Humble Brag Meaningfully
I don’t know how many of you have been following the Samantha Brick controversy, but I’m obsessed with it. She wrote an article in The Daily Mail about how hard it is to be beautiful and predictably received a lot of scathing comments. Then she fanned the flames by writing a ridiculous follow-up piece that concluded her theory that women hate her because of her beauty is correct and sort of compared herself to Angelina Jolie. My first reaction to the articles was the knee-jerk, catty response of “you’re not as beautiful as you think you are.” I’m not proud of that, but I admit it.
It’s not that she so bravely wrote about the perils of beauty nor the debate over whether she is beautiful, merely pretty or just somewhat attractive, though that is what a lot of the criticism has become. I am fascinated by what her anecdotes reveal about her: that regardless of how attractive she is, her problems with women probably have more to do with her ego and her personality. She doesn’t seem like someone with whom I would want to be friends. She also seems to be extremely focused on her looks, and it would be a turn-off to be friends with or work with someone who saw every situation through the lens of her beauty.
If she had written about how hard it is to be smart or rich or any of a number of different things, would the backlash have been as bad? Maybe. Working at a university, I know there are faculty who think they are smarter than the rest and probably wouldn’t hesitate to state it, but writing about appearance is such a hot button. Perhaps it is because beauty is so subjective. After all, I think Angelina Jolie is beautiful but you might think she’s an anorexic hag. Beauty is also something over which you have no control. It’s the lucky assortment of genes that determined whether you’d have amazing bone structure, pouty lips, mile-long legs or shiny platinum hair.
There is also something sad about a woman prizing (only) her appearance so highly in 2012. It’s reductive. Brick has made herself into an object. Is she intelligent? Is she a good writer? Who knows? All I know is that she is something to look at and admire, and she values and contributes to that objectification. Beauty is nice, but it’s not all there is to a person. After a few minutes, the impact of beauty fades and I start focusing on other qualities. The intern who gave me the sand from Egypt is beautiful. She truly has a face that I could see launching a thousand ships. I acknowledge her beauty, but what really stands out and endears her to me is her intelligence, her quick wit, the way she picks up on concepts quickly, her drive and her sweetness. None of those things has to do with her lovely face. Sometimes I look at Daniel and find myself analyzing his features clinically. And then I stop myself because he’s not a two-dimensional collection of parts. His blue eyes are beautiful because of how he sees the world and finds treasure where others find trash. His rosebud lips are gorgeous because of how his inflection rises on “cream” when he asks for “whipped cream.”
I feel sorry for Brick and her obsession with her appearance. Regardless of your opinion on the quality of The Daily Mail, by writing for them, she has the opportunity to reach a huge audience, and she squandered it to write about her looks. If you are going to humble brag, at least choose to brag about something over which you have some control. If you rock at your job, own it. If you have published or are publishing a book, sing it from the rooftops. If there is something at which you have worked for and are proud of, shout it. To me, those are accomplishments worth celebrating, bragging about and debating.
Or maybe I don’t understand because I’m not pretty enough.