It was winter the first time I went alone. I remember trudging through the snow, forcing the door open against the wind, setting off the bell over-head. And with that one ring and gust of cold air, I was pushed inside. About 20 pairs of eyes veered toward me, evaluating me from head to toe.
Wishing desperately for a numbered ticketing system, I quickly searched the crowded room for a seat. I calculated how many women were in there, who was next, and how long my wait would be. I wedged myself in between two other girls, head down – This was before the days when you could bury your face in a smartphone.
Peering up, I started doing my own evaluations. We were all at our most vulnerable in this space. Hair pulled back, with no makeup to hide behind. We were collectively exposed in our insecurities. I must have been 17 at the time – on the brink of womanhood, but really still just a child. A first visit to a waxing salon is a seemingly insignificant yet important rite of passage for a young girl, as is finding her place in that waiting room.
Even in my naivety, what struck me then – and makes me shake my head now – was the tension that was always in the room. This silent judgement that made the air thick with hate. Hidden thoughts of comparison, not to mention fighting for position. (Girl, you better sit down. I’M next.) Which led me to a question that would evolve in my mind over the next decade: Why do we, as women, cut each other down, instead of building each other up?
I’m no stranger to this nor am I innocent. I was the first to say that girls were too catty and high maintenance to get along with. I never stopped to think of their experiences or to celebrate our differences. I didn’t grow up with sisters, and I was born into the loving arms of a quiet mother. Needless to say, I didn’t learn certain lessons until later in life. So I didn’t truly appreciate the female bond until recent years. It didn’t even occur to me that my gender was something to be celebrated. It wasn’t until marriage, and motherhood, and a career, and hell – social media - that I truly understood how our unique experiences unify us, if we let them.
Now, in my early thirties I understand how my own exposure has shaped my perspective. It’s only now that I can appreciate the beauty in our strength, born out of our shared struggles. When I see a fellow mother battling with her toddler at the grocery store, I give her a knowing smile because I’ve been there. Or when I have to speak twice as loudly to get the same nod as my male colleague, I know I’m not the only woman who has ever felt that invisible.
This isn’t a woe is me speech, but quite the opposite. Never in my life have I been more thankful or proud to be a woman. To share in our accomplishments. To band together in the face of our trials and tribulations. To feel the safety net of sharing a #metoo story. To aspire to more because of increased representation. And yes, to be enveloped in the understanding support of the men in our lives.
So thank you to all the women who have set a path ablaze before me, and to all who will pave it after. We celebrate today because you are brave and outspoken; because of your strength and compassion. Thank you for taking action and not settling for anything less than you deserve. Thank you for the lessons I’ve learned and will pass on. In a time when I’m exhausted of putting everything and everyone before me – as I know you are too – today I am proud to celebrate Women’s Day alongside you.
And to that young teenage girl in the waiting room – waiting to make yourself pretty, waiting for your turn – I guarantee you that you’ll find your place.