So many women have said that Kate Middleton’s hospital exit made them feel bad about themselves – but is that their fault or Kate’s? Stylist’s Alix Walker has her say…
Kate Middleton had quite a few responsibilities this week. 1) Deliver a healthy son without allowing the fact that her dilation measurements were being live-tweeted distract her flow. 2) Persuade two very young children to walk in front of the world’s press without head butting each other/vomiting the vat of chocolate ice cream which had surely been used to coerce them into that level of cooperation. 3) Clench like hell to ensure no bodily fluids made their escape in front of our very eyes.
But she didn’t have the responsibility to make us feel good about ourselves. She didn’t have to worry that, by not shuffling out of the Lindo Wing in joggers and an over-sized t-shirt, she might make us feel like we were rubbish at childbirth. And she certainly didn’t have to worry that, by getting her hair blow-dried by someone else after ticking three pretty big boxes already that day, she was letting down all of womankind who didn’t have those resources on the labour ward.
It goes without saying that another woman’s accomplishments shouldn’t make us feel bad about our own – but, of course, they do. Inferiority creeps in when someone you kinda know publishes a book, especially when you’ve spent your evenings eating Digestive Thins and watching Netflix. When your ex-colleague launches a successful company in her spare time, it grates away at your own self-worth. I personally feel bad about myself every time I see someone in Lycra because it reminds me that I haven’t exercised since 1993. And, in all honesty, Chrissy Teigen’s tweets make me feel like the most unfunny person in the world.
But none of this is Teigen and co’s fault, because it’s not their responsibility – and believing that it is breeds misogyny.
Whenever we let another woman’s accomplishments make us feel bad about ourselves, it spawns a dangerous temptation to knock them down so that we might feel better about ourselves. “Kate’s superhuman feat on Tuesday was because she had a team,” we insist (clearly referring to that ‘specialist’ team who swallows the pain when your bits rip and your piles bulge and your body involuntarily shakes and vomits from the trauma). “We would all look like that if we’d given birth in a luxurious suite”.
Women are pretty empathetic creatures, though, and this warped way of thinking has a tendency to make us feel like we have to underplay our successes and bat away compliments on our amazing achievements.
“I just ran a marathon six months after beating cancer but I was so slow,” we say. Or: “Yes I’m running a company and looking after three kids and chairing three talks a week, but DON’T I LOOK TIRED”.
While I’m sure that’s in part down to good old British modesty, I also think we’re being considerate of how we make other women feel: I don’t believe we downplay our triumphs half as much when we talk about them to men. Men, on the other hand, rarely consider how other men feel when they talk about their achievements. This obviously needs to change, especially as women are so often our biggest cheerleaders: we should really be able to shout to them the loudest.
So, whether their superpower is a remarkable ability to clench while wearing a very thin red dress, or to juggle more balls than a circus clown, we should make a point of applauding the next woman who makes us feel inadequate: her achievements don’t negate ours. And I’m pretty sure there will be things we do daily (shop in Waitrose without anyone peering at our Tena Ladies, for example) that even the likes of Kate would trade her hairdresser for.