This post is all but written for me in the two minutes of unfortunate comedy provided by Amy Schumer. Watch it and come back if you want more.
Why is this so hard? Unless you’re that rare woman who can accept a compliment without cutting herself down (don’t worry, I’m sure you have other problems) this is an average day in most of our lives. We have difficulty with praise, be it for our outfits, hair, smarts or life achievements.
Did we grow up watching our mothers deflect positive attention? Were we conditioned that, to be liked, we ought not acknowledge our distinguishments, lest we appear pompous? For whatever reason, we devalue ourselves constantly, then wonder why women cannot seem to “argue” for equal pay, recognition or benefits at work.
We talk ourselves –and others– out of it every day.
Last year, I attended my only-ever book club meeting. Nine of us, all professional women –doctors, administrators, architects and the like– met in the home of a friend. We discussed a recently released book on Cleopatra, allowing the reading group prompts at the back to guide us into a discussion about power and role of women today.
As many of us declared frustration with lesser salaries and slower advancement while maintaining the lion’s share of housework and childcare, it was apparent how quickly we women bargain away rights and diminish our accomplishments in ways that men never would. One might argue that, biologically, we are more emotionally equipped to scan social situations and strategize accordingly, but all that seems to net us is less risk and less reward than men experience.
And after all of that, we still can’t accept a damned compliment.
I wish that I had a brilliant conclusion, other than a plan to learn to say, very simply, Thank you, when someone compliments me. Yet, after watching that video not an hour before, vowing to do this, I winced with embarrassment when Tomo complimented my curly hair at the coffee shop this morning.
“Oh, my hair is naturally like this; I usually straighten it.”
“It looks nice; I like it.”
“Thanks. It’s easier to do this way now that it’s longer. When it’s short, it’s like a messy bird nest,” I replied as if on cue.
My Pavlovian response is more deeply ingrained than I guessed. Two words are all that is necessary in these situations. After all, do I expect my friends to say cruel things about themselves when I compliment them? No, but they do anyway, and it pains me.
The only benefit of such a response is that it allows us to release our insecurities within the safe space of friendship. We all seek assurance from time to time, to be told that we’re beautiful and intelligent in spite of a few extra pounds or watching someone else get promoted above us.
In the end, we’re the ones who need believe it first; learning always begins at home.