Both of my kids just got glasses. Their squints to read digital clocks were becoming more and more apparent. And we had warned them for months that an eye appointment was upcoming.
But not until just recently were our suspicions officially confirmed. New eyeglasses were ordered, picked up, and fitted.
Alexa, my daughter, picked purple glasses and kinda likes wearing them. It certainly helps that her friends refer to them as “adorable.”
But my 12-year old son? Not so much. In fact, he hates wearing them—at least, that is, when he is around his friends.
When he is home alone with us, wearing glasses is not a problem. He can see the computer screen better, he can read books easier, and he can read the clock on the oven without having to stand up and walk closer.
But around his friends, he wears them only when absolutely necessary. His glasses cause him embarrassment… some things never change.
Embarrassment. It is an interesting topic when you stop to think about it.
To be embarrassed is to experience a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness. Most often, these feelings are sparked by moments where we feel different, slightly apart from normal, or out of place.
It seems these feelings of inadequacy begin to emerge in grade school and strengthen through high school as our self-awareness grows. They arise from any number of causes: being one of the first to wear glasses, having unique physical characteristics, or being singled out in class or social circles.
As we get older, these feelings (and the fear) of embarrassment continue to surface. But the stakes get higher.
We no longer get embarrassed about just wearing glasses, we may also become embarrassed about the particular brand of glasses we wear. Or even worse, how much money our parents have to spend on them.
Interestingly, these feelings of embarrassment stem from our baseline understanding of normal, and any subsequent deviation from it. After all, nobody feels embarrassed for just being normal.
But our understanding of normal is an entirely subjective measurement most often defined by the social circles with which we surround ourselves.
This may be best illustrated by a hypothetical situation to which almost all of us can relate: outerwear.
Most of your friends probably wear similar clothing to you. Not that everyone has the same taste in fashion, but generally speaking, there are lots of similarities. You shop at many of the same stores… your closets are similarly sized… and the dollar amounts spent on any one outfit probably don’t vary too greatly.
This is true because most of us choose to spend our personal time with people who are strikingly similar. We feel comfortable and accepted among them.
But when you are pulled from your regular social circle, you may begin to notice and feel self-conscious about things you wouldn’t normally feel that way about.
Imagine attending a party or a work function surrounded by people from a higher socio-economic class. They arrive wearing their fancy dresses and tailored suits. Suddenly, the clothes you used to wear with no misgivings begin to feel and look different. You notice they are a little faded, not quite as fitted, or a specific brand not nearly as expensive as the clothes being worn around you.
And in this moment, you begin to feel a tinge of embarrassment—not because the clothes are any different from what you normally wear, but because your immediate culture’s expression of normal has changed dramatically.
As I mentioned, for most of us, these feelings of embarrassment did not end when we graduated school. They continue even into adulthood.
Here’s my point and why I think this is important. As a parent living in the suburbs, I am beginning to notice an unfortunate, dangerous trend:
We are getting embarrassed over all the wrong things. (tweet that)
Because we live in a culture that normalizes the pursuit of appearances, possessions, and selfish gain, feelings of awkwardness and shame surface when we do not measure up in these areas.
We get embarrassed that our clothes are last year’s fashion, that our vehicle costs less than the neighbor’s, or that our house is smaller than our guest’s. We apologize for the worn carpet, make excuses for the outdated kitchen, or point out specifically why we haven’t updated the countertops yet.
Because those pursuits and values have become normalized, we are prone to feel embarrassment over them—even if there is nothing wrong with the things we already have. This experience (or fear) of embarrassment fuels our urge to own more.
But what would happen if we stopped getting embarrassed over the wrong things and started pursuing the right things?
What if, instead of being embarrassed over the brand of our clothing, we became embarrassed over the size of our walk-in closet?
What if, instead of being embarrassed over the type of car we drive, we became embarrassed over how often we take that luxury for granted?
What if, instead of being embarrassed because our house is too small, we became embarrassed over the amount of unused space within it?
What if, instead of being embarrassed over the quality and quantity of our possessions, we became embarrassed over how much money we have spent on our own selfish pursuits?
What if excess became the embarrassment? And responsible living that championed generosity became the norm?
Maybe then, we could become a little more proud of normal.
This really struck home. I vividly recall the embarrassment of being a kid with glasses, being the tallest one in my 6th grade class, all those things that made me “different” — i.e., stand out in some way. What I hadn’t really thought of was how that feeling follows us into adulthood. I’m definitely a lot better now about comparing myself to others and feeling “less,” but it’s something I’m going to continue to watch for. Thanks!
It’s probably due to my poor eyesight that I couldn’t catch balls. Football was always a nightmare. My first glasses at 12 weren’t suitable for sports and then I started growing until I was the tallest person in school. Couldn’t get fitting clothes let alone fashion able ones.
I don’t care anymore. I get my suits from a tailor in Hong Kong. And my glasses too. The savings on suit andd glasses pay for plane ticket.
great post! I love our little (really not so little) one bedroom apartment, but I often get embarrassed when my sister or parents come over and make comments that we need to get a larger place. I have to continually remind myself how much we love our place and I would rather be there than in a house where we’re not using all of the space.
Just now feeling embarrassed for typing two dots in the email address and losing the whole nice post.
I recently won a Coach purse in a drawing, and I immediately donated it to a different fundraiser. Even though I didn’t pay a cent for it, I didn’t want anyone to think I’d actually pay that much for a handbag.
Plus, I serve on a couple of planning committees for service events in our community that help homeless people. I can’t imagine walking into that meeting carrying a Coach purse. THAT would be embarrassing.
I agree about the Coach purse, Becca! I’ve never understood the Coach thing. I found my newish purses at thrift stores for under $10! They look nice!
I have noticed that often it is the people who complain about having “no money” who are driven by labels, prestigious neighborhoods, etc.
We have a lot of pride in our Dave Ramsey lifestyle, and wouldn’t change anything.
Susan Vogt says
I was just about finished reading your post and thought that I would make a comment that embarrassment can work in the opposite direction – that I can be embarrassed by having MORE than I need when compared to those around me. Then I saw that you made that very point at the end. Whoops!
The only thing I have to add is that I think the next step is to make sure I have ample time rubbing shoulders with those who have less than myself. This may mean walking a different neighborhood, shopping in a different store, volunteering in a setting where people are of low income or in need, or possibly even moving out of a “just like me” neighborhood.
Amen to what you said, with the emphasis that my releasing stuff from my possession is done with a heart of worship and gratitude, not guilt.
You’re all about gratitude,I know from reading your books & blogs, and this post prooves it.
Yes,my 2nd comment today. I was re-reading your post -it meant that much to me,
So true, Joshua! I know a couple of years ago I had to upsize to a larger home to accommodate some additional residents, and I remember when I moved in I was embarrassed when the movers commented about how big and nice it was. It felt like an obscene excess to me. As soon as my “extra” residents relocated, I downsized as well, and I feel so much more comfortable, so much more like “me” than I used to in this smaller home. And my kids actually like this house better – call it “humble” and “cozy!”
Tracy B. says
It seems to me, though, that minimalism is not about what you own, but whether you’re using it. I wouldn’t be embarrassed to live in a larger house if all the rooms were actually needed. And you did the minimalist thing: you downsized when those extra people had moved out.
While I’m not a clothes horse or name-brand label fiend, in the past I’ve been guilty of holding off on celebrating with family and friends because everything wasn’t “Pinterest perfect.” No longer will I feel bad about our 1970s blue bathroom or the unfinished basement (which our kids think is THE best for indoor soccer. haha).
Over the past year, my husband and have had gatherings once a month. What JOY this has brought to our lives! It’s pretty awesome when you don’t mind waking up to a sink full of dishes because you were eating and drinking and talking and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. :-)
Crystal clear reading! Thank you.
I know what Judy means, I think some people think I’m poorer than I am. I like living carefully. It’s right for me & gives more options. Even if I was very wealthy I would live the same. There is just too much need in the world, to waste what I have.
As regards appearances, I’m a sensitive soul, but if people don’t like what I’m wearing or something else about me, they should look away!