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Busting the Superwoman Myth

by Sarah Hughes

I recently went for a spa day with my friend to celebrate my 40th birthday. I’ve done a lot of spa days in honour of me entering my fifth decade… it’s been a tough gig, what can I say?

Anyway, we had booked massages and as is always the case, we had to fill out the health questionnaire forms before the therapists could dare lay hands on us. The lovely girl who was about to do my treatment looked from the page to me, then back again and said “You’ve put age 40? That can’t be right?”

Her tip instantly doubled. Flattery will get you everywhere young lady.

I assured her that yes, the age I’d put on the form was correct and she stared at me open-mouthed.

But how? How can you be 40!? Come on, what's your secret?” she continued (clearly on a quest for an even bigger tip).

Botox” I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

The therapist clapped both hands to her mouth in horror. “Don’t tell me that!” She screamed. “The number one rule is you never admit you’ve had work done.”

I told her straight that I wasn’t ashamed of my twice-yearly Botox injections and that I’d tell anyone who listened how great I think it is. We laughed off the exchange and I settled my 40 year old face into the hole in the bed in preparation for the massage.

But as I lay there trying to zone out and relax, my mind started to whir with the seed of an idea that I knew I’d have to write about…

Why, as women, would we ever keep any of that stuff secret? Surely we’re doing each other a huge disservice if we’re going to sneak away having procedures to make ourselves look younger and then tell all our friends “I just woke up like this.” Why do we want to pretend we’ve just won the genetic lottery that they didn’t even buy a ticket for? Because it makes us feel superior? More #lucky or #blessed?

Surely the sisterhood code denotes that instead of making other women feel less than, we should be sharing all the tips, tricks and hacks that we’ve come across to make us look or feel better. It’s not just about anti-ageing or looking younger either; the Superwoman myth permeates every area of our lives.

I remember several years ago walking into a friend’s house who, like me, had a busy work schedule and three young children. I looked around in wonderment at the immaculately clean kitchen, the hallway with its clean floorboards, devoid of any crap or kid debris cluttering up the space.

I told her I couldn’t believe she could keep her house so clean and work full time and still do so much of the childcare. I mean, when did she sleep!? I instantly felt pretty rubbish about myself, knowing that when I opened my front door later, the place would look like a wild party had taken place the night before (which it hadn’t). I was annoyed at my kids before I even saw them. Why the hell couldn’t they be like my friend’s lovely clean and tidy children?

Whilst sipping a cup of tea at my friend’s shiny, splodge-free kitchen island, I heard her front door open and in walked her husband.

Ahhh the cleaners have been today haven’t they?” He smiled. “ I forgot they were coming! It’s so nice to have just one day a week when the place isn’t a total bombsite.”

I looked at my friend who was red-faced and suddenly making herself very busy with a stack of paperwork, turning her back to me. Why hadn’t she just fessed up when I complimented her on how clean the house was? She may well have enjoyed basking in the superwoman myth for a few minutes, but it was at a cost to me. She allowed me to feel less than.

Another area where I see the Superwoman myth perpetuated again and again is when it comes to parenting. You know the types don’t you? The parents who insist that yes, their baby sleeps through the night. They just don’t mention that they count ‘the night’ as midnight to 4am. Then there’s that friend who insists their kids get along so well, like, they literally never fight… Just as you’re internally berating your own kids for the incessant squabbling you have to endure from them, you notice a scuffle happening at the far side of the park. Oh, of course. It’s your friend’s children, kicking the proverbial you-know-what out of each other. That must be just a one-off I guess.

I sometimes think I go too far the other way in my mission to bust the Superwoman myth. Self-deprecation definitely plays a part. I’m much more comfortable saying what a nightmare my kids are, how stressful my week has been and how worryingly quiet my freelance work is, than to be putting on my cape and convincing everyone I’m absolutely winning at life.

The thing is, your average woman nowadays is drowning in stress. We are overworked, overcommitted and overscheduled. The sooner we all admit this to each other and share all the coping strategies we’ve found, the better. A lunchtime Botox tweakment, having a cleaner, getting extra childcare… none of these things are cheating. We need to change our mindset and realise this stuff is part of our modern-day-busy-life survival, for our mental health and our sanity.

Remember the Sarah Jessica Parker film ‘I don’t know how she does it.’? I had a one year old and was just beginning my parenting and work juggle journey when that film came out in 2011. I couldn’t relate to how hard the character of Kate found the whole working mother thing. There was a scene where she took a shop- bought cake to her kid’s school bake sale and passed it off as her own. I remember thinking, “How hard can it be to just knock up a cake before work? Why would you lie about that?”

Now, 12 years on I totally get that pressure to look perfect, to seem like you’re coping when you’re actually drowning. As the saying goes, the juggle is REAL. It’s a non-stop balancing act of trying to keep everyone happy and all the balls in the air. But by faking that we are ‘smashing it’ or pretending we’re finding any of this easy, we’re compounding the insecurities of others, sometimes people we love dearly.

So; do me a favour and tell your mates about your Botox, about your cleaner, about the takeaways that you order when you have no energy to cook for a dinner party. Tell them about the fact your kids haven’t slept through the night in months. About all the little props you put in place to keep the wheels of your life in motion. Trust me, playing the Superwoman role is exhausting, it does you no good… and it’s not making your friends feel so good about themselves either.


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