SSSW

The ‘sexy, spiritual, successful woman’ ideal – why it hurts us.

In Business, Coaching and Success by Dr Casey Conroy29 Comments

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 taglines 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.

Leveraging privilege

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.
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​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.” 
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​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.

Just jealous?

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, relatively young, have a roof over my head and food on my plate, 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 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 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.

11 Clues the SSSW 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.
  • 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 it’s 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

 

About the author
Dr Casey Conroy

Dr Casey Conroy

Casey Conroy, MNutrDiet, BVSc, is a holistic dietitian and nutritionist, naturopath in training and yoga teacher who specialises in women's health, hormones, and the Health At Every Size approach to weight and body concern. She is the founder of Funky Forest Health & Wellbeing on the Gold Coast, and she loves chocolate and any yoga involving an eye pillow..

 

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Comments

  1. Such a relief to read – as someone struggling to figure out how to run a spiritually minded, complimentary health type business, I’ve given up the online circus because I just couldn’t, energetically or morally, “compete” with exactly the scene you’ve described. I just want to have a space where women with aching, ill bodies can come and find relief. I just want to earn enough to allow me not to have to worry about finances. I want to earn enough that I can offer free consults to those who can’t afford it. And I want to help open people to a different approach to their bodies so they can carry that into their worlds so others can benefit too. I’m trying to re-think my business building but it feels impossible in the online circus. I’m researching real-world options that are small and local. Feels much saner and doesn’t encourage women to consume from the circus!

  2. What an amazing article Casey. Thanks for writing this succinctly and clearly so that I might share with others who appreciate the importance of this message. I think the tide can only really change when more people like yourself are willing to speak out. Thank you.

  3. I see that you are a nutritionist, naturopath and yoga teacher. May I ask, do you offer all these services for free? I know from experience that these services can be quite expensive and out of many people’s price range. We are professionals, offering a service, a passion that we have dedicated our lives to do to help others. Charging for these services is a balanced energetic exchange. If we didn’t charge for them then we could not offer them to the world as we would be busy and our time consumed with working a mundane job.

    The work I offer in women’s empowerment has changed lives and given women the self love and confidence to lead a life standing in their truth and taking back their power from old paradigms and belief systems. If you ask any of the women I work, they would say it is worth every penny. I do accommodate those who can not afford my programs with partial scholarships.

    I do, however, agree with you about you about the projected perfect image that plagues women’s psyche convincing then that they are less perfect. I often struggle with that myself. This is one of the belief systems I help women overcome in my programs. This is something we all, as program facilitators, need to step up our game on. Our advertisement as well as our programs need to include all body types, ages and races, not just perfect silm, young white women.

    I guess the message in my comment is, nothing is so black and white as you make it sound. There are very valuable programs that do intice those with insecurities because they are design to help them overcome these not prey upon them as you make it seem.

    1. Honestly, put down the marketing for one second and remember how to be a human being, “DevaVidya” (honestly, is that your real name or just a “Hinduier than thou” handle?).

    2. And I would add that the people who are marketing can’t change the images of perfection in other people’s minds. That’s an issue of one’s belief system which only the belief system’s “owner” can change.

  4. Read “The Primal Blueprint” by mark sisson. It will change your life forever! (in a good way!)

  5. Well said young lady. Like many fellas who are basically very happy with the woman in their life, I was castigated and ignored because my views were contrary to the marketing hype. “You obviously don’t care” or “you don’t love me” eventually led to a sweet talking charlatan, a divorce and after a few years, a sad realisation. Now a very good woman lives with oppression. Mostly, this has been brought about by the very same BS that your article speaks of. More power to you!

  6. Been thinking about doing Layla Martin’s course -professional training but this has made me think again xxx……

  7. It’s amazing how USA turns absolutely everything (even spirituality) into a business, so dangerous, so sad, world needs us to awake, but that’s not the way for sure.

  8. thanks for writing what I have always felt….and for showing off the sinister side of how all this explosive ‘holier than thou’ spiritual CRAP is not the real thing at all!!!! lovely!! xo

  9. Thank you for this article in a world of inflated nonsense where self-acceptance is sold as self-isolating indulgence if no-one can buy you to join their tribe of wannabes. We are in a state of flux and those awakened need to com-passion-ately support integrity and vision to transform. Anger is our fuel on this long journey. Namaste!

  10. I am an holstic practitioner with 20 years consulting experience, business acumen, I look amazing for my 52 years, fit and seemingly successful and as with most I struggle with my spiritual practice and so need to attend regular classes.
    I find this post offensive shallow and in all honesty an example of the type of new age bs you are actually rallying against in an obviously defensive way.
    You need to give examples and references of language and phrases uses or examples of women who you say are disempowering women by appearing the best version of themselves?
    What is wrong with charging ‘high’ fees to other women in today’s unequal pay environment? Why do you think spiritual knowledge shouldn’t come at a cost?
    Do you think a sustainable economy where women get paid amongst the top 1% is wrong? Why?
    I believe inspiration to be the best version of ourselves comes in any and many forms. I believe it is authenticity and non judgement that empowers women of all shapes and sizes and economic brackets and I think any woman who has harnessed her sexual power and lives that openly should be heralded! Women have been sexually shamed and damped for too long , now is their time!! Please celebrate them rather than judge! . I believe you
    attract people like you and SSSW attract women like them. There is no right and no wrong- only you make it sound like it makes you feel angry, inadequate and competitive.

  11. Thank you. I used to go to yoga but haven’t since I gained weight, for exactly those reasons. I understand that now is the time and motivation that I need it the most but it’s just that stereotyping sucks.

  12. Thank you so much for this. Absolutely brilliant and very well thought out. I hope more women can see through this. I completely agree.

  13. Unfortunately and in many cases the only people who can afford to “teach Yoga”, at least here in the U.S.A., are upper class women who are hijacking esoteric teachings and marketing them for profit in their echo chamber. A bunch of plastic barbies pretending to be spiritually enlightened masters.
    What a circus.

  14. This is definitely a good read! I have been talking to people and writing about women empowerment versus the mainstream expectations for some time now. I am so happy that more and more women are waking up to reality and seeing what media is feeding us. And also learning how to listen to our own body and soul and do what makes us happy and healthy, rather than rich and “sexy”. Sexy is not a look, it’s a state of mind and glowing that energy on the outside. I love that quote that says something along the lines of “Strong women lift each other up instead of bringing each other down.” So thank you for being a strong woman 🙂 Much love!

  15. Can you give an example of what is actually empowering? Or women whose feminine empowerment work inspires you, including their marketing? I’d like to hear what works as much as I like to hear what’s not working for you.

  16. Capitalism thrives on peoples insecurities.
    Sad isn’t it.
    Why are young people and I include boys/men in this not taught to be more self accepting of themselves and therefore happier?

    1. I agree with Sarah. This is more about Capitalism and the model of “personal success” than anything else. It IS sad, though.

  17. This is an awesome article, feeling the exact same thing! Most Yoga classes are gym classes, it’s not teaching us real Yoga in all its beautiful spiritual wonders. It’s capitalisation, a bastardisation, a colonialist stealing of a spiritual entrenched tradition. Thank you for your Truth words, they need to be said! ❤️🙏 I have been really lucky to meet some beautiful teachers, real teachers of the tradition where money goes to ashrams in India, local charities, where philosophy is integral to the class. I hope others readers find the same ❤️🙏

  18. Totally in agreement on every level. Miles away from what yoga is about, evolution and connectedness to one another.

  19. Wow. You’ve summed it up perfectly. We are all perfectly fine just as we are. We need to accept ourselves, warts and all, like ourselves in all our glory and weirdness and let ourselves off the insecurity treadmill. By doing this we will be in an energetic space that allows us to let our sisters off the hook which feeds into the energetic collective we are all part of. Women are not wrong or inferior in any way, shape or form. We are powerful beyond belief. Our power comes from within and once we all realise that the world will come back into balance. Namaste.

  20. I totally agree with you. All that you have written is why I keep my spiritual journal entirely personal, it is MY journey and I don’t want or need to go to over-priced retreats and what have you to feel “spiritual”. If I had done that through the years I would not be in a position to retire now at age 60. For many years I put myself on an austerity budget, buy nothing unnecessary and save money. Now I’m retiring, I bought my home and have enough to live on thanks to me and not to some overpriced “goddess” workshop!

  21. Thanks for this Casey, I think you’ve said what a lot of women (myself for one) are thinking. It’s great to see this pseudo-spiritual, manipulative marketing being called out for what it is, and the disservice it does women.

    1. Casey Conroy

      Thank you Lottie, it seems so many women are already thinking and feeling this and recognising how it hurts us. I’m hopeful that the tide is changing. I’m seeing and hearing more women wake up, see the masks and if they find that they are in fact wearing one, remove those masks!

    1. Truth truth truth.
      So many courses, products, marketing to many of us in very privileged situations, which assist to seperate with all this product, success, change this that eta.
      Casey hugely wise words & position.
      Have been very fortunate linkage group fantastic supportive connected women very little costs for different interests access,group to evolve ourselves.
      Hoping through web too this further supports yours & many similar people & groups.
      We are set to compete all the time, never be satisfied. Humans can be amazing as we are , just remember other beautiful being across our world in what ever shape Devine presentation.

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