Let’s start at the beginning.
When did we all decide to become Hot Mess Express ticket holders? And when did this construct break into the mainstream? As psychologist and author Mary C. Lamia, PhD, told me, it’s basically been around forever.
“From a cultural perspective, the ‘I’m a mess’ message is simply a transformation of rhetoric used throughout the ages to describe being overwhelmed by emotion,” Dr. Lamia began.
“These days we refer to it as emotion dysregulation,” she explained, which is a fancy way of saying people often use hyperbole to “find structure and seek significant connections with others.”
I recently re-watched Sex and the City 2, and from a cultural, and completely non-scientific, stance, I might also argue that the mess narrative in the modern age started at Carrie’s laptop. Sarah Jessica Parker isn’t responsible for creating it, of course, but as I watched her iconic character kissing Aiden in the UAE and lambasting marriage, I couldn’t help but admit she was perpetuating it.
Like SATC fans’ love of Manolos, a generation of Carries, Samanthas, Charlottes and Mirandas have united under a barrage of reasons why our lives are messy.
But why is it so prevalent with females?
Much of our worldview and how we interact with it is formed during childhood. And—surprise, surprise—males and females receive different societal messaging.
Dr. Lamia says, “Historically, gender socialization has dampened emotional expressiveness in males and encouraged emotional expressivity in females. Biologically, women and men have the same core emotions, yet the impact of culture may lead them to differ in their behaviors.”
This is especially present, she contends, with failure and shame—where most cases of “I’m a mess” begin.
“The defensive coping responses to shame include withdrawal, avoidance, attacking others, or attacking oneself (the ‘mess narrative’),” she reasons. “A narrative has to do with the overall ways in which we conceptualize our past, present and future selves. Cognitively, as we spin that narrative about our life, it could become an aspect of our personal identity.”
So, if we receive messages that promote perfectionism and villainize failure from a young age (aka the female struggle in a nutshell), we’re more likely to rely on this narrative as a coping mechanism. And—spoiler alert—it’s detrimental to our self-confidence.