This is the first of a series of articles by Alex Shewan – a journey of discovery and a resonant voice for women everywhere.
Inspired by a conversation I had online, I was left asking myself what does it mean to be a woman in 2021? Why is this question so relevant? This led me to think, not about attitudes to women, but about my own place in society as a woman. What is my identity and is there such a thing?
For me, identity and society’s expectations of me has haunted me since my childhood. I was very fortunate in my upbringing. At home, being a woman was never considered to be a barrier to life. The concept that it might be did not exist in my head until I became older and ventured into the outside world. As I grew and began to forge friendships with other children, the pressure began and I found myself part of a societal thinking which was alien to me. The expectation that I look a certain way. The expectation that I dress a certain way. The expectation that I should have a boyfriend. The expectation that one day I would marry and have children; on the surface, all of this is perfectly harmless and innocuous. But the question this raises is what happens when these expectations are not met? What happens if life simply does not provide these opportunities? What happens if this is not the individual’s chosen path?
And this is what happened to me.
As a single woman in her forties with no children, I essentially go against society’s ideal. My life choices and experiences did not lead me down the path of social conformity. As a result, life can be difficult for me; the feeling of constantly having to justify myself or excuse myself. Almost apologising for who I am. The constant judgement and the feeling that I have failed. That I am not good enough. That I do not fit in. The result of this has the power to be damaging and devastating to the human soul. This raises the question as to how far this is a societal issue and how far is it something within myself? Is blaming society too easy? Do I have a choice?
Yes, society creates expectations, barriers and likes to define who we are and what we should be. Conformity is powerful and becomes engrained in our psyche and our culture which makes fighting against it very difficult and often very frightening. Going against the norm is difficult. It takes courage and strength, something which is within us all but is sometimes very hard to unleash.
Recently, I have come to realise that my non-conformity is my strength. The things I felt were my weaknesses and failures are actually my power. I have learnt that my mindset is a choice and that choice gives me empowerment. I have also learnt that I am not alone. The battle against conformity is one which individuals are fighting every day, the desire to fit in and the need for acceptance. After years of searching my place and yearning for that elusive feeling of “fitting in”, I realised that this is an illusion; a concept but not a reality. Fitting in is a state of mind, not an actuality. I have spent much of my life searching for my place in society, finding the box in which I could fit and feel a sense of belonging. Belonging to what? And eventually I realised that there is no such thing. The feeling of belonging and the feeling of fitting comes from within. It is to do with self-acceptance and inner peace.
It may seem these two disparate concepts are hardly related, but they often go hand in hand.
Many of us are labelled at birth by our parents, as the ‘clever’ one or the ‘creative’ one or even the ‘hopeless’ child, which is merely based on how they want us to live their lives.
I had a phone call last year from a close friend, distraught after her elderly Mother had thrown out some of her favourite clothes and childhood possessions. Marianne had recently moved back in to look after her since her Mother’s physical and mental health had deteriorated, but had taken a short break away from the daily grind of being a constant carer.
On her return she had found her wardrobe and chest of drawers invaded, with half of the contents given away to charity. My friend who already suffers from anxiety and self-doubt, was thrown into a major frenzy – and it took her several days to return to any sort of normality, blaming herself for abandoning her Mother.
This was however, the turning point for Marianne, who realised after several months of counselling that it was in fact her Mother’s way of getting Marianne to carry the rage and anxiety she had been feeling herself prior to her outburst.
Added to this Marianne had always been told that out of all of her siblings, she was the one who was the major disappointment, and would never make anything of her life. On the contrary, she has been a high achiever, even more so than her two sisters, but who constantly seeks her Mother’s approval, which is never recognised in spite of her major accolades in her successful career in the City.
How many times do you hear in a marriage or relationship breakup, that the man or woman has to leave because his partner is ‘crazy’. This always sits uncomfortably with me, because you can bet that they will go on to meet someone else and evoke the same pattern of behaviour in their new relationship.
Therapists and psycho analysts call this ‘projection’ as they are in fact again getting their partners to carry their anxiety or feelings of hopelessness so that they don’t have to.
If this is hard to digest, let me give you a very simple example of how it works and how toxic this type of ‘projection’ can be. A close friend who is also an exceptional therapist had a new client several years ago who was suffering from depression, so badly that he wanted to end his life. My therapist friend David spent the entire session baffled by his account of what had happened since his wife’s departure, and at the end of the session told her he felt he was carrying his partner’s feelings of desperation. He left feeling a lot happier.
Two hours later his estranged wife called him saying she was feeling suicidal and wanted to give the relationship another go! He thankfully declined, and as far as I know, has remained anxiety free ever since.
I hope this may be helpful to those of you who are suffering with anxiety and depression, because if you look closely, you may find some of it may not even be yours to carry.
If you or anyone you know are struggling please check out the following websites for
help or just for someone to talk to
Rob Suchet, a high profile trainer, Functional Nutritionist, the “Hormone Guy” and author of Hormonal Blueprint – The Ultimate Guide to Female Fat Loss, explains a new approach to sustainable weight loss and health transformation. He claims that it’s not about cutting calories, or endless cardio, but that our hormones dictate our unique requirements when it comes to nutrition and exercise.
If you’ve struggled to lose weight in the past or are frustrated by how calorie restriction make you feel lousy, then this revolutionary approach explains how we are all different and how one size does not fit all when it comes to diet and exercise.
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Apples & Pears combines lifestyle analysis, personalised nutrition and exercise programming, mindset coaching and accountability, all delivered remotely using various platforms, including mobile and online tools, face-to-face calls and messaging apps to make sure you are supported throughout the entire process.
Rob Suchet has been described in the media as one of the country’s best personal trainers. His unique skill set and background in Functional Medicine sets him apart from the rest, while his gentle demeanour belies his former career as an Officer in the Royal Marines. With a client list which includes cast members from Game of Thrones, Bridgerton, and Outlander, Rob is on a mission is to help as many women as possible achieve lasting transformative change in their health and body shape.
“This starts by understanding your own unique hormonal blueprint and therefore the specific nutrition and exercise strategies that will work for your body.”
As an award-winning practitioner, Rob leads a team of personal trainers and nutritionists at his exclusive private studio in Bath, and his remote coaching programmes are transforming the health, fitness and bodies of clients worldwide.
About A&P – Unlocking your Body’s Unique Code:
We want to help you understand why your previous attempts at taking control of your body, weight and health have either been unsuccessful, or unsustainable.
Your body is a blueprint of your long-term hormonal imbalances: if you’re storing more weight around your middle (Apple) then you’ll need a completely different approach to nutrition and exercise than someone else who’s carrying more weight on their legs, bum and thighs (Pear). Internal chemistry, and specific hormones, determine where we store fat, and how easy it is to lose it.
“We are as different on the inside as we are on the outside, so no two women will respond to the same plan in the same way.”
This is why the cookie-cutter approach just doesn’t work for the majority of women.
Why doesn’t everyone talk about this?
Because they just don’t know themselves, therefore they have to resort to a generic, one-size-fits-all approach, specifically the advice that to lose weight “you just need to eat less and exercise more.” This is one of the most widely perpetuated myths, which is damaging women’s mental health. We teach our clients to ditch the “dieting mindset” and to embrace a Nourishing Mindset, where all the decisions you make are made from a position of love, care and respect.
Apples & Pears programme content:
Comprehensive Health & Lifestyle Audit. A detailed look at the structure of your lifestyle… to work with you to find the times when it’s achievable to build in some exercise, nutrition planning, “me time” …to help you build realistic structure into your lifestyle that ensures you’re moving towards your goals every day.
Energy Clarity, Diagnostics & Nutrition. As clinical nutritionists this is where we get into the detail of your health… to look at the fundamental pillars of your health (energy balance, sleep, digestion, hormones and stress) and create a completely bespoke Action Plan for you with detailed recommendations for your nutrition and lifestyle. This is supported by our own nutrition education materials, recipe books, meals and snack ideas.
Body Upgrading. Completely custom workouts are designed for you from scratch by our experienced coach, to fit with your goals, experience, fitness levels and availability of space or equipment, for wherever you’ll be training. Workouts are inserted into your calendar and every exercise is accompanied by video explanations of the correct form/technique. It’s interactive, so you feed back to us how each workout went so we can tweak and adjust subsequent sessions to make sure you’re progressing week-in, week-out towards your goals.
Mindset Mastery. Learn to understand and master your own internal dialogue, to get out and empower you to overcome everyday temptations. Create new healthy habits and behavioural patterns, understand how to train Willpower and Motivation and see yourself in a completely new way… International speaker, best-selling author and world class mindset coach Pete Cohen has created a suite of mindset mastery tutorials specifically for our Apples&Pears clients. This is such a game-changer as everything you do starts with a thought.
N.B. Accountability is a huge part of what we do… we speak to our clients almost every day through messaging and have weekly face-to-face coaching calls to go through their week and discuss any upcoming challenges that we can coach them through.