Wellness

Why women are terrible at accepting compliments

July 21, 2013 at 9:12 AM ET

"I look like an Armenian man. People are trying to buy carpets from me."
comedycentral / YouTube

A female colleague tells you she likes your new haircut. Do you a) say thank you; b) smile and share the name of your stylist or c) tell her she’s insane and that your hair looks like somebody used it to scrub out a gas station toilet.

For many women – including those depicted in a new viral video created by Comedy Central’s Amy Schumer -- the answer is C. As in, can’t take a compliment.

“This is soooo true,” wrote one woman regarding the video which has been watched 800,000 times on YouTube. “I can’t remember the last time I simply said thank you after another girl gave me a compliment. I always throw something negative in there.”

“I wish every woman who's guilty of this would watch this!” posted another.

The skit depicts a gaggle of girlfriends tossing out self-loathing remarks every time they receive a compliment. When one woman’s told she’s wearing a pretty dress, she replies “I paid like $2 for it. It’s probably made of old Burger King crowns. I look like a whore locked out of her apartment.” Schumer herself says she’s so fat she “sleeps standing up in a field.”

(Warning: Video contains graphic language)

Granted, the video is way over the top. But it shines a light on a very real problem: many women have a hard time hearing and accepting kind remarks from others, especially other women.

Lockey Maisonneuve, a 47-year-old cancer exercise specialist, from Cranford, N.J., says Schumer’s sketch definitely hit a nerve with her.

“If someone says, ‘You look nice today,’ my first thought is, ‘Have you looked at my butt? It’s huge.’ Or ‘Look at my hair. It’s frizzy,’” she says. “I laughed so hard [at the video] because it’s almost disturbing to see it visually like that. This is what we do to ourselves.”

Maisonneuve says her behavior isn’t as extreme as that of the women depicted in the skit, but it’s a little too close for comfort.

“When someone tells me something good about myself, I always have a reason why they’re wrong,” she says. “I think we all feel ‘less than’. Less than what we should have been. Less than what we thought we were going to be. Or we listened to people who said we were less than. This is a big issue with women.”

Renee Engeln, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., says it has to do with the mixed messages women receive about what behaviors are desirable or acceptable.

“[We’re told] love yourself, but not too much. Be confident, but practice a style of humility this culture never requires of men. Believe in yourself, but never admit it out loud, lest you make another woman who doesn’t feel good about herself feel bad,” she says. “If you’re raised to think it’s arrogant to ever say something positive about yourself, it makes it hard to accept a compliment.”

As for the self-loathing one-upsmanship, she says that has more to do with trying to convince others we’re better at humility.

“We’re convincing them that we win at the game of crushing our own self-confidence,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a win, though.”

While the video makes for great comedy, it’s also pinpointed a “fascinating cultural paradox,” says Engeln.

Women receive one set of messages telling them to love themselves, to accept themselves and to look in the mirror and see how beautiful they are, to know their worth and lean in and ask for what they want, she says.

“But we still live in a world that isn’t quite comfortable with women who do acknowledge their worth,” she says. “We see them as arrogant and often as unfeminine.”

Men, on the other hand, aren’t held to the same standards. “Men don’t care so they don’t do it,” agrees Maisonneuve. “And I give them credit for that. I would love to be able to walk into a room and not even once consider who’s in the room, who’s looking at me, who’s not looking at me, if my shoes are as good as hers. I don’t think men walk into a room and say ‘Look at his shoes, I have to start dressing better.’ They don’t care, and that’s a good thing.”

Also a good thing: Schumer’s message, says Engeln.

“It’s a message from women to women that says ‘Let’s stop this nonsense,’” she says. “What comes out of our mouths matters. What we say affects what we think and how we behave. One of the best things we can model for girls and young women is how to accept a compliment with tact and grace."

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