Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Benefits of Insecurity

Sunday night, a friend of mine presented me with an interesting question. She asked, "Do males worry about their appearance as much as females do?" My answer, of course, was no. She then wondered why, and I told her that men aren't subjected to the same physical standards and expectations that women are. Whether fair or unfair, women are often judged by their looks. While a favorable appearance surely benefits a man, I feel that males are judged more by their wit & personality than simply by how attractive they are. (My views on these judgment differences apply not only to judgment in romantic situations, but also to the ways we are judged in the work force. Men are rarely hired for their good looks, and women often complain about their struggles to be taken seriously as intellectuals.)

Our back and forth eventually led to the topic of insecurity; specifically, are men as insecure as women? And is media to blame for all of our insecurities?? From my perspective, men tend not to obsess over their physical appearance in the ways that women do. This is not only because men judge women based on their attractiveness, but even more so because women judge each other's appearances quite critically as well. I have a running joke with a bunch of my friends that men get fly to go to the club and impress women, and women get fly to go to the club and impress women. It seems no one really ever tries to impress us men. Because a woman's worth is often based heavily on her looks, women often become self-conscious about how they appear. Is media to blame for this? Or maybe society in general?? I would say yes... but only to a degree. Not to mention, everyone has their own understanding for what constitutes as "attractive", so it's a little deeper than we realize. But I'll revisit this later.

The other question was whether or not men are insecure. And the answer is yes, of course we are. Maybe not about our looks, but about other things. Since it's easiest to begin by blaming media and society, let's think about the stereotypes that refer to men. Loves sports, eats meat, possesses physical strength, lacks emotions, and is a breadwinner. For the vegetarian ballet dancer who likes chick flicks and makes less than his girlfriend, there are sure to be a bevy of insecurities that have nothing to do with his looks. So I would argue that media and society have affected the way we view ourselves, as well.

But I think that our insecurities stem from more than just what we see on TV or hear from our friends in the playground or at the water cooler. I would argue that the strongest insecurities come from our households and upbringing. Let's take the age-old stereotype about black hair. TV and media tell us that women are most beautiful with long and straight hair, so short and kinky hair must be ugly. But what about the black girl who grew up with a mother & sisters who were all natural and who told her that perming was a way of conforming to white standards and turning her back on her heritage? For her, I think she'd feel a lot more insecure about straightening her hair than anything else, despite what the media says. Or let's say a guy grew up in a family where men were expected to know their way around a kitchen (like Italians, for instance)? Don't you think he might feel a bit insecure about himself if he didn't know how to cook? The way we grow up determines what we feel is necessary and acceptable, and it determines whether we feel that we're living up to the proper expectations. After all, home is where you should be most comfortable. If you're not living up to the standards you set for yourself at home, you'll certainly feel insecure, regardless of what the TV tells you.

This all leads me to my final point, and the reasoning for this post's title: Insecurity is actually a good thing. At the end of our conversation, my friend argued that if men aren't insecure, then women shouldn't be either. But that got me thinking, shouldn't we all be a little insecure? Granted, there are some insecurities that are frivolous and probably should be ignored. But for those insecurities that hold value, I think it's good for us not to be completely comfortable with ourselves. Insecurity keeps us leveled. Without any self-conscious thoughts, we'd all be self-absorbed and egotistical, thinking we could do no wrong. And while we're on the topic of looks, have you ever seen someone who was both unattractive and overweight, yet they couldn't be convinced that they weren't sexy?? Don't you think this person could benefit from a little insecurity? Wouldn't it likely get them in a gym, or convince them to wear more modest outfits? I believe that much of what we do to keep ourselves on point stems from insecurity. We tell ourselves, I'm gaining weight, I should go work out. Or, I'll never find a job when I graduate, I should improve my grades. Or, I'm not very engaging to women, I need to work on my conversation skills. Are any of these bad things? Our insecurities are what keep us from becoming the type of people that are inappropriately confident for no good reason.

Some insecurities undoubtedly come from media and television. However, I think most come from our upbringing. Regardless of the source, though, I think being a little insecure is a good thing. Our insecurities are what keep us in check with reality, and they're often the most motivating sources for self-improvement. We say that we wish we weren't insecure, but I think it's only natural to be. Besides, can you imagine what we'd all be like if we actually weren't?