“Twice as Good” On Being a Woman of Color and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

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Meagé Clements

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements 

Growing up, my mother would always remind my sister and I that we had to work twice as hard as everyone else because not only were we women, but we were Black women. Living in a society that has always had low expectations of us, a society where we are confined to various stereotypes and generalizations, it has always been important for us to excel above and beyond the expectations of others. We applied her advice, made the honor roll and the dean’s list numerous times, pursued membership in honors programs and honor societies, yet we continued to question if any of these things would even matter in the long run. Would we still be subjected to the glass ceiling and other barriers that would prevent us from reaching the top because of our gender and race?

As I approach my final weeks of being an undergraduate and I’m frantically trying to plan every detail of my adult life after grad school, I find myself returning to this question more and more. At a recent Women of Color Coalition meeting, I learned that this constant questioning and self-doubt is called “Imposter Syndrome.”

Despite earning the grades and being just as qualified, if not more qualified than many of my peers, I doubted myself and whether I truly belonged and I continued to try and find ways to prove that to myself and others. During the meeting, I found that I was not alone in this sentiment, and that this was something that nearly everyone experienced; however, this persistent self-doubt impacts women of color differently for a number of reasons.

In spaces where there aren’t many other women of color, we’re imposed upon by others’ perceptions of us being a “diversity hire” or a product of affirmative action, rather than attributing our successes to our own doing. Consequently, even when our accomplishments result from our own hard work, we still feel inadequate.  

Personally, these feelings of inadequacy have resulted in me becoming a bit of a perfectionist. I remember the countless times I’ve gone above and beyond others’ standards when it wasn’t necessary. I remember all the all-nighters I’ve pulled completing tasks that should’ve only taken an hour. I remember completing entire assignments, only to start over because I felt they weren’t good enough. Although perfectionism and imposter syndrome are often discussed in regards to academics, I’ve found that these concepts have also applied to my personal life.

My experiences have also brought to my attention the ideal of effortless perfectionism, a term used to describe the pressures of being able to roll out of bed and be “flawless” with little to no effort. Having perfect skin, a perfect body, and perfect grades without even trying. These pressures are largely placed on women and further perpetuate gendered beauty stereotypes and expectations that are often very unrealistic. As a Black woman, I find myself constantly caught between exceeding the low expectations others have for me because of my race and gender and the high (and at times unrealistic) expectations I have for myself, a recipe for exhaustion and unhappiness.

After learning the hard way, I’ve come to realize that all of these things: others’ expectations, stereotypes, and misconceptions, didn’t matter as much as me being happy with myself and what I’ve accomplished. While I know these are lot easier said than done, I’ve found a few tips that I have begun to implement in my own life and will continue to work on. From a number of resources, I found the following common tips particularly helpful with working to overcome imposter syndrome and perfectionism:

  1. Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend.

One of my sorority sisters said this to me once when I was going through a really rough time, and it has resonated with me ever since. She mentioned how we tend to be positive and encouraging when talking about other people’s accomplishments, yet we’re often hypercritical of ourselves. I’m not always the most outspoken about how I’m feeling, although this is something I’ve started working on and will to continue to incorporate into how I talk about myself.

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“That’s not who I am. I’m a smart, strong, sensual woman.”

Part of this advice includes learning to compliment yourself. Learn to shower yourself with praise, approval, and compliments like you would to your best friend. In the Women’s Center, we have ‘Leslie Knope Awards’ that the staff members give to one another, and there’s one in particular that we are encouraged to award ourselves (see below). This has been especially difficult for many of us because this often an afterthought, but it’s important to give yourself credit where it’s due and to acknowledge when you’re doing a good job.

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“I am big enough to admit I am often inspired by myself.”

2. Learn that it’s okay to ‘take up space.’

This is especially applicable to any women of color experiencing imposter syndrome or feelings of not belonging. It can be very difficult to feel a sense of belongingness when you are the only person of color in your class, academic program, or career. Speaking from experience, I know plenty of times where I’ve let myself fade into the background because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or because I didn’t feel that I belonged. I’ve gradually been working on finding my voice and allowing myself to take up space. I’ve learned that I do not need any affirmation from anyone else to know that I was meant to be here, and I have something valuable to contribute.

People’s opportunities and accomplishments are shaped by more than just their own merit, of course; as such, it’s important to always be mindful of how our various privileged and marginalized identities shape our experiences. That said, for women of color who often have their agency and worth erased or minimized, it can be a radical act to unapologetically take up the space that we’re often denied.

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“I am very good at what I do. I am better at it than anybody else.” 

3) Just do it.

Instead of living in the fear of not being good enough, just do it. Be open to trying and learning new things, even if you think you won’t be good at it — you might just surprise yourself! Face down your feelings of doubt by ‘faking it until you make it.’ We may not always feel like the best thing since sliced bread, but encouraging ourselves to take on these challenges can help offer motivation without becoming focused on how we do (or don’t) compare to others. 

leslie

“Do it. Fierce. Power.”

I know each of these tips are easier said than done, but it’s important to engage in self-care, be kind to yourself, and acknowledge the great person that you are. I’m no expert and this is definitely something I’m going to be continuously working on. However, I can say that as I’ve practiced this tips and others, I’ve felt a lot better about myself and my accomplishments.

I’m learning each day that I deserve to be here, I belong here, and I’m going to continue to do great things.

 

Voter Suppression

Shira

A brief thought by student staff Shira Devorah 

This coming Tuesday, I’m going vote in the Maryland Primaries!

I’m excited to participate in this election, but I am also really wary.

Voter suppression is a topic that’s pretty new to me. I’ve never voted before, let alone spent too much time looking into how it works. Most of my efforts have gone towards researching candidates, not worrying that I won’t even get a chance to speak. I knew a little bit about Photo ID laws (boo), but that was about it. I didn’t know about voter suppression before my more politically aware friend pointed it out to me. I like to think that I’m well informed, but clearly I haven’t been paying enough attention. And now that I’m about to vote for the first time, I’m worried that there are a ton of students just as unaware as I am.

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Source: The American Civil Liberties Union

Voter suppression includes a range of strategies aimed at discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote. It can be done legally, through unfair laws, or illegally, through underhanded tactics. Either way, it is a social justice and feminist issue. When politicians get in the way of equity for all, we must educate ourselves and take a stand against unjust practices. Continue reading

(In)Visible Disabilities and Women Resources Round-up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members Meagé and MJ

In case you missed Tuesday’s roundtable on (In)Visible Disabilities and Women (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking some useful reading materials and resources.

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As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep a few guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these included:

  • Where do the intersections of (in)visible disabilities and gender show up for you personally? In the classroom, peer networks, etc.?

  • How does disability relate to issues like reproductive justice, sexual violence, or gender socialization?

  • How is the way we talk about disability influenced by gender and sexuality?

  • How does ableism impact women with visible vs. invisible disabilities differently?

  • Why is this a social justice and/or feminist issue?

Continue reading

I Work Out

Carrie Profile PicThis is a blog post written by student staff member, Carrie Cleveland.

This post is reflective of my own journey in trying to embrace who I am while trying to work on improving my overall health.  I chose to write about what I am doing because it is an important part of who I am right now. Everyone has their own path, this just happens to be mine.

So I joined a gym. Not just a regular gym with a bunch of treadmills and elliptical machines. I joined  Conquest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA gym. I mean, what middle aged, overweight woman decides that this is the way that she’s going to lose weight?  At least, I didn’t think it would be my personal path. But, it went something like this… Continue reading

UMBC’s Take Back the Night 2016 Roundup

UMBC’s Take Back The Night took place this past Thursday, April 14th. It was a very powerful evening, featuring a survivor speak-out, a march against sexual violence, and recuperating  with craftivism and community resources!

Couldn’t make it? Check out this recap from the evening!

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The night began with an introduction by the emmcees and march leaders, Kayla  and Sarah.

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A bird’s eye view captured from The Commons second floor. 

The floor was then opened to survivors to come forward and share their stories. Women’s Center student staff member, MJ poignantly pointed out the moments of silence between stories.

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After a few minutes of silent reflection,  many people came forward to share. Every person who came up to the mic showed incredible bravery and helped empassion the audience to break the silence around sexual violence.

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A huge crowd gathered to support survivors

its okay to not be okay

A major takeaway from the night

Next came the march around campus! At this point in the night, the everyone gathered together to directly disrupt rape culture and call out sexual violence. We began the march from the Main Street, walked towards True Grits, through Academic Row, and back towards The Commons through The Quad.

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The march Passes the Physics building

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A beautiful shot of the march in front of the Library

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1,2,3,4 WE WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

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Headed towards Academic Row

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The night concluded in a craftivism session. People sat down to create Monument Quilt squares, “Dear Survivor” scrapbook pages, and survivors created t-Shirts for the Clothesline Project. People came together to create while listening to some empowering tunes and snacking on cookies.

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Reflection and Action. 

Take Back The Night 2016 was a huge success! Thank you to all of the volunteers and UMBC staff members who helped make this event run smoothly and thank you to all who came out to support survivors and fight against sexual violence!

To all UMBC survivors of sexual violence –
We see you. We believe you. It is not your fault. You are not alone. 

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The Women’s center staff thanks everyone for TBTN 2016!

 

Just a reminder for those who might not have been able to attend, there are many resources available to you, both on and off campus.

Voices Against Violence

Women’s Center at UMBC

UMBC Counseling Center

Title IX and UMBC’s Interim Policy on Prohibited Sexual Misconduct and Other Related Misconduct 

More Than a Band-Aid: LGBTQ Health Inequity

Shira
A reflection by Shira Devorah, Women’s Center Student Staff 

Going to the doctor is never fun; most people dread pesky checkups getting in the way of their day. While medical appointments can feel like a nuisance to some, for many people in the LGBTQ community, just seeing a doctor can be dangerous.

Saying that structural health inequity in the U.S. is a problem is an understatement, as many people face huge barriers when it comes to receiving adequate care. Women, people of color, people with lower socioeconomic statuses, fat people, elderly people — the list goes on and people continue to suffer. While I’m specifically highlighting a few of the issues surrounding queer care, it’s important for people to know that this is just one flawed aspect of a flawed system. To fight for justice, we must demand competent care for all people.

So before we all go kicking down the doors of the nearest hospital, let’s discuss what the issues actually are. Why is it so difficult for queer people to get the medical help that all people deserve? Continue reading

Treat Your Body Lovingly: A Twelve-Step Program

Daniel Profile PicA Women’s Center blog post by staff member Daniel Willey 

Note: I hope what I’ve learned can be applicable to other people, but I know my experience isn’t universal. I use a lot of action verbs in my post, but I don’t intend to make assumptions about what a body can do. I encourage readers to challenge their ideas of how one might “feel” and “wiggle” and “tend” and “look” and “know” in different ways, and how you as an individual do these things in a way that is unique to you and your body.

This is a twelve-step program designed to teach you how to be tender to yourself. Continue reading