About a month ago, I got a new bag—a small, fire-engine red, faux–patent leather number in the shape of an isosceles triangle (yes, I passed ninth-grade geometry, thank you so much). I’ve worn it a handful of times, and each one of those times, without fail, someone has told me how much they like it, from friends and coworkers to strangers on the subway and my own mother.
Instead of just saying “Thank you so much!” and moving on, I’ve done something that, in my experience, most women do. I sheepishly grin and exasperatedly declare, “Oh my God, it’s from Forever21, it was literally $5…”
We know by now that many women are not particularly adept at taking compliments, but I wanted to examine a specific way of reacting to praise: Deflecting a well-wisher by making a self-deprecating remark about how cheap something was (or, in my case, how cheap it was and where it’s from).
First, I thought about why I respond this way. Is it because I don’t want to be perceived as frivolous for buying an admittedly silly item? Is it because I’m projecting my own judgment of myself for shopping at a store targeted toward teens and tweens even though I’m a 28-year-old woman? Is it because I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying too hard to be stylish? Is it because I’m uncomfortable with compliments in general? Is it because we, as women, have been conditioned to downplay our successes for fear of seeming too aggressive, assertive or un-feminine? Is it because I’ve seen Mean Girls too many times and have an irrational fear of someone snapping back at me, “Oh, so you think your bag is really fun too?” Honestly, it’s probably a little of all of the above.