I’ve been seeing a lot of letters lately from women who are concerned about “looking bad,” most recently in this column and this forum post.
When they talk about “looking bad,” they don’t mean aesthetically-speaking, the way some of us might be concerned about our appearance (which is a whole other conversation about the way we women put unhealthy expectations on ourselves in a way men don’t seem to do); they’re talking about “looking bad” for behaving in a way they fear may alienate or offend someone else (usually, another woman or women). Specifically, women seem to talk about “looking bad” most frequently when they’re debating between prioritizing their — or their immediate family’s — own needs and wants over someone else’s (often unreasonable) requests or demands. “I don’t want to rush my kids through opening their presents on Christmas morning so we can get to their grandmother’s by 8 AM… but I don’t want to ‘look bad’ by showing up later.” Women, can we stop with this nonsense? Can we stop worrying about “looking bad,” and instead start creating healthy boundaries, protecting our own traditions and personal space, and honoring our budget and time limitations? Rather than seeing such assertive behavior as “looking bad,” let’s re-frame the idea. Let’s call it “being a damn adult.”
The wonderful thing about being a damn adult is that you get to make most of your decisions for yourself. Instead of waiting for your parents (or anyone else) to tell you what you can or cannot do, YOU decide. But, of course, no decision is without consequences, and sometimes the consequences of making decisions that conflict with what other people want are often hurt feelings and anger. But the alternative — making a decision based on what is best for someone else rather than prioritizing your own needs and wants — is often resentment, discomfort, frustration, and even financial stress. And yet, people — women, often — continue choosing resentment, discomfort, frustration, and financial stress over “looking bad.”
Please, let’s stop the madness. Let’s all grow up and start making decisions based on what makes the most sense for us (and our immediate families), rather than on what we think will make everyone else happiest. Let’s start taking care of our own needs and honoring our own traditions and limitations and desires. Let’s teach our daughters and other young girls in our lives that it’s OK to have self-interest — that it’s OK to think about what we want even if it’s in direct opposition to what someone we care about wants (and especially if it’s in direct opposition to what someone we don’t care about wants). Let’s continue teaching compassion and kindness and generosity, but let’s balance it with messages that tout the importance, rather than the arrogance, of self-advocacy. Let’s reframe what “ladylike” behavior is so that “looking bad” is a result of being weak-willed and not the result of being assertive and independent and strong.