A few years back, when I left a hellish full time post and returned to self-employment, the Era of the Girlboss was in full swing. A defiant, exhilarating message echoed across the internet: tell your manager where to shove it and run your own business! Riches and freedom await you!

It was a seductive promise, even to someone like me who has worked in online marketing since I graduated from university. Every time I found myself in full time employment, following rules, watching my life fly by in pointless meetings, with working hours that went completely against my natural body clock, it slowly poisoned me. Working for myself again felt so right, and I knew I could give my clients much more time and attention.

Of course, the reality of building a new business and replacing the comfortable salary I gave up was a serious challenge. Working for yourself – as you know too well – means you depend on yourself utterly, and when the end of the month rolls around you have to pay those bills and expenses. No paycheque. No guarantees. And it can get really lonely.

Holli Mae Johnson, by Emma Pharaoh
Holli Mae Johnson, by Emma Pharaoh

Feeling isolated and eager for inspiration, I signed up for a monthly business membership for female entrepreneurs.  When I used to think of the word ‘entrepreneur’, I’d picture a tanned, open-shirted man laughing on a yacht, feeding dollar bills to dolphins. But now I was part of a bustling online society of smiling, shiny-haired women in head to toe millennial pink, lining up to high five me for breaking free and becoming a ‘fierce bossbabe’.

The last time someone called me ‘babe’ earned them an eyeroll and a swift blocking. It always felt belittling and infantilising, and focused on sexual attractiveness. But with the word ‘boss’ in front of it, it seemed to take on a new meaning. I was connected and supported, and the membership provided some valuable advice and resources.

A defiant, exhilarating message echoed across the internet: tell your manager where to shove it and run your own business! Riches and freedom await you!

Before long I had my new coaching program established and I settled into a routine.  Instagram was the place to be for business coaches marketing to women, and I was an enthusiastic user. I soon started following the official BossBabe profile, and even started using the #bossbabe hashtag to attract new leads.

At first it was a genuinely inspiring world to live in, where women uplifted and educated each other, and shared their insights and achievements. Then gradually, it degenerated into a toxic playground of artifice and self-interest.

I looked at the top results for #bossbabe this week, and it perfectly illustrates why I’m done with it.

– Pictures of ‘biz besties’ barely out of college, with a caption that reads: ‘A smile is the prettiest thing you can wear’.  #bossbabe

– Inspirational quotes, such as ‘You owe it to yourself to become everything you’ve ever dreamed of being’. I used to dream about being a crime-fighting superfrog that knocked out my enemies with my powerful fly-catching tongue.  And there was that burning ambition to marry the guy who constantly gaslighted and cheated on me. Kinda kills the logic of that quote. Another favourite is ‘Do you for you’. That one just melts my brain. #bossbabe

…there is nothing – not a single word to be found – about how to best serve clients and customers and create value. Only relentless peer-pressure to have 10k months and perfect hair.

– Posts promoting weight loss products from feeds that claim to empower ‘femtrepreneurs’. #bossbabe

– Engagement selfies, relationship brags and extravagant wedding photos also dominate the hashtag, as if getting coupled up is the height of accomplishment for businesswomen. Because after all, playing at business just kills time until you snare a man, right? #bossbabe

– Gratuitous displays of cash, shots of fancy cars, and endless half-naked selfies –  which is fine if that’s how you want to express yourself, but it’s definitely more about the babe than the boss.

Essentially, what started out as an encouraging space for women who wanted to launch their own business and create a life on their terms, has become a disneyfied, sorority roadtrip to Sixfigureville.

But what really concerns me is that there is nothing – not a single word to be found – about how to best serve clients and customers and create value. Only relentless peer-pressure to have 10k months and perfect hair.

It makes me sad to see women battling each other to be the happiest, richest, and prettiest girl on the gram, with the most impressive, opulent feed. Being a ‘Boss’ has become just another way to cultivate significance and popularity.  It reminds me of the games I used to play with my friends in pre-school. ‘Let’s pretend we’re doctors!’ ‘Let’s pretend we’re princesses!’ Let’s pretend we’re big, grown up boss ladies, with a shiny car and a fancy phone and a power phrase for every occasion.

Honestly, I’m just exhausted by all the pretending and posturing – and I’m sure you’ve become as jaded and clouded as I have, and crave something real that reflects the everyday reality of your business.  That’s what you’ll find here, in my little corner of the web. Let’s just get on with business, shall we?