Republished February 2024
(A Toastmasters Project)
Originally published in Forte 2018-2019
There’s a lot of talk about authenticity these days. There always has been, really. The ancient Greeks inscribed “Know Thyself” over the door to the Temple of Delphi. One of Shakespeare’s characters in Hamlet proclaimed, “To Thine Own Self Be True”. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.” In a more contemporary take, the Urban Dictionary defines authenticity as “being who you are, listening to yourself and making your own decisions, rather than buying all the crap society foists on you.”
What does it really mean to be authentic? To be true to yourself, certainly, and not to pretend to be someone or something you are not. To accept your strengths and weaknesses, and value yourself for what you are rather than belittling yourself for failure to be something you were not destined to be. To stand up for your rights, most definitely, and not be persuaded by subservience to suffer abuse or undertake things that are not right for you.
If you are by nature a compassionate, responsible, law-abiding individual, your authenticity is not likely to harm society or wound others. Authenticity is not and should never be an excuse for cruel or inappropriate behavior. It’s important to recognize the ways in which authenticity sometimes has to be trumped to serve your own best interests or the well-being of others. If, however, you consistently find yourself in situations where you are subjugating yourself to the wants, needs or dictates of someone other than yourself, you may want to think about a change to your environment that will allow you to be more truthful more often in your daily life.
The late Steve Jobs, the American entrepreneur who brought the personal computer to the forefront of society and co-founded Apple Inc., is quoted as saying: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
We needn’t aspire to look like the 20-year-old photoshopped models we see on the covers of magazines, nor should we beat ourselves up for our failure to do so. The unrealistic images of womanly perfection are, thankfully, changing.
France, the long-time industry leader in the fashion world, passed new laws in 2017 regulating the weight of runway models to ensure that the bodies presenting the high fashion looks of the season to the world are not, in fact, anorexics who starve themselves to maintain the otherworldly long-limbed elegance previously thought to be the height of female chic. The fitness industry has been a major player in this revolution as well. It’s no longer considered unfeminine for women to flaunt some muscle.
The bottom line is that both of these social initiatives, authenticity and body positivity, are hugely important in defining the female role in modern society. We should embrace them with joy. At the same time, we need to recognize that moderation and balance are the keys to owning them.