I was five-years-old when I broke my first tooth. I was skidooing with my dad on our faithful, yellow Tundra. I was sitting up front, my small body tucked (somewhat safely) between the handles and my much larger dad. When we careened over an unexpected bump, my face flew forward, my teeth connecting with the ski-doo’s dash.

When I was eight-years-old, I broke my second tooth. I was sledding with my two brothers and two best friends. At some point in time, probably at my suggestion (no doubt to flex my girl muscle), I wound up dragging all four boys behind me in the toboggan. Sounds reasonable, right? Here’s the clincher. I dragged them with my teeth. You might be wondering how on earth I managed such a task. Like any strong, capable girl would, of course. I chomped that frayed rope between my teeth, pulled up the sleeves of my snowsuit, and pulled with all my might.

There is a time in a young girl’s life when she decides she has something to prove, something more to amount to, some inferiority to boys she wants to challenge, a fierce will and dogged determination to stand up for herself. This, was that time for me.

You see, as a girl growing up in rural Whitehorse, surrounded by hole digging, tree climbing, trampoline bouncing, stick throwing boys, at times, I felt like I had to assimilate. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being “one of the boys.” The saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. So, I did, and wholeheartedly.

Perhaps I garnered more scrapes, bumps and bruises in the process, but I wore my colourful wounds like badges of pride. I had been accepted into the brotherhood and there was no way I was going to admit anything was too high, too steep, or too dangerous. My motto was simple (though in hindsight, naive), if they can do it, so can I.

I had my moments of course, somewhere in between the spitting, hair tearing and imaginary gun play, where I needed to retreat into my girl cave.

My girl cave took on many forms, but as a rule, was peaceful, surrounded by books (extra points if it was hidden), and far away from any boys. Here, in my cozy cocoon of a sanctuary, I poured over pages of books, and allowed myself to feel whatever the stories evoked in me: fear at the snarling ogre who chased the heroine, joy at the adventure of children whisked away to magical lands, sadness when two star-crossed lovers were separated against their will.

In my cave, my range of emotions were welcomed, and no one could ever claim that I was too sensitive or too emotional.

As a grown woman, I can happily announce that I have a healthy set of teeth.

I understand that I don’t need to haul a brood of boys in a wooden toboggan to validate my strength.

I also understand that great power can come from sensitivity.

Having worked alongside many empowered women in my professional career as an art therapist, and having walked alongside many empowered women as a daughter, sister and friend, I recognize the many challenges that women face.

Society often places demands on women that are impossible to live up to. Nor should women feel the need to live up to these impossible standards. Women are encouraged to be gentle and soft, and yet when our emotions overflow, we are perceived as being too sensitive, emotional or even worse, dramatic.

There is increasing demand today for women to be perfect in all realms: as partners in our relationships, as employees or bosses at our jobs, and as mothers to our children. We are expected to be strong, to hold it all together for the sake of others, to balance our individual stresses and insecurities, and when cracks form, we are seen as weak and incapable.

I will confess that women are mysterious creatures, and at times a kettle of contradictions, but I believe this is largely because of the mixed messages we receive in our homes, in the workforce and from the media.

We are told to be soft and strong, and yet, not too soft, because that would be perceived as weakness, and not too strong, because that would be perceived as dominant, aggressive and overconfident.

Woman are to be celebrated in all shapes and forms. For our rootedness, for our ability to connect and heal, for our intuitive emotional wisdom, for our bottomless compassion, for our range of colourful emotions – from sadness to anger to elation. There is no one way to be a woman, just as there is no one way to be a man.

No one can define this, but each individual for themselves.

I encourage you to celebrate the women in your life. Listen to her, embrace her and validate her feelings. Allow her to be exactly where she is. Accept what she presents and don’t expect her to be anything more, or less.

I encourage you to express appreciation and gratitude to your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, teachers and friends, who have undoubtedly gifted you some pearl of beauty in the time your paths have crossed.

I encourage you to give the women in your life space and solitude when and if they need it.

I encourage you to witness, to hold space, to share, to support, to honour and to deeply love.

I look back at my childhood and see a capable, strong girl who was trying to meet or surpass expectations that nobody had placed on her, but herself. I didn’t have to be as rugged as the boys. My tears were just as welcome as my stubborn strength.

I was standing up for something that I didn’t need to. What I didn’t recognize at the time, was that I had so much wisdom and knowledge to share – about expression of emotion, about sensitivity to living things, about being a positive influence. I could have taught the men in my life about what it means to be a woman, instead of fighting to prove that I could measure up to them.