He asked me a question directly, "Are you aware that people take pride in knowing someone of value? If you hide your abilities, thus downgrading yourself, either they won’t know about your achievements or they will think you are unaccomplished. In either case, what reason are they given that they should they respect you?"
It took some time for the man’s words to sink in. A degree or an award does not change who a person is. Or does it? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; it's just a matter of context. After all, what are commercials about if not creating an appealing context for, sometimes, a mundane product. Sales may soar due to that alone!
I was raised by a scientist who was world-renowned in his field. Yet, more often than not, I would look up to my friends’ fathers, whose lines of work I didn't even know, just because my father, a truly modest person, never talked about his accomplishments. For a long time I resented his having robbed me of the opportunity to be proud of him.
University degrees, accomplishments, achievements and even good looks are binding—you need to live up to them once you've earned them. Maybe modesty is a form of hiding, keeping the pressure off, just as some butterflies hide from danger through camouflage.
Indeed, nature does not differ that much from humanity. Wild animals are also torn between exposure and hiding. This conflict keeps them procreating. On the one hand, natural selection favors animals that are best equipped to save themselves from predators. They may be quick on their feet, like a deer, or have a camouflage that melds them into the landscape, like a chameleon. That's the rule—but rules are made to be broken.
In nature, the male is the fairest one of all, colorful and conspicuous. Trying to earn the attention of a fertile female, the cocky male struts around, showing off his virility. The problem is that he may also earn the attention of a famished lion. Pray tell me—pray meaning pray, indeed—how can a full-grown deer quickly run away while carrying horns the size of a small tree atop his head? And how can a peacock hide in the shrubs with his spectacular colorful plumage? Did nature make an error? The answer is no, for when nature makes a mistake, the animal usually does not live to talk about it. It's this defiance that makes a statement.
“Look at me! I am a brave and virile male, defying the rules of nature. If you want a strong successor like me, you know what to do. But be quick, or I may be served …” But after mating, she usually doesn't’t stick around to find out how his sentence ends.
Back to humankind. Here, the predators and the prey are of the same species. Must I remind you of Cinderella and Snow White, who were tormented by their jealous rivals? In Disney's interpretation of Snow White, the beautiful queen had to become a wicked witch to maintain her beauty reign, while Snow White needed a prince to be redeemed.
How can a beautiful woman live up to her beauty? Must she rely on a prince, become a witch, or camouflage herself like a chameleon?
In my clinic, I treat a stunning teenage girl, whose beauty is the gentle kind that every girl admires and wants to have. Remember the phrase, “if you can't beat them, join them.” A beauty like this girl must not show any sign of weakness or those who resent her will be the first to pull her down. She needs to put up a strong front. What if she can't be that strong, or if there's no prince on the horizon? She resorts to the other natural escape option—camouflage. This girl put on weight, because being large made her less conspicuous. What a dear price she paid—losing her good life to food the way Snow White did when eating the poison apple. To understand her weight issues, we can use the analogy of this fairytale, but with a twist—we had to find the prince inside her, the inner source of strength that would enable her to show herself, stand tall and live up to what makes her unique. Indeed, this situation demonstrates what fairytales are truly about.
Girls grow up hearing fairytales and playing with pretty dolls, Barbie's and Bratz. They watch TV programs and want to look like the leading girls, weaving dreams of success, of making it big in some elusive manner. But can they afford to pay the price?
Whether with regard to natural beauty or earned achievements, parents and educators need to teach children how to cope with success no less than with failure, to be able to look in the mirror and become acquainted with their true reflection. I believe this way, each child will be able to draw the fine line between modesty and vanity, between exposure and camouflage, and take pride in being his or her own, true, special self.