Have you ever noticed how many girls and women, when complimented, will immediately deny it or deflect it back to the other person? It often looks something like this:
“Your hair looks so good today!”
“Ugh, are you kidding? It’s so flat. I wish mine looked more like yours…”
I think many people can admit to using this tactic. I hadn’t even realized the commonality of it until just recently when I overheard a couple of girls in the bathroom at school. Initially, their tones could have been mistaken for an argument; they were bantering back and forth while simultaneously inspecting their own bodies and faces in the mirror. As I took a closer listen to their conversation, I realized they were talking back and forth about who looked worse that day. They weren’t claiming that they looked better than the other, but the opposite. It was as if they were partaking in a competition of inferiority and self-hate. After reflecting on it for a bit, I wondered why girls believe that in order to bond with one another or build each other up, they must first tear themselves down.
Responding to compliments can be tricky and even awkward. We can all agree to that. But in the situation of a girl receiving a compliment, it is very difficult for her to respond in a way that will resinate positively with everyone. If she responds by denying the compliment or deflecting it back onto the other, she may often be perceived as though she is fishing for more compliments from the other person, or an ‘attention seeker’. If the response goes the other way, and she responds with a smile and a ‘thank you’, an acknowledgement that she agrees with them, she runs the risk of being called conceited or overly confident. This is one of the many times in which girls just cannot win; they are constantly bombarded with contradicting messages of how they should act in a society. Where does this complicated situation originate?
It may be possible that this negative self talk is just another repercussion caused from an overly critical society. It’s a historical fact that women who make the choice to carry themselves confidently and acknowledge their own success or positive qualities have been tormented by a patriarchal society, fueled by intimidation and insecurity. Not only have men been known to fear a woman who does not carry herself like she is inferior to him, but for centuries, women have attempted to tear down the one at the top, due to jealousy of escaping the social norm of being silenced and modest. Women are simply held to higher standards by society; Pew Research Center states that 50% of people believe that women’s higher expectations in the work field is considered one of the major barriers for women’s success (Pew Social Trends: Obstacles to Female Leadership). Self confident women have been feared and hated forever possibly due to the fact that they refuse to carry out the expectations set onto them by others, either in a work or social setting. It is human nature for girls and women to feel as though it is their responsibility to prove that they are the self-critical, modest beings that society has so long told us we have to be to prevent being targeted.
What’s so flawed about this system is that it is promoting the vicious cycle of inequality for women. On the surface, this game of who-can-pity-herself-more may seem completely harmless. It even may boost the ego of the other person involved who is hearing her compliments being dished right back towards her. However, every time we make even a small comment laced with self hate, we are doing a disservice to woman as a whole. If all of us continue to encompass a mindset that we will be unable to bond with others or succeed without first cutting ourselves down, we will be taking two steps back for every step forward.
So instead of giving in to this toxic urge to shame, hate, and compare ourselves to others, try looking at it from another perspective: ask yourself, why do I feel the need to criticize myself right now? Who is this benefiting? Once we realize that comparing and competing with others over qualities that we should be celebrating is not bringing women together, but instead supporting a longstanding patriarch in which women are unable to embrace their true greatness, we will be taking one step closer to breaking the system. So next time you hear a compliment, resist that urge to deny it. We are beautiful, and we all deserve to be able to embrace that.
– Liv, 3/7
“Chapter 3: Obstacles to Female Leadership.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 14 Jan. 2015, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/chapter-3-obstacles-to-female-leadership/.