Over the last year or so, women (and some men) have been embracing the hashtag #iwokeuplikethis, posting pictures of themselves “first thing in the morning” in the name of being #real and #authentic. While I know that some of these posts are meant to be funny, and some come from a genuine place of embracing oneself au naturel, I’m struck by many of these images as being carefully staged and posed: steaming cup of coffee in hand, messy hair that conveniently resembles that of a sex kitten, wearing a chemise, nestled up in a white duvet. The only sign of morning face is calculatingly smudged eyeliner. The images are often run through a filter, which makes anyone’s skin look like that of a glowing angel. She probably recruited her boyfriend or roommate to take the shot, after being #awakelikethis long enough to get the lighting right.
(Fine. I never found a picture that was ALL of those things – but I found those elements in a bunch of different shots, and combined them for a super #iwokeuplikethis conglomeration. You can see it, right?)
But the picture isn’t really the issue for me. I can’t fully know the intent behind each of these posts – but sometimes, they have long captions that reek of what I can only call false humility.
I’ve run across images from women (and an increasing number of teenage girls) who wax poetic about the terror of exposing their physical imperfections, only to get comments about how stunning they are. They call out their flaws, in turn receiving adoration for their courage to share. They talk about humbling themselves, which results in their followers thinking they’re amazing for being so humble. It seems to work like reverse psychology: By talking about how imperfect I am, people will tell me that I’m perfect. Some of these women have tens of thousands of followers, and when they address the question that they claim “so many” people are asking them – How did you get so many followers? – they attribute it to being so #real and #authentic.
Rather than telling people that we are #real and #authentic, why don’t we just live real and authentic?
Any of us is capable of taking something good – humility, for example – and twisting it into something selfish. I know I am. In a world where we’re taught to be defensive and cynical, we’re not exactly invited to celebrate our confidence out loud – and so we shroud our proud moments or the things we like about ourselves in a humblebrag, all the while hoping for the validation we’ve been craving all along: acceptance, admiration, and love.
What if we just said what we meant?
When someone gets a piece published in a magazine, she shouldn’t have to express being “grateful” and “humbled” by it, all the while secretly wanting everyone she knows to read it and share the link. It should be okay to say, “I love this piece that I wrote, and I’m proud as punch that this publication loved it too!”
When someone loses 20 pounds, he shouldn’t have to brush off recognition of his hard work by saying “Oh, I’m nowhere near my goal,” while covertly savoring the positive response and being hungry for more. It should be okay to say, “I know, I’m killing it!”
When someone is told “You look really pretty today,” she shouldn’t have to clam up and deflect the compliment. It’s perfectly okay to just smile and say, “Thank you.”
And when someone feels the urge to pose for an #iwokeuplikethis shot, styled however they like, it should be okay for the caption to read, “Here’s me in the morning. #iwokeuplikethis” without listing all of the reasons she doesn’t deserve to post the picture, all the while knowing she looks pretty hot for an #iwokeuplikethis shot and hoping for compliments. Sure, it’s a little narcissistic – but it’s more honest than feigning a lack of vanity.
In our false humility, we are projecting the message of “I’m not that great,” while secretly hoping that we actually are. We are assuming that there isn’t enough wonderful to go around, leaving all of the worth to the girls with the thigh gaps and perfect skin, even though we are desperate for the world to find us beautiful. We are protecting ourselves against the potential accusation that someone will find us arrogant, even when we know we’ve done a pretty great job.
But in a way, false humility is the same thing as arrogance – because either way, we’re giving ourselves too much credit.
Confidence in our worth is not the same thing as arrogance. Confidence in our worth is claiming what is true: We are unique and irreplaceable. Our worth isn’t based on who we are or what we do. Our worth is intrinsic, built-in, and doesn’t in fact depend on us – which, ironically, is the genesis of true humility.
I want to live this way. Just don’t expect me to post an #iwokeuplikethis, because the world is not ready for my nightguard. #real #authentic