July 5, 2019

Bravery seems simple enough to understand, if you’re going off of the dictionary definition. According to Google, it’s “courageous behavior or character.”

But I can’t be alone in thinking bravery feels significantly more complicated than that.

Like most things, bravery isn’t just something you wake up one day and have. It takes work to be brave and to flex the muscle of courage. Whether you work it out in small or big ways, over time, showing up for yourself becomes easier.

But that’s the key—bravery is another way of showing up for you, not someone else.

Bravery isn’t just something you wake up one day and have. It takes work to be brave and to flex the muscle of courage.
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In an essay for Harper’s Bazaar, activist and Shine contributor Rachel Cargle explained why she was tired of people labeling her as “brave.”

It started when she shared a revealing image of herself on social media, and, as a result, was bombarded with messages about her bravery that left her “confused, and a little offended.”

“What is brave about my existing happily in my body? What is brave about showing up for my love of self, instead of for the gaze of white or male beauty standards?” she wrote. “What is brave about being seen? Being visible? I began to question whether the same statements would have been made if I was a size 4? Not often do I see thin bodies being hailed as social martyrs of courage and bravery for posing nude and showing skin.”

To Cargle, the comments about her bravery were off-putting because she was just, well, existing. She described them as “a thinly-veiled projection of how people actually feel about a body that looks like mine.”

Lizzo has shared a similar experience, too. As an artist who often gets automatically put into a body positivity silo because of her unabashed self-love, it also has comes with the label of “brave.”

“I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so brave. She’s so political.’ For what? All I said is ‘I love myself…,’” she explained to The Cut.  

A lot of the time, that’s what comments of bravery can feel like—a "for what?" moment—especially when it’s a label placed on a marginalized group.

Maybe you do feel brave posting that photo, being a leader in your sector, or by putting yourself out there—which is OK! There are so many different ways to be brave and we shouldn’t shy away from flexing any of them.

But when we make bravery synonymous with existing or self-love—not to mention put that label onto others without them declaring it for themselves—it becomes a lot more nuanced and complicated than that simple Google definition. It implies that the person is different and therefore shouldn’t have felt comfortable existing in the first place—it insinuates it took bravery or courage to do so.

When we make bravery synonymous with existing or self-love, it becomes a lot more complicated.
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Remember: Your Bravery, Your Rules

Bravery is an intimate characteristic, and it should be one that you get to decide whether you want to embody or not.

Whether you want to publicly shout your courage or move silently, that’s your right. It’s also up to you to determine whether or not something is hard—no one else can figure that out for you.


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For some, being vulnerable might take more courage than climbing a mountain. Own your definition of brave by looking back at the moments in your life where you felt fearless. What were you doing? How did you feel? What led you to that moment? The answers to all of these questions can help you navigate your new definition of bravery.

Bravery is an intimate characteristic, and it should be one that you get to decide whether you want to embody or not.
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While you’re crafting a new definition of bravery, it’s also important to remember that bravery comes in so many different forms—meaning it can be physical, emotional, or mental. Maybe it’s the inner work you’re doing by prioritizing mindfulness, or perhaps it’s work you’re doing on behalf of your family or community. It can even mean just getting out of bed, or making it a point to ask for help when you most need it.

You are brave on your terms—no one else’s. And tapping into a kind of bravery that’s uniquely yours is an important reminder of your power.


Got a few moments?: International Self-Care Day is coming up and we want to hear from you. Take 2 minutes to answer questions about self-care and what it means to you. Get started here!

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