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Self-deprecation and self-esteem are not the same thing…..

In amongst the fray this week, I read an interesting comment on this post from a reader who questioned why female writers and columnists (hi!) take the piss out of ourselves so much. She wrote:

“Hi Mia,

I have been thinking about this post and the Body Image Advisory Group and I have a question: Why is it that female writers often poke fun of themselves? This is a genuine question!!

There are so many witty Australian female writers out there, and I count you among them. However I find that the humour of the columns often comes at the expense of the writer themselves. Every now and then you write a post which I think fits this mould, like parts of the one above. I also think Jacqueline Lunn is a master at it, and I stopped reading her columns for this reason. I got very sick of reading about her disheveled appearance, unkempt hair, untidy house, lack of a social life… even though her columns were often funny.

Perhaps the aim of such columns is to make us feel better: if Jacqueline publicly admits she is crap at this or that, we’re all supposed to feel OK about being a bit crap at things ourselves. But I think the empowering thing would be to write about things that she CAN do, that she is GREAT at, things that INSPIRE her readers. They can be funny too, can’t they? And wouldn’t that make us ALL – the writer and the readers – feel better?

Sam de Brito may be a self-confessed wanker, but when was the last time you read a column in which he derided himself to get a laugh? He sometimes admits his mistakes and regrets, yet he never conveys himself as some kind of pathetic, unattractive, embarrasing, woeful failure. I don’t think it would even occur to him to write any story that would convey him in that way!!!”

By spooky co-incidence, the day I read “August”s comment, I happened to be having dinner with Jacqueline Lunn and another female columnist, Sophie Lee, who writes for the Sunday Magazine. Since the three of us write in this similar way about similar subject matter (life, kids etc)  I thought I’d throw the question to my friends over a lychee Mohito. Or four.
Why do we so many female writers go the self-deprecating route instead of writing about all the things we’re good at?

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The short answer is this: the material is better. The things that go wrong in life are funnier than the things that go according to script.

But it’s more than just playing for laughs. I think it comes down to honesty. There are so many examples in the media of places you can read about women being ‘perfect’. Glossy magazines, hello. Perfect faces, perfect bodies, perfect traveling wardrobes, perfect holidays, perfect children, perfect exercise routines, perfect bodies, perfect relationships.

And most of it is a load of rubbish. Fake rubbish. To me (and my columnist friends), what is far more interesting and authentic is what goes on underneath. Not the perfectly serene duck gliding on top of the pond but the furious paddling under the surface. I believe that’s how woman bond and that’s how we do a service to our sisters – by being HONEST about ourselves and our lives. That’s also how women prevent other women from feeling so isolated or embarrassed or ashamed or sheepish about our very human failings.

As for male columnist Sam de Brito, I think he reveals himself sometimes in his writing and it’s often far from pretty. Like the time he wrote about what an arsehole he is when he takes cocaine. I wish he’d do it more (reveal his weaknesses, not take cocaine).

I also wish more female (and male) writers and celebrities would be
more honest about the work and set-backs that are involved in achieving
things – even things as insignificant as getting out the door on time
in the morning.

But make no mistake…..just because we write about the duck feet paddling under the water, doesn’t mean we don’t like to put on some lipstick, brush our hair, and wear nice clothes to go out and talk to each other about the great things going on in our lives. We do that too. Oh yes we do.

Hope that answers your question, August. I enjoyed thinking about it. And if I were you, I would go back to Jacqueline’s columns immediately because she is one of the most beautifully nuanced and insightful writers going. And buy Sophie’s book, Alice in La La Land. It’s really funny.

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