I am of the particular brand of woman who, upon being given a compliment, hastily adds something negative.
“You’re nice!” “Thank you, but just don’t wake me up from a nap.”
“Your hair looks nice today.” “Yeah right. I gave up on it after 15 minutes.”
“You’ve been looking thinner.” “Perhaps you’ve been spending too much time with Water Buffalo.”
Cue the awkward smile and change of subject. It’s a game that I’ve gotten really, really good at.
This phenomenon is something I have noticed in myself since high school, but can’t get around to changing. There is a large part of me that feels like accepting kind words is arrogant and sinful, that I must cut myself down for others to see. The leftover part of me simply just doesn’t know how to graciously accept a compliment. Which leads me to wonder…
I’d love to blame it on ‘Beauty Culture’, the aesthetic perfection I am bombarded with on the internet and in stores and in movies and everywhere. However, I’m old enough and educated enough to know that most beauty standards are completely unattainable and fake, and it’s not just beauty that I fall short on. I see the people whose words change lives. I see the Beyonce moms who have a waist size my body hasn’t seen since I was 9. The fit moms who run multiple marathons a year. My unwed friends who have awesome jobs. Single friends who have joined the Peace Corps and live their lives helping the poorest people on the planet directly. I see them, and then I see myself in the mirror. Nothing worth priding myself in.
Today I realized that my son does not yet see these things. He sees only me and his father. He has no idea that he is not good enough, that he will make mistakes, that his actions will never make everyone he knows happy, that other people live extraordinary lives. And if he sees the way I doom myself, every day, to being less than I am, what will he become? A perpetuation of the cycle of doubt.
As I reflected on this, I realized what I have to blame: Fear. I am afraid of being nice. Fit. Smart. Good Enough. I am afraid because I can never be these things perfectly. And although it’s painful to let other people down, it feels even worse to let yourself down. So I hang on to negative comments and criticisms with a vice-like grip- so that when I inevitably fail, I can look to them and say that I knew better.
Isn’t that pretty much the stupidest reasoning you’ve ever read?
So with the new year approaching, I am trying- for my son but also for myself- to take in the good. To be more confident in my abilities as a teacher, a mom, and a person. To hold on to nice words longer than I hold onto the unkind ones. I’m going to remember that perfection is not a reality until we get to Heaven – and just because I am not Kate Middleton, it does not mean I have to shoot down other people’s kindness. I will also stop comparing myself to Princess Kate. Once in a while, I will just smile and say, “Thank you.”