22 May 2015

Beauty, Confidence, and Social standards

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 it

Anyway, 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, lady

As 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.

19 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. PS The post I read after yours in Feedly was actually a no-makeup makeup tutorial! What are the odds?

      Delete
    2. Ha! What are the odds indeed?

      Delete
  2. Making new friends as you along and shed your jnsecurities is normal and healthy, and part of the growing process. And the great part about aging, as in growing in maturity, is caring less and less about what people think, as you understand that you can never please everybody, nor should you want too. Be yourself, and you will atttract like minded people. When people feel threatened by confidence, it is a testimony to their own lack of self confidence. Too bad for them, but you can only encourage them to develop their own and stop comparing themselves to others. Meanwhile, continue your path to self awareness and development, and you will see that you will care less and less for what other people think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This post and miss agnes' comment definitely resonate with me. I agree that it is natural to find more like-minded people and drift away from ones you knew earlier as you develop confidence, self-awareness and maturity. The hope might be that old friends develop the same way but it's still alright if things turn out differently.


      Delete
    2. How I like this post too.
      I totally agreed with Ingrid and miss agnes too.
      This is a healthy processed to let go relationships that don't belong anymore. Last year I experienced this but this was my friend who didn't want to meet me anymore. And at this time I don't want to be sad or angry and don't want to chase after her to understand why... But I think the fact that help me a lot to take this decision is that I've seen her doing the same to other friends. Then they came back and few months later it's the same... So I don't want to be treated like this myself.
      And I nothing to regret. After this I met new people, began new activities. These are something I like and help me to grow too.
      Now I can't even understand why people want to create drama to spiced their boring life. I think there's something more interesting to do with his own energy and time !

      Delete
    3. I definitely agree with all 3 of you! I think that growing a healthy self confidence is a part of becoming an adult, and caring less about what people think of us too. I remember the first time I decided that I no longer cared that a group of "friends" were talking about me behind my back. It felt like a revelation, realizing that I don't control what people will think about me, will interpret what I say or do, that, in the end, their reaction has more to do with them than it has to do with me. That's the moment I figured out you can't please everyone, nor should you try to. The moment when you realize the most important is to feel good about yourself, at peace with your own choices and decisions, and other people's reaction to them is their own issue, not yours. It also means taking responsibility for the consequences of our own actions and choices, which is also a part of becoming adult. But it does require work - I have seen very young people having such confidence, and much older ones still struggling - it's not only about age, nor gender at the end of the day, it's about growing as a human being.

      Delete
  3. Love this post! I especially linked the paragraph where you say eventually you'll find new friends who don't need you to be insecure to feel good with themselves.
    I think men who are threatened by a woman's confidence are lacking self-confidence themselves. So, their problem, not yours for sure.
    I guess a little of insecurity is good, if it brings the will to improuve one's self. It's a balance, as for everything.
    Finally, I think it'd be difficoult for the elite-breeders to breastfeed while starving themselves. Breastfeeding requires so much caloric intake!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I agree that when someone feels thraetened, or jealous, or someone else, it shows their own lack of self confidence for sure! But we as women do not exist to strenghten men's confidence, do we?
      I also agree that a healthy confidence invites some doubts, questioning of our actions etc. That's what I liked about that psychiatrist Christophe André, his definition of a healthy self confidence was about a balance between strong values and being at peace with oneself, but also have an open minded to doubt, contradictions, improvement etc. And it's harder to reach than we think - all these cocky persons showing off, that's not reallfy self confidence, maybe it's more of a mask to hide the cracks. But it's hard to reach that balance, especially in this society...

      Delete
  4. Love this post! I especially linked the paragraph where you say eventually you'll find new friends who don't need you to be insecure to feel good with themselves.
    I think men who are threatened by a woman's confidence are lacking self-confidence themselves. So, their problem, not yours for sure.
    I guess a little of insecurity is good, if it brings the will to improuve one's self. It's a balance, as for everything.
    Finally, I think it'd be difficoult for the elite-breeders to breastfeed while starving themselves. Breastfeeding requires so much caloric intake!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this amazing post, it's something I needed to hear right now. Sometimes it's way to tempting to tone down your own happiness and strength because of other people.

    I think not only some men but also other women feel threatened by strong, happy females. I did youtube videos for some time and the comments that criticized who I am as a person were always by other women. I did videos on consumerism, talked about deep stuff (at least for youtube standards) and some women never commented on what I said but regularly criticized my makeup, how I looked in general, my gestures, my facial expressions, the way I talked and so on. At first I was baffled that they never mentioned any of the content of the videos, but then I realized that they didn't watch the videos because of the content, they watched them to find something to criticizes about me to make them feel better, it's really sad when you think about it.

    I learned from this to stay away from people who always look for supposed faults in other people, who can't enjoy others positive energy and happiness, who always look superficially at people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an interesting testimony! I feel like sometimes, women get attacked on their looks out of a lack of better arguments against what they are saying. As if it was a way to reduce them to what they should be, an ornament. And it's true that we do this to each other as well - not only men. As a matter of fact, I can see around me more women criticizing other women's looks than men. Men would criticize a fat ass or something more "sexual" related, but women would criticize clothing, make-up, haircut... That's really sad because I think we should stick together in this, not accept to be treated as ornaments. But well, I guess that also shows these women's insecurities. Somehow it's reassuring for them to see they are not the only ones who struggle with their body image. But you're right, it's a bit sad in the end...

      Delete
  6. Wow, this post has a lot of stuff to take in.
    First of all when you 'rant' about society's expectations of women, it reminds me of the amazing work of Brené Brown (she has two TED-talks, if you don't already know her). According to her research on shame, women and men have very different shame triggers. As a society, we do ask the impossible of women: to be good-looking without trying, to be smart but not a wise-ass, to be self-confident but not bossy, the list goes on. Men have another problem altogether: they have less ambiguous demands to meet, but they have one demand that overrules all else and in that way rules their lives: to be strong. A man is not a man if he is not strong (even when showing vulnerability, they can't go too far or they're sissies). Maybe this is changing. But I wanted to say that for all of us, I think the biggest challenge in life is to see these demands for what they are (non-productive and poisonous for our happiness) and try to let go of them.
    I'm still building self-confidence. It's been only a couple of years that I've started purposefully working on self-developement, and since then I've noticed that I've always been too much of a 'good girl', letting those expectations get to me and trying so very hard to meet them. Anyhow, now that I'm trying to live more in accordance with my own values, I do notice that it's sometimes hard to talk to friends, family and co-workers. I find that a lot of people, when they express insecurities or complain about stuff like stress, weight-loss etc., all they really want is for someone to agree with what they say and mirror those problems. Like when someone is going on about the hardships of dieting, they don't want me to say I think they look perfect as they are and how unhealty society's demands for flat tummies is, they just want to hear me say I have the same struggle. Which I don't and I feel very uncomfortable in situations like those. Luckily with most good friends there is enough openness for a real conversation, most times. But with co-workers I find these days I often rather bite my tongue. I'm telling myself I'm not responsible for their happiness but I don't to come across as cold and uninterested either. I'm still searching for the right balance there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a lot of interesting points here :) I'll definitely check out Brené Brown! I might already have watched a talk or something about her because I've already heard about what you are saying - the different demands society makes of men and women. And it's true that this one thing for men, being strong, can lead to a lot of insecurities as well - as a child, being told not to cry, that emotions are for girls. That's rejecting a whole part of what makes us human beings. In a way girls were more "left alone" as they had the right to cry, to be afraid, to be sad etc.
      But in any case for both genders, I agree that it is key to let go of these demands and figure out who we really are inside and what we really want for our life. It's a very difficult thing to do though, as we as human beings, are a species that lives in a group, and it is vital to be a part of society.

      It's interesting what you say about people complaining really looking for other people who struggle like them - as a way to reassure themselves maybe, that they are not the only ones going through this. I find that's also a reason why it's so hard to talk about simplicity, or personal projects and stuff, in a regular social environment (like at work for example). Because people need their choices to be validated by other people - you know, the choices to buy a house, go into debt, buy well-known brands, work to pay all these debts, work more to earn more etc. When you start showing them an alternative, it's really unsettling, because it doesn't validate their choice. Even when you are not judging them, the fact that you don't do like them, that your choices are different, they see it as a judgement of their choice. If it makes any sense. For the example of the diet it's the same - women who speak about their diet may need to make sure they are not the only ones struggling with their weight, and that it's a good idea to diet. Maybe they want to show off too, because it's hard to lose weight. and they may need people to validate their choice, to tell them it's a good idea to diet. Also, questioning that kind of stuff may lead people to ask themselves questions they don't want to ask. Whern you say to a girl she is beautiful as she is and shouldn't diet, it may make her face her body insecurities which she doesn't want to see (or would rather face by thinking she'll be happier when she looses wieght).

      But in the end you're right, we are not responsible for other people's happiness, and there is no way to help people who don't want to be helped. I guess everyone has their own rhythms, and we don't understand the same things at the same moment in our lives, and that's OK. But I agree it's hard to find the right balance in the middle of all this. Especially whaen some people would like you to be unhappy, because they are unhappy and it's reassuring for them if they are not the only ones...

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I could feel my blood starting to boil as I was reading this. I have completely run headfirst into this issue a few times, although I like to think that I've gotten to the point in my life where I just no longer give a flying fuck anymore. Also fuck your boss at the phone store. That absolutely would not have happened to a guy. I can't tell you how many times I've been pulled aside about being too "abrasive" or I say an idea at a meeting, everyone ignores it, then a guy says it five minutes later and they all are so impressed (GRRRRR....)
    Thankfully I've found my current company where the guys on the team and I get along swimmingly, and there are even a few women on our little team of software engineers! Which is completely unheard of in tech, usually I'm the only female developer which I think leads to some of these issues...
    It's also definitely hurt having to cut some people out of my life over the years, but it's hard enough to find your place and do well in the world, carrying the extra weight just isn't worth it, even if there is a lot of history. It's always just a little sad to have a "friend breakup"

    I also want to add one last thing that I've noticed about these impossible standards for women. While guys certainly enjoy them at our expense, I find that we sometimes enforce these standards upon ourselves. Women who pretend that they're "doing it all" while refusing to talk about the assistance (people or financial based) they're using to get there, and yet will still shame other women for not doing the same (without those same resources). Or women who use social pressure, shame, and gossiping to keep other women down and inline with the status quo. I think it's important that we remember we're all in this together, be nicer to other women, support them in their choices even if they don't necessarily align with yours. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies.

    Anyway, great post Kali :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha I see what you mean here, there are some environments more "manly" than others, where it's even less accepted to have a confident woman around. Sometimes it feels that way in video games as well, although since I work in the communications team there are a lot of women working with me. Although as you say, we are not always kind between each other as women, and I agree that it's sad. More broadly, some miserable people like it best if the rest of the world is as miserable as they are, and that's just sad. We should definitely be supporting each other in this :)

      Delete
  9. I have been thinking more and more about confidence and in the past few years realized that low self esteem is pretty much the root of all interpersonal issues both in women and men. I have also been lucky enough to achieve peace with myself, my looks and my personality.
    This post, especially the part about no-makeup makeup and One Direction made me think of this sketch by Amy Schumer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyeTJVU4wVo
    She has great content that address many of the issues women face.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link! It's true that a lackof self confidence is probably the root of many interpersonal issues, regardless of gender. Perhaps because when someone feels insecure, it makes them self centered, about their own faults and issues and stuff, and have less energy to care for others and show empathy. It can sometimes even be the other way around, make sure other people feel insecure as well, to reassure that they aren't the only ones.
      That being said, insecure people are easier to manipulate and sell stuff to, so, it may sound a bit cynical but I think people in power prefer when people are insecure about themselves. There is so much we could accomplish as a species if we were kinder, more cooperative of each other etc.

      Delete