According to Dove's latest campaign, around 96% of women would categorise themselves as 'average' rather than 'beautiful.' There's a video to prove it and everything, plus it sort of rings true with the general consensus at the moment: from tiny models on the catwalk right through to billboards telling us that if we don't drink the right juice nobody will really love us, the pressure is mounting. On what, nobody really knows, because nothing seems to actually change (in fact, it gets worse: liposuction was up by 41% last year, social media is making us sad, and we're getting more and more obsessed with comparing ourselves to increasingly Photoshopped imagery), but I do think that a proportion of those women probably would have said they were 'Beautiful' if they were totally alone, and nobody would find out.
In trying to prove one point, Dove have thrown up another: why is it socially unacceptable for women to say they are beautiful, if they know they probably are? Remember Samantha Brick?!
But, back to Dove, the video shows two doors marked 'Beautiful' and 'Average', and women consistently filing in through the 'Average' door – stating that they believe themselves to be average. When we spoke about this campaign in a *Debrief *conference meeting, our editor asked us if we thought we were beautiful or average, and nobody responded – despite the fact that, looking around the room, we've got a pretty hot-ass team. They all know they're above average, but to say it out loud is a whole different ball game of social awkwardness. When I'm really honest with myself, I know I'm above average-looking, because a number of dudes have called me 'beautiful' (not just my dad when I was born) but I just sat in front of my computer, grappling with whether to type that because it sounds so awful – despite regularly talking about my vagina without batting an eyelid. Why can't I say I'm above average without getting sweaty? Oh yeah, I also got sweaty.
Because saying I'm sweaty is fine, but saying I'm fit is resolutely not fine. Self depreciation has become a valuable social currency for us gals - I get paid to do it all day, everyday – and from telling Twitter you just fell over, to Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham flaw-ing all over the place (while kicking ass IRL, but you won't admit to that either, will you?).
Recent studies have shown that even women with high self-esteem will appear to not take a compliment, so as to seem self-effacing and humble, and it makes sense. Think about the last time someone said they liked your trousers – did you say: 'Thanks, I love them too!' and go on with your day, or did you go 'Um these? Oh, I got them in the sale, in fact I think they were reduced to like 1p and a tramp bought them and I took them off the tramp and I actually hate them' before awkwardly continuing the conversation? All right, I'm exaggerating, but you take my point. Accepting that you look good isn't okay for a woman. Try complimenting women and notice how they pretty much all do the same thing. Try telling a man his hair looks good, and you'll get all sorts of answers – a lot of them being 'Thanks! They're great aren't they?'
My male friends all talk about how hot they are. And how devastatingly attractive they are to women. And they're joking around but when I sarcastically refer to myself as a bombshell or (obviously jokingly) say how I get all the men after spilling soup down my top, people react weirdly. At uni, I got a reputation for being really arrogant because I'd counter the fact I literally couldn't flirt with boys – even if they were flirting with me – with a declaration that I am 'The Stevanator' and 'I will ruin any man in my path.' I thought it was taken as an obvious joke considering I didn't snog or have sex with anyone for the entire first year of uni, but nobody presumed I was joking – unlike my mate who called himself The Lakinator (his last name is Lakin) and referred to women he respected and really liked as 'Total babes' in a deadpan, satirical fashion. My friend Tessa deadpans about how great she is at everything, to the extent that when she moved in with a mate of mine who didn't really know her, the mate said 'Is Tessa a bit... vain?' and I had to explain that it's a joke, and the trick is it say 'Really?' to which Tessa always replies 'Lord no, I'm lying for comic effect.' Obviously we're now talking in generalised terms (i.e. people I know) but I can't be the only one to have noticed this. It's just not acceptable for women to walk through the 'Beautiful' door, because it feels too serious. Too arrogant. People don't know what to do with it.
'Guys joke around, saying "PHWOAR, I'M FIT", but the same joke from a woman would probably have to be "GOD IM SUCH A MESS,"' says Sam, a male I know. 'It's a cultural difference, because women don't have the "just being a lad" culture to fall back on.' Think about it carefully, and he's right; even the nice boys I am friends with can say these things, because they're doing an impression of a 'total lad' whereas there's nothing us women can pin it on. Flip it on its head, and a man walking through the 'Beautiful' door is confident in the fact that he's either a 'lad' (socially acceptable among other lads, often found at uni bars, and normal bars) or he's doing an impression of a lad. You'd find, I'm sure, that a lot of guys would do a stupid dance as they walked through, as if it's all just a big joke – but this doesn't mean they think they're fit. This only means that they're able to mask their insecurities under the 'lad' Duvet Of Dickishness, whereas we women have decided to wear it as a badge of honour which I think both helps us (own it!) and hurts us (stop talking about how shit you are at everything!).
As my other male friend Matt puts it: 'Men absolutely have the same worries as women, but it's not as socially acceptable to talk about it. For some men, it feels harder to do so they cover it up in different ways, sometimes by joking around and being a prick. My girlfriend often jokes about how crap she is at everything, and that's her way of dealing with it.' To probably varyingly helpful degrees – you're not bottling it up, which is good, but you're also going too far the other way. Saying you're crap at everything, will make you feel crap at everything.
It's not socially acceptable for a guy to walk around talking loudly about how crap he is at life, how he can't budget or he's rubbish at choosing what sort of trousers to wear in the morning. Some guys definitely do walk around talking loudly about these things, because nobody's the same and we're all a big melting pot of humanity amiright, but it's not such a cultural norm as it is for women – and if you're shaking your head like I'm a moron right now, then you aren't talking to enough women, or reading enough contemporary culture written by and for women. From Bridget Jones onwards, self deprecation is big business – both for guys and gals – but it's especially for the girls. And while it has its benefits, it's also ultimately something we need to address – because, like Matt's girlfriend, if you jokingly say yu're crap at everything, then you'll start to believe it. In recent Yale-based studies of women in the workplace, it was women who were found to be overly negative about their achievements, because those who self-promoted were less liked – so we're negatively affecting our careers too.
The solution? Say you're mega fit as a joke. Just kidding, there isn't one, but if we can maybe be a little more honest with ourselves and all start doing the little things like taking a fucking compliment once in a while, or walking through that 'Beautiful' door a little more often, then maybe we can slowly shift towards the middle of the spectrum. I mean, on a personal level, I'm still fucking terrified someone's going to rip me apart for saying I'm 'above average looking' but hey, why not? I'm just being a laaaaad.
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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM
Artwork: Eugenia Loli
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.