Ladies, Love Yourselves, but Not Too Much: Lessons Learned from Megan Rapinoe

Ms. Rapinoe sure does love herself. I can’t wait to see our Lionesses dent that stupendous ego.” —Piers Morgan, Twitter, 6/28/2019

Educators, therapists, and academic psychologists, like me, have been fighting a rampant problem among girls for years. This problem is characterized by low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. Millions of dollars have been invested in programs aimed at bolstering girls’ well-being and self-acceptance. Stated simply, many girls do not love themselves, which puts them at risk for behavioral and psychological problems, including depression, early substance use, risky sexual behaviors, and even suicide.

Why don’t girls, and women for that matter, feel more pride in themselves and their accomplishments? When girls are asked this, they say that they don’t want to be seen as stuck up or bragging. They don’t want to be perceived as conceited. They worry that if they are too successful, especially if they talk about it, people won’t like them.

As a developmental psychologist and mother of two, I wish I could tell them that that’s not true. Unfortunately, though, research and personal experiences indicate that others find it more off-putting when girls and women express pride or talk about their achievements as compared to when boys and men do the exact same thing.

This could not come across more clearly than it does in Piers Morgan’s tweet about Megan Rapinoe, the soccer superstar and idol of many girls. He tweets, “Ms. Rapinoe sure does love herself. I can’t wait to see our Lionesses dent that stupendous ego.” The picture with the tweet was Rapinoe in her classic, arms-outstretched power pose. His tweet was “liked” by over 16 thousand people.

Dent her ego. The phrase is reminiscent of the ways that women, racial/ethnic minorities, and other groups have been talked about when expressing pride and self-respect, especially in contexts that historically have been reserved for white men. They need to be taken down a notch, put in their place, taught a lesson.

The lesson here seems to be that it is all right for girls and women to feel good about themselves, but not too good, not like they are better than anyone else. Love yourself, but not too much.

At the minimum, we must acknowledge that girls and women receive mixed messages. In every self-help section of every bookstore, there are best-sellers encouraging girls and women to learn to love themselves and be proud of who they are. But when they finish reading, they still will be in a world in which 16.6 thousand people liked Piers Morgan’s tweet disparaging a phenomenal athlete, because she “sure does love herself.”

Much progress has been made in society towards gender equality. However, we will not have arrived until it is accepted, even celebrated, each time a girl or woman adopts a power pose that shows us just how much she loves her own damn self.  

Copyright, Amanda J. Rose, originally published in Psychology Today, July 22, 2019

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