I recently read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and though I underlined numerous passages, there remains one in particular I continue to mull over. In it, one of the main characters, Malcolm, anguishes about his love life: “Oh, what was wrong with him? Sex; sexuality: these two were things we should have sorted out in college, the last place where such insecurity was not just tolerated but encouraged.”
How true, I thought to myself. When you’re a teenager, insecurities are a given, but they’re often shrouded in shame and inexperience. In college, though, you’re encouraged to explore your insecurities, get uncomfortable because of them, be curious about them. There’s freedom in that presumption.
That attitude changes when you officially enter the adult world. The expectation to get your act together becomes paramount; insecurities then become something to be solved rather than felt, probed and explored. Therein lies the catch-22, because the inability to solve an insecurity can become an insecurity in its own right.
The pressure to eradicate all traces of self-doubt in your adult life is counterproductive at best, destructive at worst. It implies that we become less vulnerable and therefore less human as we age. While the process of growing older has wiped some fog from the magnifying glass I use to examine my insecurities, I still have yet to set it down. Some become less sensitive with time, perhaps, but there are almost always a few fresh ones ready and waiting to take their place.
It helps to talk about them, which is why I’ve been trying to write more frankly about my bigs ones (body image, blushing, failed perfectionism). It also helps to hear other people talk about theirs. As Honesty Month on Man Repeller comes to a close, I asked a bunch of grown women to share their biggest as-of-yet-unsolved insecurities. The result is the below list. Read on, and while you do, feel free to crack open a window in your own musty attic of lingering doubts and air them out.
I am insecure about my professional performance. And what I mean is this: If you grow up putting a premium on the work you are able to do, and the words you are able to write, you, as a grown up, will feel that you are never quite able enough. That your writing — your work — isn’t clear enough, or meaningful enough, or beautiful enough, or just enough. And maybe that means that you as a professional aren’t, either. Or maybe you won’t or don’t feel that way, but, more often than I like to admit, I do.
I’m insecure about the fact that I’ve never been in a real relationship longer than six months, especially because I want and am ready for a commitment. The tiny voice in my head says that I’m not the kind of girl guys want to date, or to call their girlfriend. And when friends say I’m a catch, I spiral even further, assuming they’re just placating me because they know I’m not going to find someone who will care enough about me to go at it for the long haul. I am not a particularly jealous person, but lately I am green with envy of people with partners. I am so terrified I’ll never find someone who wants to call me their “person.” Am I not as great as I think I am?
Asking for help. It’s a challenge for everyday circumstances, like asking my roommate to help move a bookshelf, and extreme ones, like getting food poisoning on an international flight. Work in progress.
I’m still decidedly insecure about failure. Turns out that getting older means more opportunities to fail: in small ways, like having a pitch rejected, and in larger ones, like getting fired. (You may notice — as I just did while writing this — that I’m most insecure about failing professionally.) Most of the time, doing things over and over again is called practice. (Sometimes it’s called insanity. Go figure.) And, like anything you practice, it gets easier: to try, to experiment, to take risks, to put yourself out there, and, perhaps most importantly, to pick yourself back up and try again. I kind of hope I never stop worrying about failing because it’s the things I’ve tried that have terrified me the most that have also made me the proudest. And as someone in the midst of launching her own company, I am currently out-of-my-mind petrified — and never been happier about it.
Most of my insecurities revolve around whether or not I’m creative/intelligent/all-around good enough to break into the fashion industry after three years of studying it. The worst part of that doubt is how it prevents me from creating, even though creating is what will allow me to prove those feelings wrong. Evil cycle, I know.
My stomach. Although I often feel empowered as a woman, I am semi-embarrassed to admit that I STILL do what I call “the pinch to lose an inch” when I look in the mirror
Cellulite. I’ve grown to love my body like aged wine; I accept my cellulite, and it will ALWAYS have a place in my heart. I just need the slightly uncomfortable feeling of it to leave my thoughts for good.
I am still insecure about my skin, despite having gone on Accutane as a teenager. I haven’t had a bad breakout since my skin cleared up, but I have this recurring anxiety that every time I get one or two pimples, they will start coming back with a vengeance, and all the progress I’ve made in terms of growing into myself and being comfortable will go back to square one.
I’m insecure about my nose, and all the societally damning body stuff — like do my arms look fat, is that a stretch mark on my ass? If it’s on my body, I’ve probably felt insecure about it at some point, but more broadly: Do guys find me attractive? Am I even, in fact, attractive? More recently, my biggest insecurities and points of mental obsession have transcended the physical and landed on this idea of: What do I bring to the table of life? Between the rise of the 25-year-old CEOs and living in a family of bonafide nerds, I’m insecure about what I have or have not accomplished thus far. I’m insecure about the depth of my own thoughts, my intelligence and my social consciousness. I also wish I didn’t spend so much time thinking about 1) myself and 2) The Kardashians/how to get KJ Apa to add me back on Twitter.
I am so insecure about my skin and what’s on it — acne scarring, freckles and discoloration. Now that I’m not a teenager anymore, my skin woes are starting to include concerns about wrinkles and aging. It’s frustrating, and I’m over it.
I’m insecure about staying average. I worry every day that I’m nothing special and won’t achieve my goals.
I have always felt and said to friends that when you are in your 40s you exhale and feel more at peace with yourself than ever before. I didn’t worry much about what people thought about me. The most important thing for me then, and now, was my husband and four children. I feel that so many things in life are artificial and fleeting, and I think as I get older, I am realizing more and more what counts in life. Of course I have flaws I’m self-conscious about, but you learn to live with what you have been handed in life and count your blessings. If I had to live my life over, I would start at age 40.
After compiling these responses, I took note of the four most-cited “categories” of insecurity and polled Man Repeller’s twitter followers to accumulate a bit more data. Out of the 1,362 people who voted, 41% said career path was their biggest doubt magnet (my fun euphemism for insecurity). Body image came in second at 27%, while love life and intelligence/creativity followed at 18% and 14%, respectively.
Asking women over age 19 what they're still insecure about. These categories are the most-cited so far. Which is YOUR biggest doubt magnet?
— Man Repeller (@ManRepeller) October 23, 2017
What about you? Deposit your doubt magnet in the comments below.
Photo by Francois Le Diascorn/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.