“Actually I think armpit hair is sexy,” I look up to see my friend’s face staring at me like I’ve said something crazy, “Just kidding!” I feel this odd pinch in my chest, but ignore it and enjoy their laughter instead.
Fuck, I’ve done it again. This is one of my ‘Sammy’ mannerisms. I do it all the time, and people laugh when I do it so I keep doing it. I say it when I can tell that the other person doesn’t agree with me. But, I’ve decided to stop doing it.
I’ve realized by saying “Just kidding!”, I am rejecting my own belief to make the other person happy. I’m am practicing self-invalidation. This denial of my own thoughts, feelings and internal experience is the root cause of my depressions.
Some people practice self-validation naturally; they feel assured in their opinions and don’t think twice about the world respecting them. They think they have limitless power and can do whatever they want; they never question their own authority. I know people of all demographics that feel this way, although I confess when I wrote that I was quoting one of my white male friends (ehehhe). I, however, do not have this naturally. I have to work on it every single day.
Validation is one of the ways that we communicate acceptance of ourselves and others. I could not accept myself, and therefore I became stuck in a cycle of depression. According to Marsha Linehan, there are six levels of validation. I was only practicing one and two, now I am focusing on all six.
Level 1 – Being Present
Going through life, it is important to be aware of your internal experience, to be mindful of your emotions and accept them. When a person says something that upsets me, I feel a pinch in my chest. For a long time, I ignored this feeling. I thought I felt it because I had done something wrong, or that I was being irrational. I never talked about this feeling or wrote it down. I thought that it made me a bad person to have a negative emotion about someone else, not even thinking that perhaps there was a legitimate reason why what they said caused a negative response in me. I was invalidating my own experience.
Level 2 – Accurate Reflection
Now, when I recognize I’ve felt a negative emotion, I try to label it.
I try to summarize the feeling and understand why I felt it. I am working on the ability to verbally share the feeling with the person who caused it so that we can try to heal the mistrust, but for now I am only able to go home and write about it in my journal.
Level 3 – Mindreading
If I don’t know how I felt, but I know that something felt off, I try to figure out what I might have been feeling based on the way my body reacted or given the context of the situation. When I told my friend about what I thought about armpit hair, and they looked at me like I was insane, they invalidated my opinion. They made me feel like my opinion was not normal. I didn’t know immediately that’s what I felt, all I felt was a pinch – but when I thought about how I started to bite my fingernails afterwards and started to mumble in the conversation, I realized that my friend had unintentionally rejected my opinion. I felt anxious around them now, afraid that they would judge my other thoughts. I felt the need to perform for them instead of be myself, and thus unintentionally began to avoid hanging out with that person.
Now that I know how they made me feel, I can tell them so that we can repair our relationship and continue to build trust.
Level 4 – Understanding the Person’s Behavior in Terms of History and Biology
When you know the experiences that I’ve had and the kind of person I am, the fact that I think armpit hair is sexy is completely rational. Armpit hair does not bother me as much as other people because I didn’t start shaving my armpits until much later than most girls. My mother never taught me to shave my armpits, I read about it in Seventeen magazine when I was 13. Until that point, I had always worn sleeves to avoid showing my armpit hair. I saw at parties that other girls didn’t have hair there, but I didn’t know why and I was too embarrassed to ask. I thought that I was weird, but I accepted myself as different until I read that article. Ahh! That’s what everyone was doing. Since my armpit hair was never discovered by others, I was never shamed or made to feel ugly for it. I just knew that it was something I shouldn’t have.
While at University I began to question the concept of beauty and it’s impact on female body hair. I decided to test the proverb, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” by growing out my armpit hair and dying it pink. To my surprise, after a few months of saying that armpit hair was beautiful and sexy, I actually began to think it. When I decided to share this opinion with others, it was met by a number of responses, mostly shock and disgust. To combat this rejection, I decided to write an essay explaining my reasoning. I didn’t feel confident enough to disagree in person, but I sought validation from my peers and found writing the safest way to do this.
Level 5 – Normalizing
The idea that armpit hair is sexy is a completely normal thought that other people have. French women are known for having armpit hair, as well as in other non-Western cultures. There is even a community on Facebook for women who choose not to shave their armpit hair, and a hashtag #dyedpit. Just because my friend didn’t agree with me did not mean my thought that was abnormal.
Level 6- Radical Genuineness
When I said “Just kidding!” I was rejecting myself. I was lying about what I actually thought; I was putting down my decision to celebrate my armpit hair instead of remove it and making myself unhappy.
Next time, I won’t add “Just Kidding!” to make my friend feel better. I’ll accept their disagreement, and be honest about how they have made me feel by rejecting mine. My opinion is perfectly valid, and deserves to be respected, just like everyone else’s!
Feels ridiculous to even have to write this, to explain the constant internal battle I have just to accept my thoughts and feelings, and the fear I have just trying to “do me,” but that’s how I feel.
Whenever I feel afraid to be myself, I repeat my Dr Seuss mantra and it comforts me every time:
Be who you are and say what you mean because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.Dr Seuss
Read the next post in the series “Seeking Validation”
Read the first post in the series “Hi Again”.
Check out the full list of blog posts “How to Value Your Own Thoughts”