It’s a female sexuality course, a yoga training, or a detox program that ‘teaches you how to be female’ – the ‘right’ kind of female: sexy, slim, successful – and let’s not forget the one feature that makes it all cool – spiritual.
For years this has bothered me. As a yoga teacher and health professional, I’ve innately felt that there’s something really icky about this kind of marketing. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. “It’s just business, honey,” I imagine the creators of these tag lines would tell me, “It’s the nature of marketing. Take a deep breath and exhale that negativity! Don’t get your knickers in a knot.”
Clearly, I only felt uncomfortable with this kind of marketing because I was ‘not ready for success’. Or deep down I ‘didn’t think I deserved it’.
And so, I’d uncomfortably push it to the back of my mind. I’d tell myself I was being silly and swallow the bile that had involuntarily crawled up my throat.
Feeding on inadequacy
I’d try to forget my discomfort. That is until recently when I stumbled across Kelly Diels’ work on defining The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand (FLEB).
Suddenly, the reason behind my discomfort became crystal clear. The Sexy, Successful, Spiritual Woman (SSSW) is a brand. A branch off the FLEB. It’s the branch I’m most familiar with because I’ve spent the last ten years living and working within the wellness, yoga, fitness, and spirituality spheres.
Despite the sexy, spiritual wrapping of inner-goddess-path-to-success workshops, overpriced juice cleanses, body-beautifying yoga challenges and expensive detox retreats, the sexy, successful, spiritual woman ideal is yet another marketing tool that feeds off a woman’s sense of ‘you’re not good enough.’
You’re not thin, successful, sexy, or conscious enough. Let me fix that for you. It’s just better disguised than the old beauty myth or the feminine mystique of years past. In this case it’s dressed up in quasi-spiritual, female empowerment, BS disguise. Ironic really, given how disempowering the targeting of this common vulnerability in women is. And sad, because it’s carried out not by men – but primarily by both new and experienced business women.
Besides hitting individual women where it hurts, the SSSW ideal leverages the same collective social injustices as its big sister FLEB to create a sense of authority over other women: social status, white privilege, and thin privilege.
It works on the hypothesis that one of the main things women want is to be better than other women. Thinner. Hotter. Bendier. Richer. More enlightened, sexually confident, and successful. Not that they’d ever say that aloud.
And like its big sister, the SSSW ideal is successful because it plays on the insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, disempowerment, and overwhelm experienced by the majority of women who are striving for autonomy, financial freedom, more R&R time, and the high levels of ‘well-being’ that we see epitomised in a privileged few. We see the sleek, polished businesswoman who has it all and think, “I want her life. And I can have it… if I buy her program.” Which invariably costs thousands.
‘Accommodating for the poor’
Although there may be payment plans to ‘accommodate for the poor’, they often cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more than the original product in ‘administration fees’. Payment plans like this capitalise on a person’s poverty. This is antithetical to the ‘love and light for all’ catch cry these businesswomen are selling.
The SSSW ideal hinges on the belief that we too can attain the perfect body, unbounded financial success and an aura of serenity to boot… If we could only think positively, get a yoga body, and of course, buy whatever it is that’s being seductively placed under our noses.
All of this, while ignoring the fact that many of these privileges (i.e. extreme wealth, thinness/leanness, an able body, heterosexuality, whiteness, youth) are not available to many of us in the first place and can’t be attained. No matter how much we spend on inner goddess programs. No matter how many power yoga classes we do. And no matter how many good intentions we cosmically send out to third world countries.
Why it sucks
In short, marketing the sexy, successful, spiritual woman ideal relies on feelings of inadequacy and shame in the women it targets. This directly opposite what the businesswomen who employ these tactics are ‘trying’ to create: confident, capable women who respect and love themselves unconditionally.
It’s a fake movement pretending to be empowering masses of women. In actual fact these businesses do nothing to further actual social justice issues. Rather, they focus on ‘improving the individual’ by turning her into the ‘ideal’ woman. Without actually lifting up an entire group of marginalised people. Real empowerment elevates both the individual AND the collective.
Far from empowering women, this kind of marketing actually disempowers, by colluding with and perpetuating the oppressive patriarchal institutions that co-opted this ridiculous ‘ideal woman’ diversion in the first place. As Diel says, “these women are not actually trying to lead or create change. They’re trying to build personal empires.”
Why it really sucks
What disappoints me even more than the sneakiness of the tactics themselves and the age-old structures (pit women against each other, convince them they’re not enough, busy them with frivolities that don’t matter) that support it, is something far more insidious: the fundamental mechanism behind this marketing ideal. It underestimates the intelligence and moral substance of women. It relies on the fact that most of us have swallowed our social conditioning hook, line, and sinker.
The conditioning that teaches us that the most important things in our vapid little lives are to be beautiful, sweet, and successful. (But not so successful that we scare the boys!) And to be ‘spiritual’ – which is too often code word for confident, positive, loving, and never, ever angry.
Whilst many women are still unaware of this conditioning, MANY women are also waking up to it. And they are as pissed off about it as I am.
Some readers (perhaps those who are personally or professionally invested in the SSSW ideal) may be thinking, “You’re just jealous because you’re not as successful / rich / beautiful / young / sexually empowered as these businesswomen are.”
No, that’s not it.
As it stands, I’m actually quite privileged! I’m thin, straight, able-bodied, and relatively young. I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I have never been seriously victimised for my appearance… and I’m half white. (God help me if I were black, homosexual, quadriplegic, fat, and 70! Then I’d definitely be jealous and bitter, right?!)
I already have many of the privileges afforded to, and being marketed as being conditionally accessible by, these ‘successful female entrepreneurs’.
No, I’m not jealous. But I am disappointed
Disappointed that the women I’ve seen as leaders for so long are deeply entrenched in, actively marketing, and continually perpetuating social ideals that induce shame and lack in women. Simply in order to make them buy things. That they are profiting from our insecurities, rather than trying to eradicate them.
And I am angry. Angry that these cultural mandates exist in the first place. But I’m even angrier that these businesswomen, far from working to dismantle them and really empower other women (as they claim to do) by doing some form of social justice or environmental work (e.g. bringing awareness to important collective issues, using their positions to rally for women or other marginalised groups, encouraging us to think deeply about our conditioning and how it hurts us), are actually capitalising on and thus perpetuating toxic social structures and hurtful ideals.
Are they aware of it?
Maybe some of them are not. They’re just as naive, clumsy, hungry for ‘success’ (without being clear on what real service they’re actually offering to humanity), lost, and uninformed as many of us. As lost as I was in my early and mid-20s. Perhaps this applies to the budding female entrepreneur. The one who’s been told she can have it all if she just uses certain marketing formulae. The words ‘goddess’ ‘beautiful’, ‘sexy’ and ‘financial freedom’, and a few yoga poses or styled photos of ‘evolved’ young women in white gowns thrown in for good measure.
But I’d say many of these businesswomen know exactly what they’re doing. Particularly those who’ve been in the game for a long time and have succeeded by using these questionable tactics. They are indeed strategic business tacticians. What they are not are the spiritual, revolutionary, badass leaders they position themselves as.
Finally, I’m sad
Sad because I work in a field where I see just some of the casualties of this tide of wannabe sexy, slim, spiritual women. I see the chronic health-obsessed dieters who juice cleanse, starve and binge their way to poorer health. Compulsive exercisers who do two yoga and one Pilates class, every day of the week. Plus Crossfit or 4-5 weekly heavy weights sessions. Women with serious eating disorders – eating disorders that destroy lives and sometimes kill.
Females who never feel good enough because they don’t match the image of the privileged few. Women who’ve blown years of savings on ‘life changing’ goddess programs or ‘empowering’ female business development courses. Ladies who only come out the other end more confused, broke and looking for the next program to save them or finally get their micro-business off the ground.
This is the result of playing on the individual and collective insecurities of women
The reality is that the current patriarchal systems in place have made us desperately in need of rest, nurturing, independence, and autonomy. We want – need – a voice. And aspiring to the sexy, successful, empowered female ideal is the newest and seemingly best option presented to us. It keeps us obedient, preoccupied, fragmented. It stops us from rising up en mass because we’re too busy ‘working on ourselves first’. Because we’re not quite good enough yet.
Use of the sexy, successful, spiritual woman ideal for personal financial gain and empire expansion is more than dishonest. It’s predatory, it’s harmful, and it’s cruel.
Gold amongst the lies
What makes the SSSW ideal so tragic is that once we can see it, it’s so commonplace that it’s easy to give up. Then we are obliged to paint all fringe health practitioners, business or life coaches, and online yoga teachers with the same brush.
But please know that amongst the deceit, there are some genuine spiritual teachers, well-being leaders and business coaches with real wisdom to offer. These businesswomen don’t use manipulative SSSW marketing ploys. But they are few and far between. And they usually aren’t the type to buy Instagram followers, or pay for ultra-glamorous professional photos. So how do we spot the genuine businesswomen? Well, first it helps to know how to spot when the SSSW ideal is being used against you.
Clues the ‘sexy, spiritual, successful woman’ ideal is being used against you:
- Disproportionately expensive trainings, programs, and courses targeted at women.
- Products and services that use a lot of spiritual, female-empowerment, and ‘beauty’ fluff in the sales pitch. How do you know it’s fluff? You don’t understand it. It sounds glamorously suss. Or you show it to a trusted boyfriend / male friend / brother (i.e. someone not burdened by the numerous societal expectations placed on women) and he can see it’s bullshit.
- Noticing a feeling of shame and inadequacy as you read or watch the sales pitch. Followed by hope and excitement that buying this product / service will finally make you worthy / beautiful / thin / successful.
- Desiring to be like the centre stage woman selling the product or service. A woman who has positioned herself as an aspiration, expert figure, physically or otherwise perfect, etc.
- Noticing a feeling of urgency to buy, often prompted by cues of scarcity e.g. ‘only a limited number of places; last time being offered; only available until tonight!’
- Loads of too-good-to-be-true testimonials.
And then there’s:
- A tedious rags to riches story (‘I was hopeless / fat / poor, but now I’m great!’), and no other real signs of personal vulnerability, imperfection, or otherwise from the businesswoman in question.
- Promises to ‘reveal secrets’ only known to beautiful women / successful female entrepreneurs / spiritually advanced goddesses. (There are very few secrets left in the world!)
- Payment plans for expensive courses that capitalise on poverty by charging more than if you could afford the lump sum upfront.
- Adopting spiritual concepts and/or a dream language of meritocracy to sell weight loss, body transformation, beauty, financial freedom. E.g. ‘NamasLay the fat away’; ‘Get the body / life you deserve’.
- A total focus on improving the individual, with no real sign of focus on any wider social justice / environmental / inequality issues that would elevate an entire group of people rather than just make you rich / beautiful / desirable / whatever.
It’s still OK to do a yoga challenge
I leave you with this question. If you didn’t have to be gorgeous, rich, spiritually enlightened, likeable, or eternally nice (because you don’t), what would you spend your precious time and energy on instead? What would truly make your life, as Russ Harris, founder of ACT in Australia, describes, “rich, full, and meaningful?”
Maybe if we asked this question and lived by the answers, life would look completely different. Or maybe it would look similar but your motives would change. Maybe you’d no longer do resistance training to get abs. But to be able to wrangle small children without hurting your back.
Maybe you’d do a 12-week yoga challenge with the ability to filter out the beauty-centric BS and just enjoy some mindful movement for a discounted price.
Maybe you’d cook more meals at home. Not to trim down and do what your paleo trainer / vegan yoga teacher told you to, but because you’re excited to discover new tastes, feel good in your body, and/or save money on takeaway.
Get clear on your values – YOUR values
Not those fed to us from people who stand to profit from our insecurities. Identify when the SSSW ideal is being hurled at you, and avoid that sh#t like the plague. It’s time we recognised this savvy but sinister marketing for what it is. And stopped getting pulled in by its shiny sexy spiritual wrapping.
You are better than that.
Originally published at https://www.funkyforest.com.au/blog/the-sssw-ideal-what-it-is-why-it-hurts-women
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