I’m not sure there is anything we can do to rid ourselves of vulnerability. It just…is.
The great thing about vulnerability, though, is EVERYONE feels it. In that sense, we should think of it as an emotion that unifies us, not separates.
But that doesn’t make us feel any better, does it?
When we feel vulnerable, we feel completely alone and isolated.
Lately, I’ve found myself in this position frequently. I’ve been pushing myself to try new things, meet new people, and take advantage of opportunities that come my way. But all of it comes with a large helping of vulnerability.
The fashion industry is one of the most vulnerable industries imaginable. For designers, putting their very personal creations out to the public for criticism and critique is a vulnerable process. And for models, just showing up is a vulnerable process.
If you want to feel completely and totally self-conscious, walk in a runway show at age 46. When the rest of the girls and guys are in their late teens or early-20s, trust me, you become very aware of every flaw you have, real or imagined.
But realizing that every person in the room also has insecurities is a game-changer.
When you find yourself in a vulnerable position, my advice is to talk to those around you. When I do that, I find companionship, solidarity, and understanding. It’s incredible to imagine some of the young, gorgeous models I talk to having insecurities, but across the board, it’s universal. We’ve all heard we’re hardest on ourselves, and wow – is it ever true. When a group of flawless-looking girls and women are standing backstage at a runway show comparing the tiniest of details about their bodies, or their height, or their walk, it’s not because they’re superficial. It’s because they, too, feel vulnerable! They’re trying to figure out how to fit in with the group, meet expectations, deliver an anticipated image.
And we all do that every day. We come up with a story about what’s acceptable in whatever situation we happen to be in, and we try to mold ourselves to fit. Are we in a business meeting? Then we should look professional, competent. Are we showing up at a party? We should appear fun, carefree, and magnetic. And if we’re about to walk a runway, we should be flawless, aspirational, perfect. And if we’re less than any of those things, we feel vulnerable. Oddly, sometimes even when we radiate our best, we still feel vulnerable because of our deep-seated fears about what others might be thinking.
When I’m in a vulnerable place, physically or emotionally, I try to get to the root of what’s bothering me. Because it’s never what we think, it’s never (and I mean never) because we’re too thick around the middle or because our arms are too flabby. Most of the time, my insecurities are based on fear. And when I concentrate my energy to focus on love instead, the fear can’t survive. When I look at the women around me and appreciate and support what I see, I feel a camaraderie that somehow makes me feel better instead of comparing and contrasting.
Because, at our core, we’re all the same. We worry about different things. But we’re all the same.
If one woman wishes she weighed less, another woman is self-conscious about her skinny legs. If one woman feels irrelevant or out-of-date because she just turned 40, another feels invisible and unimportant because she’s only 20.
I’m thankful the fashion industry has come so far in not only accepting but celebrating women of every shape, size, age, and ethnicity. There is still much work to do. But compared to where things stood when I started modeling at age 17, it’s astounding how inclusivity now permeates every aspect.
And that naturally gives room for vulnerability because it gives room for each person to be fully seen. And while that can be scary, it’s also comforting. It puts us all on an even playing field. And it gives us permission to be creative and playful.
I love what Brené Brown says about vulnerability:
“In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid, such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”
The next time you feel vulnerable, realize the same energy is pulsating through those around you, and understand it can be used to fuel you rather than drain. And it can always, without exception, be used to bring us closer together instead of further apart.
By Erika Hanson