She is a mystery. Her only companion a cup of coffee and a copy of her favorite book. Though she sits alone at this sidewalk café, she savors the moment. She quietly delights in the sights and sounds of the scene unfolding before her. She has nowhere to be. No one is waiting for her elsewhere. She will stay as long as she likes. And only leave when she is ready. Who is this woman?

She leaves us wanting to know more.

In an age of social media, over-sharing has become an unfortunate by-product. But maintaining a mysterious element about oneself can leave people wanting more. Not to be mistaken with being stand-offish or aloof, cultivating one’s allure–when done with kindness, grace and authenticity–is an empowering way to keep the people you meet fascinated by the person you are inside.

With every celebrity meltdown, nasty break-up or cringe-worthy interview, it is not uncommon to watch the lives of many well-known celebrities drop from A-list to no list. Yet, is it our empathy and compassion that keep us tuned in, or is it the idea that we want to see ‘successful’ people fail? How does this translate to us ‘regular’ folk? Do we crave seeing ‘successful’ people in our own lives plummet?

Schadenfreude is translated from the German language and literally means, “harm-joy.” This word represents the idea that pleasure can be derived from the misfortune of others.

A Note From The Editor: We’re nearing the end of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and felt that this personal narrative, though one unique experience, helps to capture a sentiment we hope all women learn to embody just a little bit more: Perfection doesn’t equal satisfaction. Our bodies are miraculous, amazing, strong, and beautiful. Let’s love them as they are, and honor them in all the ways they can be.

One of the little details I love best about my life is that my parents still live in the house I grew up in. My room is practically untouched from the time I was a teenager, photographs and books stacked up on my desk from when I moved home my senior year of college. The box of sand dollars collected on the beaches of San Diego in 1995 are right where I left them, the magazine cut-outs of Broadway performers and Wendell Berry quotes from an early-200s O Magazine issue are still taped up to my walls and cabinet doors. The Beatles poster I got when I was 15 is torn and faded, but it still hangs to the side of my bed as a reminder of my classic rock roots.

My closet is also fairly unchanged.

“I’m not smart,” she said, her eyes wide with pain.

I never get used to the heartbreaking words I often hear from the little brown couch in my counseling office. Labels can be difficult to peel off once they stick. We wear beliefs about ourselves like tattoos – messages about who we are that have become a part of our identity.

Intelligence is no exception. Somehow “smart” has become something that we either are or are not. It’s easy to understand how our perspective has been shaped the way it has. After all, most schools and many workplaces tend to measure and celebrate a very specific kind of intelligence. Not all of us have been given a safe place to display our particular brand of “smart.”

Let’s take a look back. Not too far back, but to our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. There’s no doubt that life was different for them. We often say it was harder or more difficult. She was often a version of a woman similar to Mad Men‘s Betty Draper: A baby bouncing on her hip as she eagerly puts a roast in the oven before her husband, the bread winner, comes home from work. She couldn’t just order in a pizza or pick something up on her way home from her own office. Her role was to nurture and care for her family, while her man went out and earned the money.

For whatever reason, and we’ve heard many of them, women may have been told rather that than being a homemaker, a housewife, a stay-at-home mom and cook, or a strong, independent working woman, we should be flexible and proficient enough to be both. Despite new critiques that may suggest some form of weakness in a home-maker role, being strong and in control in the kitchen can make us feel like modern, empowered women.

To err is human. We’ve all doubtless heard this phrase before, but in spite of its truth, who among us doesn’t still cling to a desire to achieve perfection, to become the people we were created to be? We all have dreams of becoming the best, truest version of ourselves; we want to be as kind, as generous, or as compassionate as possible, and we want to manifest such qualities in a manner that’s reflective of our distinct selves.

Examining our lives and becoming more of who we are, however, is easier said than done. While we can look to role models and other women to show us how to live well, the fact that each of us has never existed before and will never exist again means that no one else can quite show us who we are as individuals or who we were born to be.

If we are to live as our truest selves, we must become something we alone know.

There is an incomparable beauty in being known. It’s that moment in which our intricacies are understood, complications perceived, and innate qualities appreciated. We long for that ultimate connection, that counterpart who embodies the childlike wonder of this Atticus Poetry quote:

“She was the most beautiful, complicated thing I’d ever seen. A tangled mess of silky string. And all I wanted of life, was to sit down cross-legged and untie her knots.”

An obsession with the female form has existed for centuries across different cultures and geographic regions. An over-obsession with the female form without regard to personhood is self-objectification. Most of us are familiar with the idea of men seeing women as objects through behaviors such as catcalling or engaging in pornography, but what about women objectifying themselves, and even each other?

Two researchers define the matter as “regular exposure to objectifying experiences that socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts” (Kroon & Perez).

In short, self-objectification is thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second.

OMG, you look so skinny! What have you been doing? You look amazing!”

We all hear it. Whether at work, out to lunch with girlfriends, or walking around the city. “Skinny” has inundated our society and somehow we’ve completely normalized the word and its power. Upon looking in the mirror each morning — if we’re completely honest — there’s some sort of “flaw” we find within ourselves. Most the time, rather than embracing these perceived flaws we compare ourselves to those around us.

How did we get here and why do we care so much about being “skinny”?

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell

As a child I realized that I was not able to learn to read like other kids. This realization came with instant shame and was magnified by public humiliation of trying to spell a word on the blackboard in front of the class and well-meaning adults who would over-focus on trying to “fix” my problem. The natural progression of shame is a need to hide.

If you, too, have dealt with a learning disability, how do you not carry this childhood sense of inadequacy to an interview with a prospective employer or, later on, actually into the work force?