This past weekend, I went to a dental conference. I was actually thrilled for this one, because I made a conscious effort NOT to work this conference, but rather, to be a participant. An attendee. A member of the audience. I specifically wanted to soak up the knowledge and not have any commitments that would impact me from being present. So there I was: not having to be someone’s speaker or do a booth presentation or come in sponsored for an event – I was showing up as Katrina Sanders, The Dental WINEgenistTM and I was ready to get my learn on.
I was quite taken with a particular presentation designed for dental speakers to help create awareness about how the various generations of audience members are evolving. As our boomer population of dentists and hygienists are retiring, we are seeing a steady increase of millennial and Gen Z audience members, and the way we construct our programs should greatly reflect what these audiences are asking for.
While boomers appreciated the hours-long lectures with constant note-taking, we are beginning to find that millennial and Gen Z audiences like more engagement, authenticity, participation and ultimately are far more focused on the impact of the content they are absorbing. I love this kind of stuff, and was ALL IN!
The presenter had us break up into groups: boomers over here, Gen X over here, millennials up here and Gen Z [there were two of them in the room] grab a table by yourselves. They had us write a list of what our generation loves to see in a dental conference/program. Someone from the millennial table grabbed a dry erase marker and began scribbling on a flip chart. Because we were so accustomed to group projects, we readily listed how we love unique presentations with jokes and fun stories. We shared that millennials love games with prizes and attractive slides. We want healthy snacks at events and networking opportunities. And we also listed a very provocative statement at the current moment: we like it when speakers wear clothing that is authentic or niched to them. [yes, for some reason, what a speaker looks like and how they present themselves aesthetically is a huge topic at the current moment]
After we listed the aspects our generation prefers as an audience member, we went around the room selecting one spokesperson for each generation to share with the room. Generation by generation, we remarked on how each of our lists perfectly aligned with what most research studies are indicating as far as our typical persona/‘avatar’. The boomers shared about how they like to-do lists and acronyms. The Gen X-ers shared that they love practical applications in their content. Then it was our turn. Our spokesperson stood up and began to read our list. I could see the other tables of generations nodding and acknowledging that they too saw moments when millennial participants appreciated the aspects we listed. Then we hit the bottom bullet: ‘authentic/niche outfits’.
The boomer spokesperson raised her hand: ‘what does niche outfit mean?’. Everyone at my table looked at me. Without skipping a beat, I stood up, confidently walked to the center of the room and began posing [think ‘vogue’]. There I was: standing in a room full of my peers with a black crop top that said ‘WINEgenist’ on it, black shiny leggings, Michael Kors heels and a hot pink blazer smiling in all my glory. I opened my blazer and jokingly pointed to the three wine glasses printed on my top; a top a friend of mine made for me years ago when I began my brand. THIS is what niche/branded attire looked like, and as I dramatically tossed a tendril of my giant humidity-infused red curly hair, I smirked in acknowledgement. ‘ THIS is what authenticity feels like’ I thought to myself. The room erupted in laughter and I even got a few ‘golf claps’ from people who found this to be specifically charming.
I went back to my table of millennials – all of them laughing. One even acknowledging: ‘how brilliant that without a word, you were able to explain what we meant!’ My tribe understood. The authentic souls sitting at my table of Tamagotchi-clicking, Pog-tossing millennials appreciated the authenticity and – what’s more – we put down our Beanie Babies to celebrate it!
Then it came: the thing that we all fear anytime we fully put ourselves out there – the moment that we hope NEVER happens: the ‘peanut gallery’ remark. This woman: a woman who I didn’t know, who sat proudly at the Boomer table with the very question I was attempting to answer, a woman who seemed to have an inquiry that I could solve then did it: she said the unkind thing. In front of everyone, she said ‘okay, sit down Little Miss Size 0.’
Here’s what you don’t know about me: I was a complete dork growing up. I was made fun of my entire youth for being the skinny awkward kid. Growing up, my teeth were too big for my face, my hair was always knotted up in a giant frizz ball and the clothes Dad bought me from Kmart never fit me properly. The summer growing pains I experienced caused my long skinny legs and lanky arms to out-grow the rest of me, I had a serious case of acne when I was a teenager and unlike others, my mom never taught me how to shave my legs or put makeup on.
In high school, I was captain of the debate team, the piccolo player in the marching band and a contributory member of the National Honor Society. I was a girl scout, I did 4H and I liked to show dogs. I was skinny and awkward and my body was late to develop and my parents didn’t have money like other parents did in my hometown. Put simply: nothing about me was cool or attractive. Somehow along the way I learned how to tweeze my eyebrows and learn about what colors a pale ginger might look decent in. Through the development of my business and subsequently my brand, I became quite comfortable being my authentic self and somehow, from the awkward ‘wimpy kid’ of Greendale, Wisconsin, I had grown up into a mildly respected personality in the dental speaking space. I felt so proud of what I had accomplished in that moment, not just as a business woman, but as a person who truly found a way to step into her own.
However, with that swift comment, SHE creeped back in. The awkward band geek who never thought she was good enough, pretty enough, funny enough, cool enough… confident enough… to be herself. That nerdy, feeble troop 485 girl scout creeped back in. I felt so silly and stupid and ashamed. There I was: in a room full of my colleagues. I did something silly yet bold that honestly, I didn’t even really think about it – I just did it. Somehow at 38 years old here I was being put down, judged and what’s worse: body shamed by another woman.
I don’t have time to unpack why those of us who work hard to maintain our bodies [or are so incredibly stressed from traveling combined with an autoimmune disorder that deeply limits the crappy airport food they are able to consume that their doctors are concerned about their caloric intake] don’t like being seen in a negative light for our size. This woman has no clue about the health complications I am experiencing, the decay my body is experiencing because of the chronic adrenal fatigue I am living through, yet somehow, she effortlessly put down the body that has taken me across the United States and around the world as a successful speaker. Without a second thought, she judged the body that has stood on countless stages to share a provocative message of excellence. With seemingly no care in the world, she readily broke down the very confidence I had built over decades of personal work on myself. I will say that this blog post is not about why women feel so confident in putting each other down, particularly when it comes to shaming each others’ bodies; I will simply say: it’s not nice or kind and honestly – it is uncalled for.
So here I am: at a dental conference I flew myself to, soaking up time with my colleagues and now feeling shame and stupidity and guilt for being my authentic self. The awkward 12-year old in me started whispering: ‘you look ridiculous; what were you even thinking; you should just go back to your hotel room and change into something more toned down and acceptable’ and the semi-composed 38-year old in me whispered ‘I think the hotel bar is open downstairs – if you grab your shit now you can probably escape without anyone really noticing’.
It’s amazing how quickly the rush of these thoughts will come into focus. From confident ‘me’ to broken ‘me’ in the swift blurt of a strangers’ unkind remarks about me… how the heck did THAT happen?
I’ve carried this uncomfortability in my heart until this morning when I sat down with a cup of coffee and my journal to begin my daily practice of self-reflection. I couldn’t stop writing – the thoughts were pouring from my heart with a vengeance.
‘Sometimes people come along and hold anger and insecurity inside; they lack confidence in themselves. When you behave in an authentic way that feels natural and honest to you, it might make them feel uncomfortable’
Let’s pay attention to this: when you are authentic, natural and honest, sometimes that makes people uncomfortable.
So here’s the lesson I learned: even as an adult, there are bullies. People judge and people oftentimes cast their own insecurities onto the things that make them feel less than or uncomfortable. You are not responsible for dimming your light or hiding your sparkle so that others can feel comfortable.
To the woman who thought that the size of my body, the brightness of my clothes or the confidence of my answer to your question gave permission to cast judgement: respectfully, you don’t know me.
I truly do believe that my parents raised me to be a kind, respectful and honest human. I am an extreme empath. I care too much and too deeply for people. I oftentimes give to people who just want to take from me. I hold onto the pain of others and pour into people who I care about. I am extra. I am overly dramatic. I am a hugger.
Being at dental conferences is extremely fatiguing for me, because I become so invested in pouring into others. I love with a deep part of my soul that only became uncovered after the untimely loss of my parents. I recognize that time is the most precious element and I feel a deep rooted sense of responsibility to do something impactful and magnificent with my time. I have been gifted the talents of moving others, and I want nothing more than to create a moment of kindness and love and support within my network and throughout my community.
Ma’am: this little miss zero gives zero F’s about what you think of her body because it’s her mind and her heart that will continue to transform the world around here.
Love always. Hugs n kisses,