It turns out there is: Actually putting yourself down while trying to be self-deprecating because you were genuinely feeling awkward about something good happening to you or something great you did.
When you humblebrag, everyone knows it and they just roll their eyes and move on. But when you have an awesome opportunity or you achieved something great, you should decide to either share it proudly or don't, if you can't do it without putting yourself down. Otherwise you risk hurting yourself — or others.
In the words of my friend Madeline, please just “own your awesomeness.”
So this happened to me in February, and she called me out on it. I was chastened then and I'm still thinking about it now, two months later.
I was in a fashion show. I was in it because the fashion show was an awareness event for women's risk of heart disease. It was also a design competition for local student designers, and most of the show featured real, actual models. Then we three heart disease survivors closed the show — fashion, with a sucker-punch of emotion to get your attention.
It was really a great experience — I like fashion, and thanks to watching 10 seasons of Project Runway I have some appreciation for it as an art form. I don't mind being the center of attention. I love pretty dresses, high heels, and makeup. I care a lot about women's awareness of their heart disease risks. An actual real live fashion designer made a super cool dress for me that flattered like it was . . . made for me. Some friends and lots of complete strangers watched me walk the runway. I'm a natural at standing hands-on-waist with a little sass. Professional photographers took my picture. I met two women who survived heart diseases way worse than mine. I was inspired and I was humbled.
I looked amazing. I felt that way too.
So why the need to make it less awesome? True, self-deprecation is a highly effective form of trust-building, essential for any public figure, leader, manager, or someone who wants to affect change. It can be really funny. And it's actually a pretty integral part of my writing style.
But when does it cross the line? According to my friend, exactly like this:
My Facebook post:
“Heading to a designers studio for a fitting for the Go Red red dress fashion show. Here goes my first (and I'm sure, only) modeling gig!”
Her private message to me:
I've noticed that you often insert these kinds of self-deprecating remarks into your posts. I know it's because you're a humble person. However, it bothers me because I see it as you minimizing yourself. This is something that almost all women do because we are trained to do it by society.
You are someone I always admired as a leader and a feminist. I want you to own your awesomeness. And if you're feeling scared or nervous or insecure, that's okay to own too. Just PLEASE stop talking yourself down.
This is really so embarrassing; cringe-worthy, even. Profoundly more so than owning the awesome that was being chosen for this fashion show — chosen because I had a heart attack and then decided to combine the shock value of my story with my skills in writing, speaking, and communications to start publicly warning other women to pay attention to their health, because doing so felt strong and even professional.
I did that — I started a blog and I pitched articles to other publications and I spoke to audiences and auditioned to be the Go Red (American Heart Association) spokeswoman and was selected for that too. And because I did those things I was asked to be in this fashion show.
I did all that. And it was awesome.
Before I go, let me take a moment to express my gratitude to Madeline for pointing this out, mincing no words — nor wasting one — and making me see what making less of myself can do, to me and to others. Every woman needs a friend like this.