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Sorry not sorry: At Fargo event, women discuss overapologizing

Panelists from left, Veronica Michael, Sandy Buttweiler and Michelle Lelwica speak at the International Women’s Day event Saturday in Fargo. Kensie Wallner / Special to The Forum

FARGO – Behind Michelle Lelwica on the big screen was the cover of a woman’s magazine featuring an almost impossibly thin model. One of the blurbs said “Banish body fat.”

There are so many aggressive demands for perfection like this in today’s culture and many women absorb them today even when everyone knows that cover models are photoshopped, the author of “The Religion of Thinness” told a mostly female crowd at the International Women’s Day celebration Saturday.

It’s why women apologize so much, she said.

“So many women’s apologetic feelings about themselves, feelings that we’ve done something wrong even when we haven’t, feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing,” she said. “Beneath those feelings I think there’s some notion of perfection that we’re not living up to, whether the idea of being a perfect mother, a perfect career woman, or having a perfect body.”

The connection between the impossible ideals of femininity and the phenomenon of women who can’t stop saying “sorry” was the theme of the second annual International Women’s Day event at the Avalon Events Center West in Fargo.

As presenters spoke of being unapologetic, the crowd clapped and whooped, showing their support.

Sandy Buttweiler, a talk show host on WDAY radio who used to be on KFGO, said that when she took her current job, she constantly apologized to listeners who acted as if she’d ruin their lives. She said she couldn’t go out in public for months but finally decided that she had no reason to apologize because the job was a great opportunity for her.

Amanda Lea, a morning show host on Big 98.7 radio, said she’s not apologetic any more about seeking a new love after her marriage ended. It’s easy for women going through divorce to blame themselves, she said, because they expected their marriage to be perfect, but it’s OK if it doesn’t work out.

Erin Prochnow, the executive director of YWCA Cass Clay, said she apologized for so many trivial things, such as not having dinner ready in time, that when it was something really important, such as when her husband chided her for the unsafe condition of her car, she almost didn’t have any apology left in her.

Lelwica, who, besides being an author, chairs the religion department at Concordia College in Moorhead, said it’s a shame that women waste so much of their energy obsessing with their bodies and its imperfections that they don’t always have much left to take on the issues that really matter, from violence against women to poverty around the world.

Tracy Briggs, the digital content development director at Forum Communications, said it made her think of something she saw going around the Internet: “Mother Teresa never talked about her thighs because she had things to do.”

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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