I recently read an article link on Feministe's Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday that nearly knocked me out of my seat with its clarity.
Nahida's post on learning to receive compliments struck a chord with me. She discusses the habit among women to immediately downplay ourself when offered compliments.
Woman 1: "Oh, that's a lovely dress!"
Woman 2: "What, this old thing?"
Rather than taking credit when we are complimented ("Thanks! It's my favourite."), we have a terrible habit of self-deprecation, unconsciously putting ourselves down in an attempt to appear modest. It's mostly a learned behaviour, as supported Nahida's anectdote about the girls on the playground. My own experience wasn't so much "You're not supposed to say 'Thank You'" but it definitely wasn't cool to say "I know."
I'm terrible in my inability to graciously accept a compliment, especially in two areas: My music/art/writing and my recent weight loss. After losing about 60 lbs, I found I had a ridiculously difficult time receiving compliments in regards to my new body. I'd consistently jump to point out how much further I had to go ("Thanks, I still have another 25 to lose, though").
It took some time before I stopped myself and went "Hang on a minute! I've worked damn hard at this, and I deserve to feel good about it." For a time, I started responding to the "You've lost a lot of weight, you look great!" with "Thanks. I feel good." This has helped me not only receive the compliment, but downplay the emphasis on how my weight loss has affected my looks and put emphasis on the more important issue, which has been the improvement on my health. I felt this was important because in the past my weight has fluctuated due to stress and illness and I always found it bothersome when I'd get complimented on it.
"Did you lose weight? You look amazing!"
"Really? 'Cause I feel like shit."
Still I slip back into bad habits though. Even today, a friend on Facebook mentioned she had seen me and asked me my secret, to which, in typical Andie fashion, I responded with "Four years of Weight Watchers and a whole lot of patience. I also took up kick-boxing a year ago. Oh, and shit load of self-loathing and amphetamines."
Yeah, I'm kind of an artiste in the medium of comedic self-deprecation.
Why did I feel the need to add the last part? I can assure you it had nothing to do with amphetamines, but probably a little to do with self-loathing, or at the very least, lack of self-confidence. I still have days of mild body-dysmorphia where I feel gross and fat, even though the rational side of me knows I am not, and this has been exascerbated by the knowledge that I've probably put about 10-15 lbs back on. I almost feel sometimes like if I accept the compliment graciously that I'm somehow being un-genuine. Which is bullshit.
I've also been trying to learn how to graciously accept compliments regarding artwork and music, especially music. In the last year or two I've taken to playing at a lot of open mike nights, as well as posting videos of myself to Facebook (and once, even here). Compliments I receive on a performance I always feel the need to point out where I fucked up, or missed a chord change, or my voice cracked. Putting aside the occasional backhanded "You play good, for a girl" compliments, I enjoy the feedback, and it definitely bolsters my confidence as far as my abilities go, so why the need to downplay what I have basically been honing for the last seventeen years?
I liked Nahida's suggestion about calling out people who refuse to accept a compliment, because it is a bit rude, a way of saying "I appreciate your intent, but you don't really know what you're talking about." and THAT is ingenuine. And kind of rude.
As a feminist issue, all I really have to ask is how can we expect our talents, contributions and accomplishments to be acknowledged and celebrated when we ourselves are so apt to put them off as "Oh, it's no big thing, I just..?"
It might just be a big thing. So go ahead and say it. Without downplaying, without self-deprecating, without denying.