I was at work on Monday and overheard two of the therapists having a discussion about beauty. I was curious about the specifics of their discussion. I am good friends with these women, so I decided to jump in and just ask.
Me: What are we discussing?
Melanie*: Do you think you are beautiful?
Me: (Pause, deep in thought. How am I supposed to respond to this? The truth is that I do think I’m pretty. I don’t know ‘beautiful’, but pretty. Hmm. Is that okay for me to respond that way? I mean, isn’t that a bit obnoxious? But, these are therapists, so maybe I should just be honest.) I think I’m attractive.
Roxanne: See, I don’t think that statistic is right.
Me: What statistic?
Melanie: I was reading this article in a magazine that said, of the women who responded to the question of whether they thought they were beautiful, only 2% said yes.
Me: Really? That seems awfully low. Although, you noticed that I couldn’t just say yes.
Melanie: Yes, I did. We should discuss that later.
Me: (Why do I talk to these psychoanalyzing people? Oh, yeah, I like them. )
Roxanne: But I don’t think it’s only 2%.
Me: Me neither, although it depends on who responded and how safe they felt saying it. I knew I didn’t want to “lie” to you guys, so I didn’t, even though it made me uncomfortable, but would I downplay my feelings even more to someone else? I don’t know.
Standing in line for a dinner sponsored by the MBA program at School A with a number of prospective students and Kristine, a faculty member of the MBA program at School A. This is mid-conversation.
Kristine: So, are you looking into the MBA program here?
Me: Yes. I’m actually in the process of applying.
Kristine: Good. Where else are you applying?
Me: School B, School C, School D and School E. Although, D and E are both long shots with my GPA.
Kristine: Have you taken the GMAT?
Kristine: How did you do?
Me: Fine. If it were only about the GMAT, I wouldn’t be worried, but my GPA is awful.
Kristine: In the 2s?
Me: Depends on how you calculate it.
Kristine: And your GMAT?
Me: (Great. There are all of these other students around. I hate talking about this. What should I say?) Above average for most schools.
Kristine: (looking at me very directly, showing that she knew I was skirting the issue) What was your score?
Kristine: (a little disapproving sound) Yes, that is above average.
Me: It’s fine.
Kristine: No, it’s really good.
Me: Okay, it’s really good.
I self-deprecate. Not all the time. Not in every situation, but often enough.
Isn’t deprecate such a great word? Originally it meant “to pray against”. I find that fascinating. And do you know what it rhymes with? Defecate. Another great word. Being the visual person that I am, I often think of the two words as being related, and picture a big old bird poop landing on my head when I think of self-deprecation. Of course, the bird is me. And the reason I poop on myself? Well, that is the deeper question, isn’t it? And it’s not only me. My guess is that most of you out there (especially because the majority of my readers are women) also take part in a little self-deprecation from time to time.
So, what is it that get out of it? What is it that we fear if we don’t do it? There has to be some motivation. People don’t just do something for no reason.
Here are some thoughts (this list is not complete, but the things I could come up with from my own life):
- We don’t want to appear prideful or full of ourselves. When did recognizing our strengths become a bad thing? I don’t think we need to go around bragging about ourselves or our accomplishments, but should acknowledge our strengths and/or accomplishments when appropriate. And generally, if someone else has recognized them for us (i.e. said, “Wow, you are really good at ______.), we should just say, “Thank you” or “That’s something I have really worked hard to accomplish” or “I do like that about myself”.
- We want to fit in. Everyone else is doing it. Have you ever been sitting around with a bunch of girlfriends when a “self-deprecation party” has started. It’s so super fun. Everyone starts talking about how they aren’t good at this or that. And you sit there and think to yourself, “I know for a fact that Sally loves that about herself…what’s the deal?” Or suddenly you find yourself joining in. Maybe you actually started it when Judy said, “Wow, your hair always look so good,” and you responded, “No it doesn’t. Are you seeing my bangs?” Wouldn’t it be nice in this situation, if the truth is that you don’t think your hair looks good to just say “thank you.” Or better yet, if you do like it, to say something like, “Thank you, my hair is something I have always liked about myself.”
- We don’t want others to feel bad about themselves because we have a strength/talent they don’t have. Well, let’s think about this for a moment. I have a friend who is an excellent photographer. It’s what she does for a living. I’m an amateur. While I like my photos, I’m not a professional. Can you imagine how I would feel about my pictures if, when I complimented Candice on a photo, she said, “oh, it’s really not that good”? Wouldn’t that make me feel worse than her saying, “thank you”? My favorite in this category is women who are clearly in great shape and, as evidenced by the fitted clothing they wear, feel good about their bodies, but still talk about how “fat” they are (yes, weight is one of my insecurities). There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Actually, I feel really good about the way I look. I work hard to look like this.” Or, as I heard one of my darling roommates say one time, “I don’t have a problem with the way I look, but I need to start working out because I don’t feel very healthy.”
- We really, honestly and truly struggle with low self-esteem. I do not want to downplay this one at all. I think we all have areas where we really can’t see our own greatness. In these situations, it’s hard because we really don’t believe people when they compliment us. Someone compliments you on your ability to make others feel comfortable (a great talent, by the way), and you think, “How on earth could they possibly think I make others feel comfortable when I am so uncomfortable myself?” Wouldn’t it be interesting if you just asked a question, “I don’t really see that in myself. What is it that makes you think I make others feel comfortable?” Is it so bad to ask someone to help us see our strengths?
- We compare our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths. We all do this. It’s a really easy thing to do. It doesn’t matter that I have this talent or that talent because I can’t run a seven minute mile. Why is it so hard to acknowledge someone else’s strength without putting ourselves down? I have this friend who is the most kind, people-oriented, thoughtful person I know. She lives in Arizona and we probably talk once a month. She’s in the process of planning her wedding, so life is very busy. On Monday, when my application for School D was due, she sent me a text that said, “Good luck finishing your application tonight!” So, so thoughtful. I am not that thoughtful. I am a bit too self-involved at times. Once upon a time, when I first met Jenny, I was a little jealous of her. We were fast-friends, but I always wished that I was more like her. Then one day, I finally thought, “So, if you want to be like her, why don’t you try doing the things she does?” Not super difficult, but for some reason, we often just want to feel sorry for ourselves rather than a) see our own strengths or b) make the effort it takes to change if someone else’s strength is something we really want.
I think we should all just stop doing this. It’s irritating and does nothing for us, as people, but especially women.
One more thing…while I do think we should stop doing this, I also think that it’s important that we be sincere in everything. So, when you see your friend and she cut bangs and they look horrific, just leave it alone. You don’t need to say they look awful (I am so not a believer in that), but you also shouldn’t say, “Oh, wow, your bangs look amazing.” Just avoid the topic. Or, if asked (because we all know that sometimes people put us in difficult situations), just say something you do like about them. And if there isn’t anything you like about them and it’s obvious that your friend is feeling insecure, and there’s nothing they can do about them because you can’t glue hairs back on, then you have to decide what is more important, honesty or the person’s feelings…and when evaluating that, I always consider the value of each. But that’s another post for another day.
*Some names have been changed.