. But I kept noticing that, at times, I still behaved less than perfectly. This caused so much shame that it made me feel completely inadequate. The voices inside my head would say, ‘See you aren’t perfect, in fact, you’re not enough at all.’
This mask that I had was impacting my enthusiasm for life, my ability to show up as the real me and was just unrealistically hard work. It had to go for me to be free to live my life, to do my work and to be comfortable in my own skin.
I hear many women readily admit, ‘I know that I am not perfect and it’s OK not to be perfect.’ I notice them because I used to be one of them. But the culture, the media, the movies, the makeup, and plastic surgery specialists are all telling us something so different — and sometimes we take their word for it and not our own.
So, to unmask Barbie, it is important to really walk through the mirror exercise and find out what is true for your true self. Is it really okay to not be perfect? How would you feel if others saw you totally undone, in an embarrassing situation or having said something you don’t consider intelligent? With those extremes in mind, would it really be okay to not be perfect?
It’s in these vulnerable moments that you will find these masks and get real about the masks that you use when you want to hide your imperfection. Then you can decide to be the real you and show up with your frailties and your gifts and talents!
Masks We’re Unaware Of
The other type of masks is those we don’t know exist. These are the tougher ones because they can be in between you and reality and you are not even aware of them.
I call these “shadow masks”. They are mostly the darker side of us. However, for some women especially insecure women, the shadow can be their beauty and their brilliance that they are too afraid to show the world. Since they are hidden from even us, how are we supposed to figure them out?
We can look in a couple of places. One is in our belief system, especially the beliefs we have about ourselves.
Ask yourself about these questions
- Were you ever told by teachers, parents, peers, etc, that you weren’t pretty enough, smart enough, creative enough?
- Or, were you told to respect your elders? And in doing so, not know your own feelings?
- Or, told that girls should be soft, nice, accommodating and not confrontational?
- And then there is your upbringing and society. They dictate how we feel about ourselves as women. Were you brought up, like I was, to not be opinionated or to speak out? Were you brought up to hide your voice?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, then those answers hold the clues for the masks you wear. These are the aspects of you that you think others want you to be. And your life is being held hostage by these expectations. They are obscuring who you really are or want to be. And because they hinder you, they don’t allow a complete picture of you to be seen by the world.
This highlights a very important point: The gap between who you are and who you want to be (with the illusion that you hold because if these masks), is essential to the process of unmasking Barbie. You get to be real! That’s all that is asked of you.
How to sort this out? Try this fun look at yourself.
Things You’ll be Asking Yourself
- What aspects of me already exist that are great and you love?
- Conversely, which parts are the prior versions of you? Which parts aren’t you at all but you think should be you?
As another brief exercise, get out a sheet of paper. Make two columns and label the columns this way, ‘True Me’ and ‘Should Be Me’. Write the aspects of yourself that apply to each column. What is true about you? What is what you have fabricated about you?
Now, review your lists to learn which parts of you can be unmasked. For this, you will need the courage to let go of some old stuff. This old stuff no longer serves you and shows you where you are holding back. These holding back places are where you have been falsely believing that they are necessary for your survival. Now it is time for your thrive!
Accepting Your Inner Bitch
This is hard to say, but I’m going to admit it to you anyway. That is: A mask I have worn is common among women, it’s The Bitch mask. Let’s be truthful here. Because it’s how I’ve found my real self. Often we women don’t want to admit that we have a Bitch side inside us. Why is this because it can be very useful at certain times?
This is because, in the male paradigm which I described in my first article, we have learned that the world doesn’t want to experience us that way. It dampens us down. We are taught not to be a Bitch. Moreover, we even judge each other for being that way. However, this dumbing down means that our power to stand up for yourselves is diminished.
We all need to realize that there is a Bitch inside each woman and that this belongs to us! We each span the full range of emotion and sometimes having the fire in the belly is important to shaping our lives and the nature of the world we live in.
While this is a delicate subject, our voice — each of our womanly voices — is essential in this world. It is essential to be alive with our full expression.
Here’s a common scenario that I’ve seen in the work environment. Most of us want to be liked and don’t want to come across or be said to be a Bitch. That’s the training that girls, which translates into women, get in our culture.
Not accepting our inner Bitch can lead us to be way too nice, overly pleasing and behave in passive-aggressive ways. We’re at risk with this inauthentic behavior.
Then when pushed beyond our threshold of being nice, the Bitch can rear her ugly head and leaves us ashamed for acting in ways we don’t like. And, you wonder ‘where did that come from?’ Here’s the key: When we try to avoid being a certain way we can be assured that it will show up bigger and worse than we could imagine!
Accepting that sometimes in some instances, the Bitch will be called for as a necessary means will make it less aggressive and more useful. This is because you can step into it in a more real and unemotional way. This is truth. When we accept our darker sides, so do others. When we don’t, others don’t.
There are times when the Bitch needs to show up unapologetically. It may be that you stand up to sexual harassment, stick up for your child, or save a life. Or maybe, it is an instance where you just need to get the job done. Accept your inner Bitch; she is there to protect you. She shows that you have boundaries, and she projects to others that you are a full human being ready to negotiate for your well-being as needed.
Giving Up Hiding
Hiding is an age-old way of masking who we are. Here’s the conundrum of the situation: Others can often see clearly what we are trying to hide.
They can see our inauthentic side better than we can. It’s funny how we think we are doing such a great job hiding behind our masks, but really our futile attempts are there for all to see. Oops, this is the case: The underlying current of what you don’t want others to know about you is more obvious then you realize. And, this triggers you to make choices and act in ways that are not as inconspicuous as you think. It’s out there whether you like it or not. You can’t control it, even as you make believe you can.
Here’s another way to view the hidden mask that we use to deceive ourselves. Have you ever found yourself actively judging someone else? You may say simple things like ‘I don’t like the way that person dresses.’ — or more insidious ones like ‘that person is a liar.’
Did you know that we are really talking to ourselves when we judge others? It’s what your deepest self-wants you to know about ‘you’. Here’s how it works.
To see the darker sides of ourselves, look at what you don’t like in others. Once you are able to do this you will see how valuable it is; but before that, many of us find it hard to wrap our heads around. Yes, they are reflecting and helping to show you about you.
For example, you may not like that someone tells lies. In your mind you say to yourself, ‘I don’t lie and so they are not like me.’ But consider this: Under similar circumstances, you could well do the same thing. Your judgment is something you want to believe you are not capable of so you judge it as bad in others.
What’s key to appreciate the darker sides of ourselves is that we all have all the characteristic of a human being— the full range of the darker as well as the lighter sides of expression? It’s just that the darker sides are often not shown to the world or even recognized by us as part of ourselves.
Accepting that we are all of it, the Bitch and the Lover, the Pleaser and the Hater, the Barbie and the Intellectual, Glenda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West is the secret for unmasking what holds us back. While not acknowledging them permits them to fester and then surface at the most inopportune times when they can rule our lives. It’s ok to be fully human, and embrace it!
Claiming Your Woman Superpower
One final way to unmask Barbie and live fully is to vow to believe in yourself. This calls for paying attention to your own little voice when it says, “This isn’t ok” or “I can’t say that” and knowing that this is where it begins. You are a beautiful you that is tuned in.
Do you agree with this? If I say that when it comes to workplace situations — and in fact, most situations — our gut instinct or woman’s intuition is usually spot on, does that resonate? We have an inner knower. And, that inner voice speaks up with wisdom, intending to guide us.
At the moment we may be too afraid to choose to believe it or act on it, but it’s always there. How many times have you looked back and said, ‘Wow, I was right about that,’ or ‘I knew it.’ This is a too-bad-thing. As women, we are conditioned to second guess ourselves. This makes us believers in others over our own valuable selves.
But I say this: When others aren’t accepting of who you are that doesn’t mean they are right. Listen to your intuition, feel your instincts and follow your gut, They are our woman’s superpower. Got it?!!
The saddest part of our darker side is how it manifests in our relationships with other women. Yes, pay attention here. This is part of what’s going on that we each need to consider and be responsible for in our daily lives. Because we need each other — to give support and to receive support — and this means changing some old time female game playing. It’s time to recognize and glorify women’s superpower in each other. But here’s what’s been happening instead.
Research shows the way the female brain is wired along with our history of socialization is this. Women tend to see things in an egalitarian way. This means we contrive to make all people be equal. This can be harmful as it plays out with other women.
I think of this using the analogy of a straight line. I’ve observed that many women tend to want everyone to be even as though they were all being measured by a straight horizontal line. So, if one woman thinks that another woman is above the line of normalcy in some way (she perceives her to be better than her in some way) this is viewed as out of order. Conversely, if another woman is below the line, meaning she perceives her as somehow less than her, this is also out of order.
Each of these situations can produce different reactions. For the woman viewing another woman as better than her, or above her line, she may try to bring her back down to parity. She could attempt to do this by talking about her behind her back, getting other people to see her flaws, being mean to her face, or trying in various ways to make her feel less than her best self. This is all ways that we’ve seen as women treating women. They are familiar to us, and you may have even done them.
Conversely, if a woman perceives another woman to be less than or below the line of normalcy, she will work to bring the other up to parity by paying attention, showering her with compliments, or including her in various ways.
Other women, each of us, are individually doing the best we can. Perhaps one day as a gender we will fully appreciate what damage we do to our Sisters. Let’s call it out and name it! Then, we will offer support we need instead of the shadowy undermining of each other that we appear to be engaging in now.
The egalitarian imaginary line is different for every woman because it is based on her own self-esteem, darker sides, masks, and shadows. Remember that all these assumptions are based on our own internal viewpoint and have nothing to do with the other woman. And, remember that this is not helpful. It’s messing with our Sisterhood! It is time to recognize and stop this for our unity for claiming our Woman Superpower. Got it?!! Only then can we collaborate in enterprise and profitability.
Your power is in knowing and loving all the parts of yourself. Unmasking Barbie is unmasking all that is hidden that is stealing your power, your brilliance, your beauty, and your success. By unleashing this, you will answer your own concerns for your financial, physical and mental well-being.
Now is the time to let yourself shine in all your glory — because it really is your glory that is falsely being hidden — and you can awaken it. As you see your own true self in that glory you will move mountains!
Leslie is currently Chief Equality Officer at Sandboxx, Corp. Sandboxx helps companies create inclusive cultures and leverage diversity to maximize engagement, productivity and profit. Her career spans 3 decades as a personal and executive leadership coach who motivates and inspires others to identify, reframe, and ultimately transform their personal and professional lives. As a workshop facilitator and executive coach, Leslie specializes in reconnecting people with their personal power and equipping them to succeed in all areas of their life. A graduate of Carleton University and a certified life and executive coach through Royal Roads University and The Coaches Training Institute, Leslie is the founder of Strong Coaching. Her client base consists of individuals, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms, small businesses and multinational corporations. She has been featured in/on Breakfast Television Toronto, Daytime Toronto, The Huffington Post, City Centre Mirror, Metroland and on radio programs across the country for her unique insights into creating a life of joy and fulfillment.