According to Tracee Ellis Ross, better known as Rainbow Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish, the patriarchy is not very pleased with her. At 45 years old, Ross has never married and has no children. This seemingly controversial life she’s built for herself garners all sorts of reactions from friends and strangers alike, who assure her that she “just hasn’t found the right guy yet” or that she could always adopt or have a child without a man. They tell her that “it’s never too late for [her] life to have meaning.” As if being yourself was somehow not meaningful!
People always seem to have words of comfort or advice for her, but Ross says they’re offering consolation for a problem that doesn’t exist. That, despite not fitting into the proper framework of womanhood, she is perfectly happy with her life and accomplishments just as they are. Her life already has meaning.
Despite being happy, Ross felt a sense of failure from her lack of marriage and kids. She knew it shouldn’t matter but it did. It wasn’t until she saw the words “my life is mine” written in her journal that she truly realized her problem: That she wasn’t living for herself.
“My Life is Mine”
Whether we adhere to them or not, the world around us has expectations for our behavior. Women, Ross explains, are expected to find a husband—or rather, be chosen by one—and rear his children. There is no law dictating that this is the path a woman must take, but it is an unofficial, unwritten rule and its violation has real-life consequences. In the case of Ross, her single, childless existence brought on confusion and misguided reassurance that she hasn’t failed yet. In other parts of the world, however, deviating from these patriarchal norms can be fatal. When you’re a woman, being yourself is an act of rebellion.
These expectations expand beyond womanhood. We expect men to work and provide. We expect children to be seen, not heard. Our expectations for others are vast and specific based on who they are, where they’re born, what they look like, and who they love. These rigid views we have of ourselves are not only damaging, they’re completely illogical when examined critically.
But when we do live for ourselves, wholly and truly, with our happiness as a top priority, we don’t have to worry about what other people expect from us. We know ourselves. We listen to our bodies and minds and we have the capacity to choose what’s best for us, even if the rest of the world disagrees with that choice. All we have to do is stop waiting for others to give us permission to live our truth and simply live it.
Embrace Your Brave You
Bravery is not easy. When we become our brave selves, we risk being misunderstood, criticized, or even explicitly rejected by others.
The benefits, however, far outweigh the costs, according to Ross. Wanting to be our brave selves is an act of empowerment; we’re taking the reins of our existence into our own hands.
Embracing our brave selves is a highly personal experience, but here are some things anyone can do more often to live their lives as their own:
- Learn to say no. Stop doing things you don’t want to do! This can’t apply to everything—you still have to pay bills (sorry!)—but you have the right to refuse people your time and energy.
- Speak up for yourself. Intentionally or otherwise, sometimes people will say or do things that may make you uncomfortable or upset.
- Call out that behavior! The only person who has the authority to say what hurts you is you. Not the person doing the hurting.
- Listen to your body. Eat what’s right for you. Get as much sleep as you need. Wear clothes that make you feel like you can take on the world.
- Be kind to yourself. Embrace your strengths. Forgive your mistakes. Be proud of exactly who you are.
Our brave self is our most beautiful self, but not beautiful in the conventional, superficial sense. We are beautiful like nature; like the tall and proud trees who exist for no one but themselves. Beauty is pride and strength. It’s self-awareness, self-assurance, and self-actualization. Beauty is a consequence of bravery.