Have you ever called yourself pretty or funny or smart? And I mean out loud, and not in a joking, sarcastic or self-deprecating way. You said it, because well, you think it’s true. What would your reaction be if someone said it about themselves? Are we allowed to say this sort of thing about ourselves?
A couple of months ago, I stumbled on an article called, What It’s Like To Be a Pretty Girl on Thought Catalog. I invite you to read it and scroll through the comments briefly before continuing here. The synopsis is basically how being pretty is not all it’s cracked up to be according to the author and that she was sometimes treated unfairly and unkindly because of her beauty. If you should know anything about the Thought Catalog audience, it’s that they are a tough crowd. The girl got eaten alive by the audience with several mentions of how she’s full of herself, and that she has low self-esteem if she thinks she’s only treated negatively because of her looks. And those were some of the more tame comments.
My initial reaction was, “Wow, this girl has got a lot of audacity, that’s for sure.” While her article could be said to have a bit of self-absorption, I started noticing how women in particular, talk about themselves and more importantly, how they don’t talk about themselves. And I started to think that maybe, just maybe, this author while having a lot of audacity, is just being honest about her experience.
The other day I struck up a conversation with a group of guys from Barcelona on the CTA. One of them asked me why I got shy when I said, “Thank you,” when they told me I was pretty. I said something about how one should remain modest when given a compliment. But then he asked me, “Why do you need to be modest about something if it’s true?” (I suppose it was his way of giving me another compliment.) I said that modesty is polite. And then out of nowhere, he asked, “Do you think you’re pretty?” I answered by saying that beauty is both objective and subjective and while I don’t think I’m ugly, objectively, I think some people will think I’m pretty and some people won’t. He laughed and told me that I would make a great academic because I answer a simple question with paragraphs.
The truth is I didn’t know how to answer the question, “Do you think you’re pretty?” But why is that? Is it because we’re socialized especially as females, to think that calling ourselves pretty will make us conceited? The world tells us to pay attention to our face and bodies and to try to be as beautiful as we can. And that we’re supposed to be confident about how we look. But then we’re also supposed to maintain oblivion about our looks, lest we get called, “full of ourselves.”
To a lesser extent, being smart or funny is on that same list of things we’re not supposed to call ourselves, unless it’s in a humorous or self-defeating context of course. The times I’ve been asked if I’m intelligent or if I think I’m funny, I do say yes but I usually follow it up with an amusing remark so that I do not come off as vain. But why should I have to? Are we at two extremes? Can’t someone say they are funny, pretty, or smart without being self-absorbed?
Don’t get me wrong, being conceited is not a good look on anyone, no matter how pretty, funny, or smart they are. But if someone asks you if you’re any of the above, you can answer it both modestly and confidently without pretentious oblivion or self-absorption. Like my Barcelona inquisitor told me as I was getting off at my stop, “The opposite of modesty isn’t being arrogant, it’s being false. If you’re pretty, you’re pretty. Thank God and your mother. End of story.”
Now, I still say that beauty is both objective and subjective. As is intelligence and being funny. But the next time someone asks me if I’m any of the above, I’ll work on just saying yes. And I’ll silently thank God and my mother. End of story.