This past weekend I worked a women’s expo as one of my main side hustles: a brand ambassador. I was looking forward to the gig as it wasn’t a typical event and it would be around a bunch of awesome women.

When I was in line to get my vendor pass, I saw the women lined up outside waiting to get into the expo. There was already a huge line waiting to come inside.

The slogan for the expo was “love yourself first.”


“I can dig that,” I thought. We do need to love ourselves first.

So I get set up at my booth and throughout the day, I made the rounds to look at the other booths. After all, I wanted to see what other cool things were going on at the women’s expo.

My research proved to be so disappointing. Over 90% of the booths were somehow about weight loss, skin tightening, waxing, makeup, and sexy outfits.

I don’t know what I was expecting at a women’s expo, but it sure wasn’t this. “Love yourself first?,” I thought. Yeah, right.

Love yourself after you lose 10 pounds, wax your vag, straighten your hair, and tighten your wrinkles. It felt like an expo that was supposed to be about loving yourself first, was really about buying products to make you look better and feel better.



This is the kind of marketing that we’ve been dealing with for years in traditional media and I guess I was just sort of hoping for something different. Something that didn’t put all of our power into our looks or our youth, but more into our contributions to the community and our families.

All of this got me thinking: is this really what women empowerment looks like?

I think you know my answer.

So, if that’s not it,  what does women empowerment look like? I started to think about what my ideal version of the expo would be. I would want to see classes on negotiating, how to start a business, relaxation techniques, and more community based products and services. I’d want to have more classes, products, and workshops that enhance our social network and respect our buying power, without just focusing on superficial stuff.

And I do have to say, I like some of the superficial stuff too. There is a time and place for that. But to have a whole expo that was mostly focused on beauty just felt like a disservice to the power and potential of women. I know a bunch of money was thrown into this thing and that many people probably made a bunch of money as well.

As more and more women become breadwinners, I think it’s so important that we find avenues to support each other and ourselves. But we have to get rid of the old, tired model and stop marketing to our insecurities.

I know this is a big question, but: what does women empowerment look like to you? (in an ideal world, it’s okay to be ridiculous)


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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31 responses to “Is This What Empowerment Looks Like?”

  1. That had to be so disappointing! I’m right there with you– I’d want to see different stuff, and I like your idea about there being more business-related booths. I’d want to see something that supports working mothers and stay at home moms, too.

    But really, vag waxing? In my world, there’d be no such thing (oh the pain!!)
    Robin @ The Thrifty Peach recently posted…My Dad’s Last $50 – I Need Your AdviceMy Profile

  2. Yikes!! Who was there/what was the audience? I would lose it if that was all of the stuff on offer. *sigh*
    Anne @ Money Propeller recently posted…Getting the Best Yang (or Yin) for Your Buck: A Guide to Finding the Best Yoga Class for YouMy Profile

  3. I’ve seen some of these stuff too in other women empowerment / women’s day events! Sad reality.
    The Money Spot recently posted…The Powerful Effect Of Being Happy With LessMy Profile

  4. That’s just it, marketing to our insecurities is HUGE business. The diet industry makes BILLIONS each year. Empowerment theoretically would be stripping ourselves of clothes, makeup, hair products, etc., sticking us in the middle of time square in front of millions of people, and still having the courage to like yourself. 🙂
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Why Races Aren’t a Waste of MoneyMy Profile

  5. Chonce says:

    That sucks they misused the opportunity to reach so many women. I can see how it can make someone think twice about attending an event like that. We have a women’s conference/event coming up in Chicago and I’ve been looking into the seminar topics to see if it’s going to be worthwhile. So far so good, as I’m seeing topics related to managing your finances, leadership, growing your career, and starting your own business. But I’m sure there will still be some topics and advertisement about beauty, hair, etc. That’s just the way it is.
    Chonce recently posted…The Man I Never Knew Who Changed My LifeMy Profile

  6. Kara says:

    Ugh That’s totally disappointing! I’m curious about the other 10% of booths. What type of businesses were those?
    Kara recently posted…Chow on the Cheap #2: Black Bean and Cheese QuesadillasMy Profile

  7. Michelle says:

    What does women’t empowerment look like? That is such a loaded question. I just want women to feel empowered to ask for and get what they want without settling for less than what is best for them in their own personal situation. And maternity/single person leave to work on wellness/family issues.
    Michelle recently posted…Assume Goodwill….My Profile

  8. I have thought about attending events like this in the past but was afraid of the disappointment you experienced. So unfortunate! There could be so many other great businesses/programs involved… further education programs and inspirational/motivational speakers/products, businesses for working women or busy moms who just don’t have enough time in the day: meal planning services, grocery delivery services, lawn/home care service, etc. Self-Improvement Classes/Programs: Finances, Career, Faith, Health, etc.
    Nichole @ Budget Loving Military Wife recently posted…Disney Frozen Sale at ZulilyMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Yeah, it was a bummer. I love your ideas. We need to empower women to rock their lives and really love themselves, not change who they are to meet an unsustainable standard.

  9. Christiane Leal says:

    Hi Melanie,
    I´ve been reading Dear Debt for 1 year now. I need to say I love your text and totally agree that this is not empowering women. I am Brazilian and it is hard to spend the women´s month (march) without attending to at least one “all women” even. It is very disapointing to listen to things like “how to deal with housework and your job” instead of anything about building a solid professional career. Nice to know some women might feel the same.

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks so much for reading! You made my day 🙂 This whole thing has really made me question how we market women’s empowerment and what that looks like.

  10. CBuggle says:

    To me, empowerment is not having to wear makeup and loud, uncomfortable polyester blends to work in order to be seen as professional. Empowerment is not wearing hideously uncomfortable shoes to look more professional and/or feminine. Empowerment is choosing not to condemn other women for what they look like. Empowerment is not complimenting women only on what I have deemed to be physical beauty, but to mostly notice their intelligence, humor, resilience, and love.

    Empowerment is being aware enough to know when capitalists are preying upon my vulnerabilities, hoping that I will decide that vag wax will make me a more desirable woman.

  11. Kara says:

    For me, empowerment is about knowledge, opportunities and acceptance. I want women to be able to go into STEM and find a supportive, not hostile environment. I want women to be overweight and not criticized for buying cookies. And I want women to stay home and not be seen as ‘just a mom.’
    Excuse my French, but fuck the idea that our bodies aren’t good enough, that appearance is all we have to offer and that all we’re capable of is focusing on that. Get it out of here!
    Kara recently posted…My Five JobsMy Profile

  12. Preach! Right there with you, Melanie. That convention seems like such a vapid, superficial expression of “women’s empowerment.” I get so mad about society’s expectations of how women should dress, look, and act. We should dress, look, and act how we want! Not how some corporation dictates to us. I could rant about this for days ;).

    True women’s empowerment to me is very similar to what you describe–enfranchising women to take charge of their finances and their lives in a way that’s fulfilling to them, and not to someone else’s vision of what they should be.
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…Our 12 Tips For Finding Roadside Treasures (aka Great Trash Finds)My Profile

  13. That’s so unfortunate that they missed so many opportunities there. I used to go to a few of these with my mom, but always felt like we were forced to buy stuff to make the experience complete and not really learning a thing about being a woman.
    Amanda S @ Passionately Simple Life recently posted…Life Update…My Profile

  14. I would much rather go to your ideal expo from the sound of it!

    I think in a nutshell, my idea of women’s empowerment is when my CPA doesn’t use my husband’s name in the “your name” section of a joint tax return and puts my name in the “spouse’s name” section when it’s MY business that earns the self-employment income, MY estimated tax payments that I make from the business account with MY name on it … 😉 No offense to the hubs — he knows who makes more and he likes it!
    Kali @ XY Planning Network recently posted…What Should You Know Before Hiring a Financial Advisor?My Profile

  15. This sort of thing reminds me of all of the marketing my former firm put together for advisors who want to work with women clients. Everything that they produced just seem to scream that it was created by a man and without the input of a woman. The fact is that women are complicated so marketing to us or empowerment for us will never be simplistic. When I think of empowerment, I think of freedom of expression and strength of conviction and the physical and mental tools it takes to get there. It’s sad that this event had so much potential and didn’t live up to it.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Refinancing Student Loan DebtMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      This — “marketing to us or empowerment for us will never be simplistic.” I totally agree! I don’t think it’s easy, but we still have to try a new way. Because the old ways are so TIRED.

  16. Yep, I like your ideas much better than the ones presented.

    If only we could actually get behind our own messages of empowerment. Because frankly, I’ll always put makeup on when I go out for the night. And do my hair. And fret about everything to do with my appearance. Sigh.
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…Do you want free money? Also (late) Freebie FridayMy Profile

  17. This is so true Melanie. Most of the industry still believes a women exhibition = beauty + cooking + baking + fashion.
    I am not saying I am totally averse to it but that does not encompass everything about women. It barely scratches the surface.

    To me women empowerment has another side to the coin as well. It is about sharing the responsibility of money – earning, understanding and learning to grow that money. It pains me to see the number of women blocking out any talk of money or even paying their share of a date. I believe empowerment for women is a time when women also stand up to take on their responsibilities and not just ask for their rights.
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