Thoughts from an “Overly Sensitive” Woman Over 30
I spent the weekend taking care of myself: a long massage, got a blow out (aka hair styled), mani pedi, solo brunches with my book (read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert), slept in late on Sunday, did some watercolors.
And yet, on Sunday at 7:54 pm, I found myself crying in my kitchen after an Instagram argument with a stranger.
I texted my best friend: “If I am taking care of myself, why don’t I have the resiliency NOT to cry when a total stranger is rude? Also, am I being overly sensitive?”
Note: as you read this, it’s important to remember that I am hilarious IRL. My friends cracked up the entire time as I told them this story this morning.
Yeah, I’m a little angry, and a little bitter. But I know when things are funny, too. And if you can’t laugh, right?…
Tuesday — Saturday
Throughout the past week, I noticed that I was getting an awful lot of ads for weight loss.
“A lot” = enough that I became aware of each one. It’s like slow water torture… Lose weight better. Get skinny fast! Weight loss that works.
Now, sure, maybe I want to lose a few pounds. I am a woman, and lord knows a woman who is not the perfect size and shape is not worth shit.
But seriously, I used to be a competitive athlete. Is it bragging too much if I mention that I won 3 NCAA Championships in college? Well, I did. And it’s one of the most important accomplishments of my life, and always will be, for many reasons — namely the 4 years of hard work and special relationships that the trophies represent. Also stating a factual accomplishment in a relevant context isn’t bragging. (I think.)
So yes, my body and health are topics of concern to me.
I love feeling strong and fit, and I have been trying to better integrate workouts and wellness into my lifestyle, which is a challenge with constant travel.
However, it’s something I work very hard to think about from a positive angle. I try to pursue it because it feels good and it is good for me.
Not because I’m a sad sack single woman over 30.
But oh how the internet begs to differ.
According to sponsored posts I’m shown on social media, I must be in constant need of:
- a man
- less weight
- more wine
What’s that phrase about a fish without a bicycle?
Sunday @ 5:05 pm
After having been served up approximately endless ads by various companies telling me how I can lose weight better / faster / more easily, I saw yet another one.
Mysteriously, it was a horizontal split screen of scrambled eggs being made on top and a woman kickboxing alone on bottom. But the real kicker (ha) was the VO text onscreen that opened with “Hey, if you’re a woman over 30…”
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Please, don’t advertise to me just because of the demographic I’m in — not explicitly, with my gender and age as the opening line.
Advertise to me because of psychographics: what I am thinking and feeling and needing. Advertise to me because of pain points you can solve. Advertise to me on the features and benefits of your product or service. Advertise to me because of the positive outcomes, not a play on my fears and insecurities.
Frankly, it’s also lazy marketing. You can’t identify and write compelling enough copy to catch my interest or identify my real needs, so you open with “Hey, you’re a woman over 30…”? Also the sky is blue and you’re a human, so now that you’re hooked, BUY HERE!
Obviously I AM a woman over 30 (has that been clearly established yet? If you’re tired of hearing it, believe me, I am too), but, shockingly, that is not the sole factor that defines my outlook on everything.
Demographics are informative buckets for evaluating groups of people, but they aren’t the only ones. Advertising should be a venn diagram where one circle is demographic data and the other circle is psychographic or a specific need, and then you target the overlap.
The point is that world just cannot stop telling single women over 30 how we are not good enough and simply must be miserable with our selves / lives.
So I am at a point where if THAT is your opening line or primary messaging or focus, then I am not going to be interested.
I made an Instagram story complaining about this and standing on my soap box about how sick and tired I was of this kind of cliche, condescending messaging.
(As an aside: Nike also advertises to me, and I don’t mind because they have a good brand voice and I like their products. When I see a neon green Nike+ Training alert, I think, oh yeah I should do one of those today. Not, “for fucks sake, this again?!”)
Sunday @ 6:24 pm
Although he didn’t read my post, the guy who made the sponsored ad that set me off wrote me back in my DM.
So I tried to explain to him that (a) I admittedly do not know anything about him or his product / service but also (b) he doesn’t know anything about me, either and (c) perhaps it might be interesting to note the context his ad appears in, which is a constant flow of advertising to my demographic (guess which one that is) about how we need to improve our bodies.
“Lol.” He then proceeded to tell me that I was (a) wrong, (b) there are bigger problems in the world, like people starving to death and dying of horrible diseases, and (c) “stop being so sensitive,” which was followed up in the course of our conversation by telling me that (d) he’s an adult.
Let’s break that down:
(a) I am wrong
I tell someone my experience, written in consciously constructive and thoughtful language, for the sake of providing perspective to an advertiser about what their target demographic is experiencing.
He laughs. Immediately. No time for considering my point.
Because why would he need to do that whole empathy thing? Why bother listening to someone’s feedback to you as a business owner?
As he pointed out, “Your feelings are hurt over an ad. You could run an ad calling my mom trash and I would not care what a stranger said in an ad.” Perhaps I should not care what a stranger says about me, but also why did he bring his mom into the conversation?
The bigger takeaway here is that he has the privilege to not care about these things.
He can dismiss advertisements that comment on a pain point of his (and apparently also ignore a woman doing it directly) because the rest of his daily experience isn’t telling him that he isn’t good enough, that he doesn’t have a place in society, that his entire existence is wrong and unnatural. Because he’s allowed to take up space and have opinions and make money and be ambitious and get married (or not) and have kids (or not).
So yeah, I get how it’s easier for him to ignore an ad or two. Because that’s all it is for him. Not the daily drip, drip, drip of insults and insecurity feeding.
Maybe if his social feed was all impotency pills for months on end, and dating ads (not advertising hot girls as covetable objects, but because it’s just so sad that he’s still single), and reminders that he has failed his parents and grandparents by not yet reproducing (as a reminder: because he’s unlovable and impotent and also selfish)…
Maybe after a few months of hundreds of those ads, he’d get my point if I happened to advertise just one more “hey, if you’re a man over 30…”
I was sharing context, experience, and perspective. When someone does that, it’s good to listen. You don’t have to do anything else (and it’s often better if you don’t). No advice, no solution, just listen and absorb and reflect.
(b) There are bigger problems in the world
I agree that there are truly horrifying aspects of inhumanity, of which this is far from one.
I pointed out that I didn’t actually claim that his ad was a big problem, for me or for the world. I had merely taken a few minutes to share my perspective.
Also, if he’s so worried about that, what the fuck is he spending all his time on helping women over 30 lose weight? Doesn’t he know that there are people out there dying and starving?
(c) I am overly sensitive for being bothered by this
As he criticized me for being too sensitive about an Instagram ad, it brought me back to a question that’s been my mind lately about how we define rubrics in life.
In this case, what is the rubric for being too sensitive?
I got an Instagram ad that struck a (negative) chord with me. I shared my perspective with the person who made it. So on the sensitivity rubric, that is past a reasonable amount of awareness and feelings?
Which leads me to wonder: How sensitive can I be?
Would it be too sensitive to want a stranger to speak to me politely? Would it be overly sensitive to consider another person’s experience and perspective as being valid? Would it be ridiculously sensitive that I want to be spoken to with respect and acknowledged as a complete human, whether I’m being addressed by an advertisement or another person?
(d) He is an adult
Maybe he felt the need to clarify that about himself since we have so clearly covered that I am an adult woman over 30 (in spite of our society’s inability to refer to females over 18 as women and not girls).
Or maybe, he was trying to imply that, by contrast, I am child. Which is weird given all our talk of my age.
Unless, of course, he thinks it is immature to have feelings and opinions.
You got me. I’m a 31 year old woman who travels the world full-time, who pays for her independent lifestyle by working remotely, who has no debt or legal issues, who has spent years working on communication skills and relationship dynamics to effectively engage with other people and share her experiences. What a child.
But back to the gaslighting. Wait, what?
Colloquially, it’s an everyday phenomenon that woman and people of color regularly face when they try to speak about their experiences, mostly just in an effort to have them acknowledged.
Formally, to gaslight is to:
manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity: in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband. [from the storyline of the movie Gaslight (1944), in which a man psychologically manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane.]
- Oxford American Dictionary
But please, do read up on it further:
In my effort to effectively communicate my experience to him, I frequently stated that I was not criticizing HIM but trying to offer MY experience as a useful reference for his marketing.
I kept trying to help him understand that my problem isn’t with him or his program, but with the ad’s tone and approach.
My whole point was simply that he probably doesn’t realize (as he’s not a woman over 30) how often this demographic is being shown these same kinds of ads on a constant basis, and it gets a bit tired.
But he kept insisting that I was wrong because the program was so super successful (first, that was not my point at all, and second, I’m paraphrasing here, he thinks I can go fuck myself).
So after three rounds of him rudely telling me off for offering my feedback as a potential customer, I gave him the response he wanted to hear: “Okay, fine, you can ignore my opinion as irrelevant.”
If he wanted to paraphrase, what I finally wanted to say is that he can go fuck himself.
Sunday @ 7:54 pm
And that’s how I found myself sitting on my bed on Sunday night, exasperated with the ineffectiveness of my communication skills, or his listening skills, or both.
At the same time, I get a message from my Rappi (delivery service) saying that my Papa John’s pizza will take over an hour because it’s busy. (Since we’ve been talking so much about weight loss, are you judging me for having ordered a pizza? Are you assuming that because I’m a woman over 30 that I am also overweight? Just curious.)
Because I’m currently in Colombia, the app is in Spanish, and the Rappi delivery person only speaks Spanish. So I’m trying to Google Translate at the speed of texting, to understand what the problem is and if I can cancel without being charged.
After about 5 stressful minutes of trying to grasp the situation and effectively cancel my order, I just lay back on my bed and start crying. (Don’t worry, the pizza got canceled.)
Part of me is relieved — I’ve had a feeling that I needed to cry all week, especially since Monday (which was a separate but similar issue). So I’m glad it finally happened, and in the privacy of my own apartment.
But the rest of me is ashamed.
Because, surely, crying over a stranger being rude to me on Instagram means I AM being too sensitive. Because I don’t NEED them to acknowledge the problems of my existence, that my perspective is real and valid regardless. Right? And to be upset that they vehemently deny it, immediately, well that’s just classic oversensitivity.
Sunday @ 8:12 pm
So I get in a different Instagram DM to one of my best friends and ask if she has a few minutes for me to vent. Thankfully, she does.
I briefly explain the situation (far fewer words than have been used here) and ask her: Am I being overly sensitive?
Here’s what made me doubly irritated: I just spent my weekend focused on self-care.
I slept. I had a massage. I felt pretty. I ate good food (and now I won’t be having disgusting American pizza, to boot!). I read an inspirational book about creativity. I hung out on my own. I journaled. I wrote my therapist. I worked out.
I did the nurturing things, and not just the seemingly-good-but-actually-toxic self-indulgences that we often default to.
And yet, I wasn’t resilient enough to withstand these guys and their brief, unpleasant intersections with my life.
Surely they haven’t thought twice about me.
Surely my comments haven’t ruined their week (probably because they weren’t designed to — I was sharing in the interest of “food for thought” than “hey, fuck you”).
Surely they aren’t crying in their kitchen while making pasta, feeling stupid and frustrated about everything.
Here’s what my friend told me (in summary):
- You are not overly sensitive. You are sensitive, and that’s a good thing. You feel empathy and see injustice and speak out.
- You are brave for speaking up. Changing the system is not pleasant.
- It is okay for things to hurt. Of course it hurts. You are human.
- All the self-care and sleep and writing doesn’t make you less human. Taking care of yourself won’t mean you won’t get hurt. You can’t just do a face mask and then not care when your boss treats you like a child or someone calls you a bitch. Part of taking care of yourself is making room for your emotions.
- I want to have higher, better boundaries so that random strangers can’t totally throw me off course. I want to be able to take it with a grain of salt and not be totally triggered for days.
- I am a bleeding heart, and I don’t see why that’s used as an insult. Yes, I care about people and the planet. Yes, it hurts my heart when I experience or see wrong happening. What person goes unaffected? How does a heart not bleed?
- I don’t know how to do this in the right way. I truly don’t want to be ignorant and indulgent in my privilege. But I also don’t want to have (and can’t sustain) so many exhausting interactions in my efforts to be better than that.
- I need to have some kind of middle ground or balance. But I don’t know what that rubric is: what I need, how I can realistically help, what I can or should say and to what audience, what is productive, what is being overly sensitive.
Then my saucepan flipped itself off the counter and dumped hot deliciousness onto the floor, making a sad, greasy mess.
So I chopped up more garlic and put it in more butter. I heated them up and assembled my pasta and ate my dinner.
And I felt really grateful to have really good girlfriends.