I was raised on the notion that honesty is, above all else, the ultimate virtue. For many years, if anyone had asked me what I admire most in a person, I would have said “honesty.”
When I began reading etiquette columns, the Queen of which is Miss Manners, I was so completely dumbfounded by her constant advice to lie. To be honest, I still am. Her advice was often a complex dance around a topic, in order to manipulate a person into behaving the way you would like them to without actually having to tell them what you would like from them. Because, it seems, that to be straightforward is to be rude, according to established etiquette.
Over the years I have learned a bit of tact, but I’m still fairly blunt and I still won’t lie.
The reason for this is, largely, because I don’t like people pussyfooting around me. I don’t feel that’s kind, I feel that it’s kinder to give honest feedback when necessary. I treat people the way I prefer to be treated. When I ask “Does this look okay?” I really want to know. Don’t send me out in public looking like a lame-o, k? If I ask “Am I overreacting?” or “Am I wrong?” or “Is this reasonable?” I’m not looking for empty reassurance, I really want to know. Because if I look ridiculous, I’d like to look ridiculous to as few people as possible.
And then there are the things I just don’t care to pretty up. I’m not about to pretend to be someone I’m not. One of my most favourite quotes is from Dr. Seuss:
Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.The Cat in the Hat
I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.Various?
As a kid, I was painfully shy, a huge people-pleaser, never fitting in and always trying to. I was very poor and very abused and learned very early on that I was second-class. Everyone was better than me just by virtue of not being me, to my mind. Then I became an angry teenager, and said “fuck it, fuck you, you can’t change me.” It was like halfway healthy. I used my newfound self-assurance as an excuse to avoid self-improvement, mainly, to be damaged, to be obnoxious at times, all in the name of self-acceptance. I thought that people trying to be accommodating or caring at all what other people thought was pathetic, I knew it all of course, when I was 14, 15, 16. Then adulthood – my extreme un-medicated anxiety kicked in, and I spent a lot of years fretting incessantly over why everyone didn’t like me, whether they really did or didn’t. Looking back, a lot of those people probably barely knew I existed.
But then toward the end of my 20’s I got that horrible anxiety under control and it occurred to me to stop wondering so much whether people liked me, and start considering, for once, whether I liked them. Because up til that point, I hadn’t much thought about it. Sounds so simple and yet it had eluded me for most of my life. Suddenly it clicked to me that I was equal, not less. That I didn’t have to strive for people to deign to spend time with me, be kind to me, I didn’t have to scramble for scraps. It was like, epiphany’d.
I really began to gain some self-esteem and confidence then, slowly but surely. Because after nearly 3 decades of constantly worrying about not being good enough, I let myself be good enough to have an opinion. To be fine with not being liked by everyone. To understand that those people weren’t my people and chances were always good that I didn’t much like them either. Along with that came a chance to examine myself as a person, not to scrutinize and pick myself apart as I’d done so long under the basic assumption that there had to be something wrong with me, intrinsically, as a person – but to look at myself the way I was beginning to look at other people. As an individual entitled to their feelings and opinions, with some things to offer, who could be appreciated by others. Up until that point I really felt mainly apologetic about myself, sorry I’m not better, thanks for putting up with me. I could easily name 20 things off the top of my head that were wrong with me, but I’d really struggle to name one thing that was good. I honestly didn’t see the good and I wondered a lot what people saw in me, because I felt like a mess. And any time I would try to think of a good quality I might have, my brain would shut it down because after years of being mistreated, I was always waiting for that one person to shoot me down, pull the rug out, make me feel small for ever thinking I could be… you name it. Smart, talented, pretty, funny, kind-hearted. All of the things that I now feel that I am, most of the time.
After years of trying to be loved for what I was not…
I felt free. Free to make my own choices, free to give myself credit, free to be myself without fear of ridicule. That was, and is, so precious to me. When someone tells me I’m honest or down-to-earth or real or authentic – those are some of the highest compliments I feel I can receive. What I want is for people to see what they get, with me.
I have spent so many years now not giving a shit whether people like me or not that I can hardly remember what it feels like to fret over it. I don’t apologize for much except my own bouts of bad behaviour. I like what I like, and I’m not sorry. I used to even talk about guilty pleasures, as people do, the things that I’m not supposed to like but do. I don’t even do that anymore.
It’s sometimes strange to me how many people are still shocked or confused though, by my honesty. I had a friend once say she was so happy that I sent her a picture in which she could see my mountains of unfolded clean laundry. She actually thought she was alone in that. Hell no, m’lady, me too. Not sorry. I’m busy, okay, I have my priorities. Oh, wanna hear a stupid thing I thought/did/said? It’s hilarious! I like heavy music and scary movies and dark humour and pink and unicorns and glitter. Yeah it doesn’t match, I like what I like. I love being an awkward dork. It’s part of my charm. I love video games and nerdy retro crap and puns and weirdness. Recently I was helping my 13-year-old clean his room and I came across a big pink t-shirt that had a big rainbow on it and simply said “death metal.” I asked him where he got it, he said he found it thrift store shopping (by the way I love the fact that my son is as random as me, cars and building and thrift store shopping and oxymorons and miniature things) and he just thought it was funny. Said I could have it. Of course I immediately showed my best friend, who thought it was so cute that he knew me so well, and I’m like, “No dude, he wasn’t even thinking of me he just thought it was awesome and I actually feel even more proud of that.”
It’s 5 PM on a Thanksgiving Monday and I have not yet put on day clothes. I’m sure I won’t, I have nowhere to be. Not sorry. I also just brushed my hair an hour ago. I felt I deserved a day to be completely unproductive. I almost exclusively use photo filters to make myself look hilarious rather than “prettier.” I feel that it’s a good thing I don’t wear makeup every single day, since those days when I do wear it I look especially nice and the days that I don’t, I don’t have to answer a barrage of “Are you sick?” questions with “No, I’m just not wearing makeup today.”
Perhaps because of what I follow online, I felt like we were coming a long way in terms of authenticity. I watch videos of moms talking about how annoying they are to their husbands sometimes or how they ended up covered in kid shit or those times when they show up late to PTA meetings in their sweats and realize halfway through that there’s baby vomit down their backs. I like the makeup lady who made a makeup tutorial where she exclusively used tiny plastic hands to apply the makeup. Or people who do hilarious commentary over other people’s uploaded videos. I love it. Cause it’s real and it’s dorky and it’s funny. It always gives me a little bit of pause when someone points out that my honesty is refreshing, or w’ever.
But then I step back and realize we are also at our highest vanity and visibility in history. People spin whole accounts of perfect lives, perfect figures, perfect faces, perfect children, perfect homes. Used to be that we saw that stuff in magazines and felt that sharp pang of imperfection and defectiveness, maybe, but now it’s everywhere you look. People are quick to post their beautiful perfect pictures of their beautiful perfect family/house/vacation. People filter and learn how to pose like they’re on the red carpet. People don’t dare post that today they stepped in dog vomit or they’re losing their shit because their teenagers are utterly useless assholes at the moment. Even when people aren’t trying to dazzle us all, they conveniently leave out the lows and we only see the highs. We don’t see the kitchen with last nights mess still all over it. Or the puffy face after a rough argument and a long cry. Or the divorce in the works, the sick kids, the exhaustion. Because people feel like that is private, and it is, really – but it gives a lopsided view that not everyone seems to realize is completely flat and one-dimensional.
It seems to me that a lot of people likely feel they don’t measure up, when they’re not considering how they’re only seeing the good. I imagine it must be tough not to be insecure, especially for girls, growing up surrounded by this. It was tough for me without the internet.
As much as I be who I be for myself, I also don’t want to be the cause of other people’s insecurities. I know what that feels like. I still want to make people happy, just not at my own expense. I still love to help, love to give, love to make people laugh or feel better about their tough day. That’s just part of who I am, and I like that part of who I am.
We have ushered in a world where people live for likes and their whole self-esteem depends on it. And the more it happens, the more it will happen I think, as more and more people try to create that perfect version of themselves and their lives to show to the internet.
I do also admire celebrity women who are bucking this trend, because they have an audience and I think it does some good. Showing the no makeup no filter photos. Showing the before retouching and after retouching of their photos. Posting the messy hair messy clothes pictures of themselves with their babies. Pointing out that yes, even they have cellulite. Calling out toxic marketing that preys on girls and women’s insecurities. I love it. Why? Because it’s not flat. They round themselves out. They show the good and the bad. They prove they’re human, and humans, all humans, have flaws, bad days, messes. That’s what makes us human really, and that’s what makes us unique – our imperfections, our quirks, our differences. Side note: Yes, I’m sure men have insecurities too, but I’m not a man so I’m focusing on women because, well, I have experience.
Being authentic, being true to yourself, and not hiding that… that’s important. To do otherwise assumes that your real self isn’t good enough, or that you can’t be proud of who you truly are. It gives a false perspective into your life, brings out others insecurities, and leaves you not knowing whether people would like you if they really knew you, I believe.
We’re never the only ones.