Wednesday Journal Entry, Week 21
Karina Lafayette – September 28th 2022
Humble, by definition means, “having a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance”.
Sadly, many of us are guilty for twisting the meaning of that word in order for it to measure up to our own personal biases.
Typically, the only time we hear someone tell another person to be humble, is when said person happens to be a woman of extreme confidence, or who at least, appears that way. Incel podcasts do no favors and have normalized the idea of taking a woman “down a notch”, to avoid allowing her to feel too good about herself. For example, recently on Tiktok, I came across a video where a creator was talking about how for her, being a conventially attractive woman makes it difficult to have female friendships, since other women sometimes don’t like her.
While on the surface, her statement can come across as a bit arrogant, studies have already shown that this is often the case. Women are socialized to see each other as competition, so when we perceive someone as being better or doing better than us (even if it isn’t the truth), one of our first instincts is to bully that person into submission so we can feel better about ourselves. Female friendships are complicated and it takes years of maturity to get past the need of comparing ourselves to each other.
But the issue with telling someone to be humble isn’t about physical appearance or actually wanting them to show less confidence, it’s really just the fact that some of us simply don’t want others to believe in their potential. So we try to make them feel invisible.
When it comes to that woman on Tiktok, I scrolled through the comments, amazed at how many people were sarcastically writing things like, “good thing that won’t be an issue for you,” as if to try and make her feel less than, simply for acknowledging something about herself that chances are, people have already been saying to her all her life. But why are we so concerned with what other people think anyway? And why is it that we still consider someone attractive only when everyone else says so, but not when they feel it already? Most importantly, why does it even matter whether someone likes what they see in the mirror and says it aloud? Since it harms no one, it shouldn’t be an issue.
The common argument to the last question is that supposedly attractive people don’t know that they’re attractive- even One Direction says so in a song- but as someone who experienced emotional abuse from my mother, I really beg to differ. Physical appearance aside, telling someone from young not to see their own value isn’t only going to chip away their self-esteem, it’s dangerous. People who grew up being told to always stay humble and to keep to themselves, are also the same people who get into abusive relationships later on, and they’re the same people who don’t push toward their hopes and dreams because they already feel like a failure. We settle for partners who make us feel less than, and think it’s normal to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t believe in giving praise or compliments. At work, if a boss gives us praise, we’ll shrug it off and act like it’s undeserved. It’s like the trope of the girl in romcoms who is oblivious to why others like her so much.
Like we get it, confidence is intimidating.
The other layer with wanting humbleness, is related to the Madonna-Whore Complex. It’s the idea that a woman who’s comfortable with her body and sexuality has no value, when she’s also less likely to put up with being disrespected, and has way stronger boundaries. The Madonna on the other hand, a.k.a. “wifey material”, is perfect prey because whether she’s beautiful or not, she doesn’t know anything, which means she’ll put up with being taken for granted and cheated on and will continue to settle for the bare minimum. And if I didn’t emphasize this enough, it really doesn’t matter in either scenario if the woman is attractive by conventional standards or not, it’s how she sees herself that matters.
What amazes me about telling a woman to humble herself, is that it almost always comes from a place of patriarchal expectations. After all, if a woman knows what she brings to the table, she has no issue dining without others. She has no issue saying, “thank you, next” anytime someone tries to take her down a notch just because they can’t handle her energy. I also find it interesting how anytime Lizzo, Jennifer Lopez, and every other celebrity talks about self-love and confidence, people praise them. However, if an average woman who doesn’t have the same status says the same thing, suddenly she’s labeled as arrogant. Is it really because she’s arrogant, or is it because she’s too relatable, and she reminds us of the confidence we still struggle with?
I’ll admit, sometimes I do see women who ooze confidence as a bit of a threat, but that’s not their fault. It’s pop culture and the people around who told me that her confidence can undermine how I see myself. It has nothing to do with her. She doesn’t need to change for anyone, and she certainly doesn’t have to pretend to be oblivious to her qualities, as long as she doesn’t see them as making her superior. That’s the part we miss. We think loving yourself equates feeling superior.
However romcoms don’t nearly examine the oblivious girl trope as well as the movie Tangled. In the movie, Rapunzel was kidnapped as a baby and raised by Mother Gothel, an evil villain who uses the magical powers of her long, flowy blonde hair in order to achieve the fountain of youth. The problem is that at first Rapunzel isn’t aware that Mother Gothel is only using her for her hair, she actually believes that Mother Gothel cares about her. Not only that, Rapunzel is also a princess, and once a year on her birthday, her birth parents release the lanterns in hopes to find her again. She’s intuitively drawn to the lanterns, and the entire movie is basically a metaphor of what happens when someone doesn’t see their own light: it allows others to control them.
Until around the age of six, I had enough confidence for about ten people, that’s the beauty of being a child. You’re not old enough to give a shit. So whenever someone called me beautiful or complimented me for whatever reason, my reply would be: “I know”. If my mom was around, she wouldn’t hesitate to chirp bitterly, “You know?” And then laughed. She’d also go out of her way to pick a part my flaws just so I’d know my place around her. She was the star of the show. I don’t remember how it happened, but it seemed like almost overnight, I went from appreciating compliments to hating them. The girl who always smiled on camera, looked like she was posing for a mugshot and suddenly always wanted to stay in the background. It made me get involved in relationships with people who devalued me, ghosted me, manipulated me, and who didn’t see my worth. It took years to get my smile back, and I pity anyone who tries to take it away again.
This is why I don’t take people seriously when they insist that someone should “stay humble”. Now, does that mean we shouldn’t strive for some humility? Of course not, but a little goes a long way. If people actually knew what that word means, they wouldn’t be so hellbent on using it to erode another person’s self-esteem. They would instead look inside themselves and ask why they’re so bothered by anyone’s self-perception in the first place.
Wanting praise and admiration is a very normal, human thing, as long as you’re getting it in a way that’s authentic. When it comes to knowing you’re worth, that’s the icing on the cake. Despite what everyone else says, liking yourself isn’t a crime. The only crime is taking someone down a notch, just because you haven’t yet learned to appreciate your own reflection in the same way. And as the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”
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