It’s Okay: to Brag About Yourself
In It’s Okay, we defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.
“Not to brag, but I was name-checked in my kindergarten teacher’s suicide note,” Gina Linetti (played to perfection by Chelsea Peretti) says in Brooklyn 99. Her character has taken on a cult-like status in the seven-odd years the show rose to popularity, with article after article claiming Linetti as the “hero we all need.” This adoration centers around a few choice characteristics we hardly ever see women own: Linetti is demanding, she loves to make an entrance, she knows her self-worth and she’s not afraid to let people know it — and she absolutely loves to brag about herself.
We don’t see many Linettis in the real world, because bragging as a concept has always been reserved and condoned for men, be it in the way they decimated the opposition in sports (cue Zlatan Ibrahimovic) or how they’re killing it at work (cue Elon Musk). These superlatives don’t really translate for women, who are judged more harshly for bragging than men are. It’s called the likability bias — we see men as naturally assertive and boastful, so when they do actually brag about themselves, we see it as the way of the world. But we expect women to be deferential, community-oriented, and timid, which makes us judge them harshly for asserting their own independence and brilliance.
Regardless of who gets a pass more often for bragging, it’s still a practice that’s seen as narcissistic, often excessive, and — when it involves comparing one’s own achievement with another’s — insulting. People find braggarts annoying, their self-promotion often hollow, and their lack of humility tacky. It’s a narrow definition of bragging — because how we perceive braggarts is closely linked to how men brag about themselves (because others hardly ever do). Research shows men’s bragging is hollow a lot of the time, as men are more likely to overestimate their achievements and abilities.
But there is a way to brag, according to research, that invokes a sense of awe and appreciation from others, that makes them think of you as competent, maybe a little arrogant, but assertive and confident nonetheless.
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A 2016 study shows bragging when you have the chops to back up your claims, also called justified bragging, is a positive, albeit slightly arrogant practice. People who stay quiet about their achievements, in an effort at humility, might be seen as moral, but less capable, researchers found. Study author Patrick Hecks tells the Wall Street Journal that it is imperative for people to brag on the job, as long as they’re being truthful. When it comes to accomplishments in professional settings, especially, being humble is quite ineffectual.
Bragging is tricky, and there’s often a ‘humility paradox’ to contend with — is it better to be viewed as moral and incompetent, or as relatively immoral and competent? This paradox has also given a rise to a practice that attempts the best of both worlds — the ‘humblebrag,’ or when someone manages to both brag and show they want to stay humble about it (possibly in order to keep being perceived as moral). But research shows the humblebrag isn’t fooling anybody. “You think, as the humblebragger, that it’s the best of both worlds, but what we show is that sincerity is actually the key ingredient,” organizational behavior expert and author of a 2018 study on humblebragging, Ovul Sezer, tells Time. “If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions.”
A lot of conditioning, however, is standing in the way of women being able to, and being comfortable with a, brag. Be it the impostor syndrome, or the ‘good girl’ bias, women have been taught to underplay their achievements, to the extent they’re characteristically bad at taking compliments, often employing a deflection tactic. But if we’re already starting from a default perception of being incompetent, not as good or efficient, then a few not-so-humble brags might be just what we need to climb up the reputation ladder, if not for others, then at least for our own selves.
In the wise words of Gina Linetti, “The only thing I’m not good at is modesty, because I’m great at it.” It’s the only humility paradox you need.
You’ll be alright.