When I was 8 years old and wearing a cute blue skirt I liked and my dad walked into the living room and joked, “Hey, only skinny girls should wear skirts like that!” When I was 9 and my piano teacher, frustrated at my inability to play one particular section in the Bach fugue perfectly, asked me what my grades at school that semester were and said, “Well, I guess you’re pretty dumb, aren’t you?” When my mom came to my piano recital when I was 13, two years before I quit, and remained silent while we visited a relative in the hospital afterwards, disgusted and unable to talk to me because my performance wasn’t up to par. When I was 15 and the doctor made me stand on the scale in his office, which made me want to scream because back then I hated weighing myself in front of other people, and said “You’ve stopped menstruating because your estrogen and progesterone levels are too low. You need to stop starving yourself.” When I was 18 and my on-off boyfriend gave me the silent treatment for the entire evening because I didn’t realize the leggings I was wearing were slightly see-through from certain angles.
"The Genesis of Shame" by J. David Velleman is an interesting read.
His argument is that we are all social creatures, so we naturally want to maintain control of our self-presentation and our social image. Shame is the particular emotion we feel when this control is taken from us, for any reason.
I think he makes a strong case that this is correct; it explains a lot of cases where people feel shame even though they rationally "shouldn't".
your writing is unbelievably powerful and resonant. I feel so lucky to have found your newsletter!
Loved this! Still working through plenty of my own Asian-American shame and fear of failure/rejection. Learning to just fuckin try things without feeling bad that I haven't earned consistent "A"s along the way. You capture this experience so poignantly.
Learning that accountability doesn't require self-hatred was also one of my biggest learnings last year. Glad that you're taking your readers through your own healing process.
I recently learned to stop hating myself, so I could relate to a lot of this. Especially the ugliness we subject ourselves and others to. As I've become more resilient I've really lost my appetite to all the negativity that happens online. Thanks for sharing!
"To be a slave to perfection is a terrible thing because there will always be a gap between the person you are and the person you portray yourself as that you can never close. It means that you’ll be dishonest with yourself and other people in an effort to live up to who you think you need to be. It means you have no respect or love for your actual self."
This was beautiful and I really needed to hear this - thank you.
I hope you continue to write. Accountability not meaning shame is such an important value to grasp and I think many of us turn to shaming our selves when it begins to feel unobtainable.
You have such a gift, Ava. Thank you for putting yourself and your ideas out here!
ava I love this and I've reread parts of it many times already (—self love not just peacefully coexisting with the urge towards self improvement but actually being necessary for it!!! I am, like, still processing) and I'm grateful for all the writing you've published over the past few years. it's been a privilege to follow your voice and your worldview over time 🥰
> It’s hard for me to keep writing on Substack because I keep thinking that one day I’m going to write something that’s deemed wrong
Yea it's going to happen. Someone will think this. There's no stopping it, but you can still be courageous and stand for yourself. Covey write about maturity as being able to represent your own thoughts and at the same time being considerate of others. I think I've been too considerate of others for too long.
> That’s the Asian-American legacy, isn’t it?
Yea it is. Being also Asian American, shame and perfectionism is somewhat ingrained. In my career for many years, I always wondered whyI didn't have much to say. It's b/c I always feared that I'd say something wrong. So I kept quiet for many years and still struggling with it. I'm learning it's okay to be wrong and no one really has it all figured out.