Since the advent of our Lean In collection, we’ve been challenging the world to re-picture the visual stereotypes around women. Our weekly ‘Leaning In’ series sparks discussion around traditional concepts associated with gender.

“She looks just like you, Sona!”

“No, she doesn’t!” I instinctively yelled back across the meeting room. “I wish,” I muttered under my breath.

Our team was gathered in London for a kick-off meeting earlier this year. This image appeared in a presentation on the large screen when our VP said those fateful words with a huge and beautiful smile on her face. I’ll admit, I zoned out for the rest of the presentation. Yes, I felt weirdly related to her. There was a resemblance, no doubt. I decided she could pass as my stock photo sister, but she was blessed with better looks and more courage than I. After all she had a baby and a tattoo, both things I have considered and never done.

I’m 37. Over the last few years, my circle of women have started having children. While growing up, I never experienced a strong pull to have children. I would go out with my friends and while I could appreciate distractingly cute babies, I never had the heart-pulling moment that made me feel like I couldn’t live without one of my own. I saw it in my friends, but I’ve only ever experienced that feeling with puppies.

As I watched friends relish the glory (and discomfort) of pregnancy, I felt compelled to think more deeply about having children. I was taken with this incredible expression of feminine beauty. The glow of anticipation, the wonder of life within, the sensuality of a mother-to-be. I felt all the things that “childless” women can feel – selfish, cowardice, empty. Most of all, I felt like less of a woman.

What is a woman, anyways? Caitlin Moran might know, but for me it’s been about finding and nurturing the aspects of my nature that make me feel like I’m living from a real place within. Like my desire to mentor young women in their professional lives, which prompted me to create a Lean In Circle. Like my passion for expressing creativity in the kitchen with enough butter to make Nigella proud. Like wearing as many accessories as I possibly can without feeling like it’s “too much.” Like confidently sharing how I feel at work, recognizing the role of instinct in the workplace. Like finding the balance between nurturing others and taking care of myself.

It’s taken me until this year to get comfortable with the choice to live a life outside of the expected. The thud in a conversation when people ask if you have children, or worse, if you have a “family” as though having children is the only definition of a family. The knowing that you are missing out on one of life’s most transformative and universal experiences. The inevitability of becoming the crazy auntie to many, many little ones. I now embrace these times as moments of nakedness – a chance to be vulnerably honest, to mourn the potential of a life lived differently and to honor the choices I’ve made.

This decision was not made alone or lightly, nor is it finite. I’m incredibly aware of the fact that this choice is a right and a privilege. My husband and I have talked at great length about the role of children in our lives and in the world at large. And while for now, it’s clear that having our own is not for us, we are both open to being moved into a different life should that feel right.

The irony is not lost on me. A woman in a stock photo made me think about the courage it takes to live an authentic life. As for the tattoos, I’m still on the fence. I just got my nose pierced, so I think I’ll hold off on needles for a while. In the meantime, I’m thankful to my stock photo sister for helping me keep it real.

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About Sona
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Lover of words, pictures and labradoodles, Sona is an avid reader, once-upon-a-time personal blogger, long-time meditator and is always up for a philosophical debate. She is currently obsessed with Jungian psychology and Russell Brand and is Director of Product Marketing for iStock by Getty Images.