Language is so important.
Has anyone ever told you that you’re “real?”
What the hell does that even mean?
I spent the majority of my evening in listening mode, yesterday.
Intentional eye contact.
Strategically placed head nods and smiles.
Occasional words of affirmation.
As I was trying to be the best sounding board I could be—I was fazed by a well-intended, awkwardly placed statement. There had been a pause in the conversation. I thought more vulnerabilities were going to be shared… more burdens unloaded. I prepped my eyes for engagement. But instead, what I heard was…
“Kelsea, you’re just a real person.”
My reaction was to laugh, because, duh.
I fit all the qualifications to be “real.” My vitals are functioning and I am alive. No part of me is bionic. I’m not a catfish or a figment of your imagination. My breath and life and annoyance all make me real.
But I let the conversation continue without any fault—because we all know what was really meant.
You’re just a relatable person.
You’re just an authentic person.
That’s what we mean when we throw around this word, “real,” right? What we really mean is “not fake.” One hundred. True to yourself.
But here’s why I think it’s important to not get lazy in our language.
How often have you stumbled across one of these memes? How often have you considered the weight of what we’re saying in them?
In essence, your realness is defined by x,y, and z. Your body shape, your behavior in a relationship, your sexual orientation, etc. What a powerful sentiment.
Or, even back to the conversation I was having last night, my “realness” is now wrapped up in someone else’s opinion of me. Certainly there are people who probably don’t share this thought of me. Certainly there are people who would not use “real” to describe me.
What does that do to my self-image? Further, what does not having curves, or not being able to cook or fuck-like-a-porn-star, do to my mental health? Am I not “real,” now? What’s that internal conversation in the mirror with myself look like, then?
I’ve shared this statistic with you a zillion times before—but I think it bears repeating. A girl’s confidence PEAKS (as in, is the best it will ever be… ever) at the age of EIGHT. As in third grade. As in, recess and pigtails and just conquering multiplication.
I don’t think being numb and lazy in our language is helping this statistic. I don’t think throwing around words like “real,” to pay someone a compliment or force an opinion is changing this standard.
Let’s be intentional in the way we speak to each other. Especially to women.
Words and language are so powerful. We hear them long after they are spoken. We internalize and digest and regurgitate them. What if the only words you let out were purposeful and kind?
This is not to say that I threw away the “compliment” I was indirectly being paid last night into the proverbial garbage, or that I have written off all of that conversation. This is not to say that I think everyone who uses this language is bad or ill-meaning. This is to say that it made me do an internal audit of every time I have used this word to define someone—and anytime I’ve used any word to define anyone.
In fact, I recently asked every person in my world what SINGLE word they would want to be used to describe them. The most common answers I received were “blessed,” “loyal,” and “caring.” I don’t think one person was concerned with being called “real,” because… duh.
If you want to join the efforts to change statistics like the one I mentioned above here in Columbus, join me at the Keyholder Event on May 10th, hosted by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.