|Completely unrelated image from a Provence market // Personal picture|
It's been some time since I last discussed body image and other self confidence related matters. I find it interesting that engaging in a journey of simplicity may lead to questioning beauty standards and what a healthy self confidence is about. Today, I'd like to ramble about the paradoxical social standards we have about beauty and self confidence, if you may let me induldge in this slip of the no-complaint mini challenge.
It all started when I read that article (in French) questioning this idea that women "are even more beautiful when they don't know it". No, wait. It actually started when I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. In that otherwise great post-apocalyptic piece of cinematic show, at some point, there are these "elite breeders". The healthiest, purest female human beings, ready to produce perfect little babies, untouched by radioactive mutations and what not. I mean, why not? In that type of universe, where humanity is struggling to avoid its own decadence and destruction, healthy, fertile women may indeed be a high value currency.
My source of rambling was not so much about the concept of the "elite breeders", but rather about what they actually look like in the film: mostly white, tall and extremely thin - perfect examples of fashion models. I mean, guys, a perfect human breeder would surely have a bit more fat on these hips and breasts. These women are not the "elite breeders" our species would expect, they are the perfect women our society and its beauty standards are imposing on us.
Beautiful, but not too confident about itAnyway, out of Mad Max and back to my point - it feels there is a contradictory message for us women out there. On one hand, in order to be "an elite woman", we have to look like young, underfed models. However, it is much sexier if we are not too aware of it, not too confident about our own body.
The French article linked above mentions song lyrics as examples: in "What Makes You Beautiful" from One Direction, the idea is that basically that what makes this girl beautiful, is that she lacks of self confidence, and doesn't see herself as beautiful. So basically, we should spend all our energy looking elegant, polished, tall and lean, but we shouldn't work too much on that self esteem of ours, because men like us best when we're insecure?
And that's where another paradox comes in: yes, it's sexier to be insecure, and let guys enjoy our beauty while we struggle with our body image. But let's not struggle too much, everybody knows a woman who complains too much about her curves or the salads she has to eat is such an annoyance.
It's a bit the same paradox as "make efforts to look good, while appearing like you are not making any efforts". You know, this whole no-make-up make up thing, where the lady, to look like she doesn't care, uses 15 "nude" products on her face every morning. If we really make no efforts, we'll be called ugly, unpolished, inconsiderate of other people around us. If we make too much effort, we'll "wear as much make-up as a stolen truck" as we say in French, if we are not simply called sluts. Without mentioning that a woman showing too much interest in her self appearance will probably come out at superficial and vain.
So, please, girl, make efforts to please our eyes, while not caring too much about how you look. Be beautiful to me, but not too confident about it, please. Be smart and nice to talk with, but not more intelligent than me, that's not sexy, and emasculating you know. You wouldn't want to emasculate me (did I tell you I hated Walter White? I love Breaking Bad, and the character is so well constructed, but he's such a douche).
Confidence doesn't suit you, ladyAs I gathered my thoughts for this post, some other things came back to my memory. See, since I studied in Japan for a year, learned a lot of things about myself and my culture there, I grew a little bit each year. And my self confidence and esteem started building up from there. Today, I believe to hold a quite healthy image of myself, and to have built a healthy self confidence. There is only so much you can build in today's society, and I have my insecure moments as anyone else, I guess that's a part of being human, but I feel balanced.
I think this is a good thing for me, but sometimes, I feel like some of the people around me haven't always felt that way. I remember, during a student job at a mobile phone store, my boss telling me that some of my colleagues felt a bit uncomfortable with me because I was too confident, too happy about myself. It made them feel insecure that I knew how to do my job and felt good about being a saleswoman. Now that I remember this conversation, years later, I wonder if this boss EVER had a similar conversation with any of these cocky salesmen. Did he ever tell a man his confidence was threatening his colleagues?
I wouldn't know, but I doubt it. Confidence is a strength in a man - it makes us feel secure, like he is in charge. A confident man will be seen as self assured, ambitious, having the weight of a leader, someone who "will go far". But a confident woman? She's "making others feel insecure". She may be seen as cocky, overconfident, too "masculine", emasculating, threatening.
I have other memories like this one. Friends who started drifting apart as I mended my own insecurities little by little, and showed a faith in my future, a confidence of what I wanted to do with my life, what priorities I wanted to pursue. I am not sure whether this particular tendency is linked to my being a woman, or if people who leave the rails and start making their own thing tend to disturb other people's beliefs and make them uncomfortable in general.
What I remember though, is that at university, it was perfectly accepted if a guy made jokes about his own self confidence (for example, him answering "yes?" when somesone swears"oh my god!"), but a girl doing the same will be looked sideways "who does she think she is?". "She thinks she's beautiful" was even an insult in high school, as far as I can remember.
In Japan, a highly patriarcal society, it is considered a quality for a woman to be quiet, discreet and submissive. Confidence in a woman is seen as highly rude.
So, what to do?Are we, as women, condemned to be anxious and insecure all our life in order to be attractive to men? Should we stop ourselves from appreciating our own body and life, because that would be rude, or threatening? Should we starve ourselves to become "elite breeders"?
As I went on my simplicity journey, I noticed that I drifted away from some friends, who became social acquaintances, then memories from the past. I will never know if my growing self confidence unsettled their manhood, if my changing preoccupations left few discussions to share, or if time just made its natural way across these relationships.
I do know however, that I met new friends I feel more in tune with. I feel better with myself than ever before, and I don't feel the need to gratify men's need for dominance and protection by appearing insecure in front of them. If they feel threatened by my demeanor, this is hardly my problem. And that's one of the best side effects of self confidence: some things just don't matter anymore. And in the middle of this, you meet men and women alike, with a healthy self esteem, who don't require for you to be insecure in order to feel better themselves. And the balanced relationship you create with these people is worth any drifting friendship.
Note: What I call a "healthy self confidence" isn't an all out "in your face" I'm so good about myself attitude. I remember reading a book about that by psychologist Christophe André. To summarize, what he calls a healthy self esteem/confidence, is one that is neither too low, nor too high. So you don't feel insecure about yourself, but you don't behave in a cocky way either, nor feel the need to show off, be louder than everybody else - this "high" self confidence behaviour, is, for him, a way to hide a lack of self confidence as well. A healthy self confidence isn't too loud, it can be discreet, but it is steady and balanced. This is what I'm refering to in this article.