Monday, April 16, 2012

In the event of embarrassment

One of the best pieces of wisdom I've gained from watching comedy is that the only way to tackle your own mistakes is to make them into jokes.

I have this issue with worrying about people noticing me in the wrong way. I purposely make myself stick out within the societal boundaries through my fashion choices (skirts and dresses 24/7), my musical decisions (apologies to everyone in my suite who are privy to the repeat plays of "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction) and on occasion my words (my blog, for instance). But when it comes to sticking out toward the goal of being unique and, dare I say, ridiculous - I try not to.

Some of my friends are true geniuses in being alternative for alternative's sake. They wear neon socks or dress up in costume. Strutting past their peers looking totally unusual is something they enjoy - and everyone ends up enjoying it with them.

That's what these people have in common and what I've had trouble with all my life.

There's something wonderful about basking in your ingenuity. While most of us cower toward the usual because we're afraid of being atypical and deemed unfit for "average" society, we watch the more successful people stand out in a way that makes them loved, not loathed.

Yet it's really hard to avoid that fear of embarrassment so that you feel free to live life according to your whimsy and not to fit societal norms.

I've thought a lot about this, and it made me figure out ways in my own life that - though I will never be as cool as my Harry Potter cloak-wearing and fairy wing-flying friends - afford me the right to make a fool out of myself and feel good about it.

Step one began sometime after I got to college. With new friends and a new place to roam and meet people, I thought "why not begin alienating them right away?" So I developed a new trait - being loud in mixed company.

When I was younger and I met new people, I was always the timid and shy one. Being introverted, it was difficult for me to start conversation. It was even more difficult for me to keep it going. So all of my burgeoning friendships fell to the status of acquaintances.

Though my number of friends isn't so much bigger now than it was then, I've learned since arriving at college that one of the best ways to keep people from reverting to the acquaintance realm is to be yourself around them. For me, that involves letting go of inhibitions and being silly and occasionally loud.

Step one: Be not afraid of being loud. Sometimes it actually draws people closer to you.

Step two started before getting to college, actually, so I guess we're going back in time. It involves looking in the mirror and feeling a sense of satisfaction with imperfections.

The reason I began wearing make-up and dressing nicely was that prior to middle school, I was very unfortunate looking. I picked out none of my own clothes - other than Lizzie McGuire-themed attire. My hair was messy and I would often wear it in a pony tail because I couldn't figure out how to get the knots out of it.

So when I arrived at a new school, I wanted things to be different. In seventh grade I was still in a mode of transition, but by eighth I spent an entire evening figuring out how a flat iron worked and my life was forever changed. By the morning my hair was glossy. The next year I had a whole new wardrobe. By the end of my freshman year of high school, I was wearing make-up daily.

And the process of self-betterment continued and still does. But in recent years I've found a new facet to the mode of self-acceptance that goes further than buying new clothes and wearing make-up: satisfaction with the less than perfect things.

When my make-up wipes off, I've learned to feel less incensed about it. When my hair turns into a frizzball from humidity, I've figured out how to deal with it and not overreact.

Step two: Try to forget what's wrong with you in exchange for feelings of self-satisfaction. When you're in an awkward situation it will make you feel less vulnerable.

Finally, I learned step three again back at college (this timeline is completely thrown off now), which is the "laugh at your own embarrassment" concept.

Today at lunch, while we were talking about Justin Bieber - a regular topic of conversation - I was trying to show my incredulity about a statement by making a big outward gasp before I commented on something Biebs-related. I opened my mouth and instead of letting out breath, I let out food. This was a spit-take gone awry not only because there were no cameras and it was not planned in a script or by a director, but because it involved an unpleasant amount of actual edible product.

Perhaps a few years ago this kind of situation would have made me feel so uncomfortable that I'd turn red and possibly become angry with anyone who teased me about it. When I was little I used to complain that my sister and her boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) always made fun of me, so I don't think my sensitivity has ever been very fitted to handling any poking of fun.

But when I made myself look like an idiot today, I started laughing at my own mistake. And once I did, I no longer felt worried about anyone making me feel bad about myself, because everyone else was laughing too.

The "laughing with you not at you" concept gains significance when you realize that it can be a defense mechanism for the person who is the object of the laughter, rather than a form of saying "no offense" for the offender.

If I hadn't laughed at myself, maybe I would have thrown a fit about everyone laughing at me. But just a little change in attitude makes you the subject rather than the object of your own ridiculous situation.

Step three: Become the comedian instead of the joke. Then you can laugh with them and not be laughed at.

One of the worst experiences in life is being the victim of teasing and feeling embarrassed by ridicule. Our goal should always be to circumvent our own vulnerability by giving ourselves the power of self-confidence and comedic self-abasement. With all that, what is embarrassment anyway?

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