If I'm Not A #Girlboss, Does That Make Me A Failure?

Photo: Adam Kuylenstierna / EyeEm
I have this yappy voice in my head. I call her Sheryl Wintour. Sheryl is a high-flyer with a designer shoe and handbag collection. She wakes up every day at 6am for spin followed by a kombucha shot. She owns a successful creative agency, has already published her first book to critical acclaim, invested in not one but two tech startups and owns a house in Peckham Rye. Oh, and she’s only 30.
Sheryl berates me regularly. “Stop being so average!” she barks. “You need to up your game! Look at all your successful friends owning businesses, winning awards, getting column inches and six-figure salaries. Look at the girls on Instagram, with their 100k+ followers and their ridiculously beautiful faces and clothes and lives. Don’t you want to be like them?”
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I’m trying Sheryl, really; I’m trying.
When I was born I was the average size for a baby girl: 7.2lb of chubby cheeks and innocence. I went to an average comprehensive school in a small, average town in Somerset. I got average GCSE results, went to an average university and got a marginally above average 2:1 degree. At 10.7 stone, I am the average weight for a woman of my height and earn an average UK salary of £28,000 per annum.
So why is it, then, that I can’t accept being average?
Social media has led us to believe that we should all be in the process of becoming the next big thing. When I stare blankly at my phone, scrolling through Instagram as if it were the oracle of knowledge, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be… exceptional. As millennials, we feel we’re entitled to success, that we deserve to be achievers and that at some point, we’re going to be. And why wouldn’t we? This is, after all, the message we get fed every day.
There are over 9 million pictures on Instagram tagged #girlboss. Of course I’m all for female empowerment and equality in the workplace, and all-female boards of directors should be top of the agenda. But what happens when this message starts to overload? When it starts to make the rest of us feel like failures because we don’t meet the girlboss criteria? If every woman were a girlboss, no one would have a team!
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Mal, a teaching assistant, told me that turning 30 was a lightbulb moment for her. She had spent the previous six years of her life working in fashion and feeling inadequate. “That paired with my constant battle with depression, set me on a course of rediscovery. And a re-evaluation of what mattered,” she explained. “I started making significant changes in the way I measured my success. One of the first things I did was to stop scrolling through Facebook timelines and measuring my success by what I saw. I decided I needed to be able to relate to my reflection first and foremost.” She decided she would stop letting society dictate what success looked like. “I am successful in my own right,” she proclaimed, “despite not owning my own home or being at the so-called 'top of my game' at work. But I have discovered happiness with who I am and within myself, a feeling that gets me up every morning. For that I am grateful.”
The truth is that most of us are average. For every Sheryl Sandberg there are thousands of entrepreneurs who don’t get the investment they’re after. For every Meryl Streep there are thousands of actresses who will never win an Oscar, let alone star in a feature film, and for every J.K. Rowling there are tons of desperate writers, like me, trying to forge a career and who will probably never, no matter how hard they work, get their book published. We can’t all look like Cara Delevingne, sing like Beyoncé, run like Jessica Ennis-Hill or make money like Natalie Massenet. These women are the exceptions to the rule, not the other way around. We tend to forget this, and punish ourselves for not fitting the #girlboss stereotype, while simultaneously criticising our peers for being too “basic”.
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#Basicbitch has become the worst insult to bestow on another woman. It simultaneously puts down one type of woman while elevating another. It assumes that certain women – those who are hip, cool and ahead of the trends – are somehow better, more worthy of respect and a celebrated position within society. And to top it all off, it's only ever used by women to describe another woman; never once have I heard a lad mate utter the words, "Eurgh, she's so basic".
Isn't it about time we started reclaiming the term and owning our basic-ness a bit more? I’m not saying we should all drop what we’re doing and give up on our dreams. But when our best efforts don’t match up to the goal we had in mind, should we accept being average? Maybe by accepting our averageness, the pressure to succeed might dissipate. Our thoughts, rather than screaming at us that we are failures, will instead find clarity, space and energy to develop, and in turn, so will we.
Slowly a new voice is creeping into my consciousness. Katie Collins. Katie likes pumpkin spiced lattes, the Kardashians and wearing onesies. Her favourite word is 'literally', closely followed by 'totes'. She has a nine-to-five job (not 'career') in an office a short commute from her flat. She spends her weekends brunching, having her gel nails reapplied and watching Strictly on the sofa, curled up with a Domino's. Katie is content and happy.
“You are enough,” she whispers. “You are enough.”
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