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Ideas in the Wild: How Iona Holloway is Helping “Perfect” Women Find the Heart to Heal from Their Silent, Invisible Pain

From the outside, your life looks polished. You’re talented, successful, strong. Your perfection safeguards you against suffering. Everyone assumes you’re fine, and you hide in plain sight.

But the truth is that, inside, you feel like a fraud. From childhood, you’ve been gaslighted by your own gifts. “Good enough” is impossible. But being perfect leaves no space to be human. You suffer in silence. You use your body as a canvas to scream your pain, shrinking in a desperate bid to be visible.

Iona Holloway woke up one day and knew she could never go on another diet. She was willing to sacrifice her “perfect body” if it meant she felt whole — not lost, ashamed, and hopeless. She became her own guide on the hard journey of coming home to herself.

In her debut memoir, Iona explores lost childhood, identity webs, hot shame, emotional freeze, love, and lineage to tell the story of how to change not just behaviours, but beliefs. How to ask for help. How to let go of perfect. Haunting, vulnerable, blunt, and stunning, Ghost is a story that reveals why strong women go to war with their bodies.

I recently caught up with Iona to learn more about her journey writing Ghost.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

The exact moment when I realized these ideas needed to get out there was when I wrote an entire manuscript and there was only perhaps one paragraph in it that I actually wanted to use. And that was this idea of high functioning, struggling women hiding in plain sight and their pain being invisible. It took me writing nearly 40,000 words and reading through it to realize that this was the specific pain point that I wanted to speak directly to, because I could speak to it from direct experience of growing up as the girl — and then the woman — that no one worried about, that everyone assumed was fine because the quality of my output remained high.

There were so many stories and identities swirling around me that I was perfect, that I was good at everything, that I didn’t feel emotions, that I didn’t struggle with anything. Reading the central idea about invisibility and high functioning women and their gifts gaslighting them and making all the ways that they struggle invisible — I knew this was something I had to write about.

I’ve worked as a creative director, I’ve worked in agencies, I worked at Google for a while, and I know now in hindsight, that so many of the women that I interacted with in those places were struggling invisibly the same way that I did. They had no permission to be human, to voice that they were struggling. My struggle — and their struggle — is the reason I wrote this book.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned going through the journey you share in the book?

It’s the idea that the pursuit of perfection dehumanizes a woman. There is no space to be human when your identity is, “I am perfect.” I’ve learned that in letting go of perfectionism and instead focusing on being brave, honest, and vulnerable, it’s actually far more powerful than a perfectly curated and perfectly executed version of me that doesn’t feel anything, that doesn’t have emotions, and that doesn’t express anything other than strength.

In the journey of sharing this book, I’ve learned that so many women have been strengthened by their perfection in cruel ways and need the opportunity to learn how to be human all over again. That’s why I wrote this book, and I didn’t write a sweet, kind, little book. I wrote a very honest book about what it takes to let go of perfect and become strong in your vulnerability. That’s one of the biggest lessons that I’ve taken away: there’s so much strength in honesty.

How will you apply this lesson in your life moving forward?

The single biggest shift in identity and in personal narratives that I’ve made is letting go of perfect and finding a more compelling storyline to replace it with. I’m a big believer that identity is created by narratives and that we run our lives on storylines. Often those are given to us when we’re young and we kind of fall into them, with “perfect” being one of those storylines.

But I’m a big believer that we can rewrite these storylines into ones that empower us and liberate us. I’ve done that by shifting my narrative of “I am perfect” to “I am brave.” The narrative “I am perfect” closed me off, made me individual in a lonely way, in a quiet way, in a small way. It didn’t let me try new things. It didn’t let me play and have fun in my life. Changing that narrative to “I am brave” has opened me up. It’s allowed me to be human and try new things. It’s allowed me to explore what it means to share with other people, to be generous, and made me want to be open to collaborating with people. That’s something that perfect stole from me because the underlying fear was that worth was scarce and that sharing weakened me.

But in choosing to view my life and live my life through the lens of bravery, I know that these things aren’t scarce, I know that sharing can be a beautiful thing. I know that being brave means I can be vulnerable and that doesn’t weaken me. So, that’s the way that I continue to apply the lessons I’ve learned in my life. Moving forward, shifting the narrative of perfect into a more empowering story of bravery and trying to walk that walk every day, as much as I can.

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Zach Obront

Zach Obront

1.2K Followers

Co-Founder of Scribe, Bestselling Author of The Scribe Method