The Problem with Fearless

It happens every time I stand in the grocery checkout line. The line inches forward and I’m finally within view of the checkout counter, aka the most tantalizing part of the shopping experience, the display of women’s magazines that stretch across the entire length of the conveyor belt. Every few weeks, I am faced with the age old question — to buy, or not to buy?

As a graduate student, my limited time and money should clearly not be spent on trivial pursuits. On the other hand, I’m a psychologist in progress. If I want to one day improve the messages we send to women, I need to stay up to date with what we’re currently being fed, right? Right.

I scan the rows until I land on my guiltiest of pleasures, Cosmopolitan. Or, Cosmo, as we readers prefer to call it. But instead of the usual visual hooks, an actress’s satin skin, perfectly tousled hair, or 10 Circ du Soleil-inspired sex positions, it’s the cover story that wins me over. “Eva Mendez is Cosmo’s 2013 Fun Fearless Female!”

My lips slowly form each word: fun, fearless, female. Just saying it makes me feel powerful.

I quickly grab the magazine off the shelf before I can change my mind and hungrily begin flipping through the magazine in search of the article. For one delicious moment, I am lost in a flurry of glossy pages and wrapped in a veil of designer perfume as it escapes from the underneath the flap. This is a mini vacation compared to days spent sifting through the annals of psychology research.

I finally arrive home and collapse onto the couch with my magazine. Unpacked grocery bags are strewn lazily about the living room, a pile of dirty laundry looms in the corner, and a stack of unread mail is waiting for me on the coffee table.

But all of that doesn’t matter right now, because I have a plan. No more being scared, no more self-doubt. This semester is going to be about kicking down doors and Beyonce-stomping into the room. This is who I want to be. Forget want — this is who I need to be. I am going to be fearless.

One Semester Later…

That was a promise I made to myself last September. I figured I would come back to the blog in a few months once I sorted things out. It’s been nine months since I’ve posted anything at all. I didn’t give up writing all together, but there were no clean and orderly lessons, nor uplifting experiences to share. So I waited.

During those nine months I heard a lot of rhetoric about fearlessness. It’s an intoxicating language, and at the time it seemed like the only way to get unstuck. Once I had beaten the things that were holding me back, I would re-enter my life as a fun fearless female.

We all know that it’s impossible to put your life on pause, shape up, and then jump back in where you left off. However, this is what the goal of becoming fearless asks of us.

Fears are framed as something you fight against, or a poison that you can learn how to eliminate from your system. Fear is that bitter voice in the back of your mind that reminds you of why you can’t do something. You can call it fear, you can call it an inner critic, you can call it whatever you want. They all serve the same purpose — to keep you stagnant. Because even if you’re not living the way you want, on some dysfunctional level, you’ve learned how to do it.

Let me be clear. I take zero issue with Cosmo’s Fun Fearless Female campaign. In addition to naming a female celebrity each year whom we readers see featured on the cover (like Eva Mendes), the magazine’s corporate arm also nominates women on an international scale who are doing “truly amazing things in their chosen field.“ They then host the annual Fun Fearless Female Awards to honor these inspirational women and present whom readers have chose as Cosmo’s Woman of the Year. I am thrilled to see Cosmo honor the accomplishments of their readers. I’m just asking a question — is fearlessness a viable goal?

Fearlessness vs. Bravery

If I keep waiting until my fears are vanquished before writing again, I doubt you’d ever hear from me again. I’m writing now even though fear is still alive and kicking. It’s uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Fear is fueled by the things we love the most and are terrified of losing: the ambitions that make our hearts seem to beat out of our chests, the people who make our throats close up when we imagine life in their absence.

When I read the stories of the recipients of the Cosmo award, I think these women are not really acting out of fearlessness. They are acting in spite of their fear. They are acting out of bravery.

Bravery is not an all-or-nothing binary, such as being fearful versus fearless. Bravery is a mindset that allows for being frightened and for moving forward anyway. It exists in the messy, brutally honest, and unglamorous instances of life that are not usually celebrated in magazines or in motivational speeches.

I still have a long way to go in developing a brave approach to whatever life throws at me, and I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go from this post. But two things are certain. One, I don’t plan on boycotting Cosmo. They’ve got some great stuff in there. And two, I am brave enough to keep writing.

Your Fun Fearsome Female,


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Emily Warren

I write about joyful moments and lessons learned from challenging life experiences.