How To Stop Caring About What People Think

People say, “You keep insisting that one shouldn’t be influenced by what others say or think like it’s so easy but it isn’t.”

Of course, it isn’t easy and don’t I know that. I grew up in a culture that places the appearance of women under great scrutiny. It is also completely normal for people to make nasty comments even to complete strangers.

“Look at that fat cow in her horrible coat. Doesn’t she realize how stupid she looks?”

“I’m sorry where did you buy this jacket? Because it looks absolutely hideous on you. I’m just shocked that anybody could pay money for such an ugly piece of clothing.”

“Excuse me, you don’t know me but I can’t keep silent. I can see that you have a huge problem and I want to help. I have this really great diet that I want to recommend. Maybe it will help you.”

As a result of growing up in this environment, I often felt terrified to leave the house. I never felt that I looked flawless enough to show myself in public. Once, I spent three days, three whole days trying to get dressed to go to school and failing completely. If the outfit was good, the makeup didn’t match it. Or the shoes would not be ideal. Or the accessories.

And then I got fed up. I just heard this voice in my head, screaming, “Enough already!” The worry about what people might think or say was consuming my life to the point where I had no life of my own left. And it wasn’t just about appearance. It was about things I liked to do, my opinions, my tastes, my preferences. I decided to stop living this miserable passive voice life.

So I picked a ratty outfit (which would be considered quite fancy here in North America but was ratty for my appearance-obsessed compatriots), put on no makeup, grabbed a handbag that everybody ridiculed but that I loved and set out on a walk around the city. It wasn’t easy to show my imperfect face and body outside but I kept thinking that having people think I look stupid is a lot better than being stupid and castrating my existence for the sake of somebody’s opinions.

It took some effort but, eventually, I got to the point where I think that people who have negative opinions about my life, my choices, my appearance should just all go and stick a carrot up their noses. Because that’s the only thing they can do even to make me notice their sad existences.

And, you know, it feels great not to put oneself at the mercy of somebody else’s expectations. No matter who that somebody else is.

31 thoughts on “How To Stop Caring About What People Think

  1. This culture isn’t any different, at least I can relate to everything you wrote when it comes to people feeling entitled to make unsolicited comments about your looks and what you wear, etc. I grew up in southern California and people behaving like a**holes–indulging in the behaviors that you write about above seemed the norm.

    And even if you looked “flawless” there would always be someone jumping at the bit to make an ugly thoughtless comment. It is a sad way that people try to feel good about themselves at your expense. What I found is that it is usually women who are the most likely to make nasty, mean-spirited comments.

    The ratty outfit comment I do wonder about considering that you think it would be considered fancy in N. America. Then again, some people do wear ratty clothes and outfits, but maybe they cannot afford an expensive wardrobe and it could also be their way of telling people to stuff a carrot up their nose too.

    Anyway, well said and I couldn’t agree more. I would also add that someone else’s expectations is always more about them than you.

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    1. Here in the US, people often stop me just to say something nice, which to me is shocking (in a good way). Everybody is so nice that it’s suspicious. 🙂 But I heard that California is looks-obsessed.

      In terms of clothes, I was once asked to leave a bar in upstate New York for being overdressed. And I didn’t even change to go there, I just went in the clothes I’d been wearing at home. 🙂

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      1. “Here in the US, people often stop me just to say something nice, which to me is shocking (in a good way). Everybody is so nice that it’s suspicious.”

        It’s good to know that you’ve had that experience. I haven’t experienced strangers in that way–some idiot male yelling out of the car, “nice boobs”. which I don’t take as a compliment, even if someone were to insist that it was meant that way. Perhaps I’m different than other women in that regard too.

        “But I heard that California is looks-obsessed.”

        Some people can be and that is more my experience of other people, despite growing up along the coast wearing casual attire, etc.

        I don’t try to figure people out either. I just figure I’ll go with that they are NUTS and that tends to suffice. I’d rather summarize it that way then try to beat my head against a wall trying to figure out why some nutcase makes the comments that they do.

        I find that strange that you were asked to leave a bar for being overdressed. I’ll just chalk that up to another bizzare incident. Good grief. I was shamed by a principle at my high school for wearing something he thought was too revealing, although it was the style and there were girls who wore much more revealing outfits by a longshot. I felt very singled out, especially because of the shaming and mean comments this man made. You know….I’d forgotten about that incident, but I also tend to wear clothes that cover me up rather than flaunt my figure too.

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        1. “I haven’t experienced strangers in that way–some idiot male yelling out of the car, “nice boobs”. which I don’t take as a compliment, even if someone were to insist that it was meant that way. ”

          – I don’t mean that kind of comments, of course. That’s just obnoxious. Older women often say nice things to me and I really like that because I can see that they are simply trying to be encouraging.

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  2. “But I heard that California is looks-obsessed. ”

    Maybe for people who are in the movie industry. People wear flipflops and shorts to sit-down restaurants here. I’ve been to many cities in the US, and have never found people more polite than I have in southern california. Not that the rest of the country is bad (except for Boston!). Americans are amazingly polite in general, so even the worst of American behaviour would be better than the best many countries have to offer.

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    1. “Americans are amazingly polite in general, so even the worst of American behaviour would be better than the best many countries have to offer.”

      – So true! Every single day American people slaughter me with their kindness and generosity. I don’t know how they do it but they are just so kind.

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    2. Well it’s good that you have had a more positive experience. Your experience isn’t mine and I grew-up in Orange County. In fact, Huntington Beach was basically where I grew-up. I don’t think being looks-obsessed is limited to those in the movie industry, sadly. I think it much more pervasive than that. I also don’t believe that narcissism it limited to that industry either.

      With that said I once used to wonder why some people would say the mean comments that they did as I would never in any way, shape or form make such comments to them. Sadly, the people that I went too for emotional support twisted it all into that somehow I must have brought it on myself. Some people just behave like idiots towards other people and it has nothing to do with me at all, but is all about them and their issues.

      It is rather refreshing though to hear you say that you feel that Americans are generally amazingly polite. Perhaps I’ve been one of those people, although I’ve become much more reserved given some of my experiences too.

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      1. Everything I say about Americans is in comparison to my people. And we are very mean and aggressive. Which I’m sure nobody could have guessed from reading my blog. 🙂 🙂

        But in any case when somebody says mean things to you, it is SO not your problem or fault. You can’t provoke people into being jerks. They just are jerks, that’s all.

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      2. Orange county here, too! I didn’t have to face any of the emotional bullying that you experienced, maybe because I’m male and moved there in my twenties, so was already past the high school petty bullshit.

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  3. I don’t remember seeing it. Of course, may be it’s because I left at the age of 13, when not wearing make-up was 100% OK yet. From which age did the obsession begin?

    Another reason I suspect was living in a very poor little town in Donbass, where people often didn’t have money for bread. Such poverty kind of prevents fancy clothing. Don’t remember most high school girls in fancy clothing either. To go 1 step further, girls/women in poor villages around the town hardly had fancy clothing. Seems the opposite was closer to truth. You lived in a big city, may be this made all the difference?

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    1. “Could you also clarify then what’s the difference between one’s love for oneself being central to one’s life and selfishness?”

      – Selfishness is a word that people use to guilt trip us into sacrificing our interests for theirs. 🙂

      “Don’t remember most high school girls in fancy clothing either.”

      – I went to school with children of extremely rich people.

      “To go 1 step further, girls/women in poor villages around the town hardly had fancy clothing. ”

      – And this prevented anybody from making nasty, rude comments? I don’t think so.

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  4. I get a big kick out of “Ugly Betty,” which is about the fashionistas. It’s very lowbrow, what they call a guilty pleasure, but every evening my husband and I watch two episodes. We will be desolated when we come to the end of the series.
    Both of us are totally unchic, kind of crappy looking old people. A lot of our friends are practically in mourning about how badly they have aged, but we really don’t care.

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  5. How do you recopgnize when someone merely disapproves of you versus when siad individual might be disposed to commit violent acts against you? It seems to me that there is a continuum of possibilities in “what people think of you.” If someone thinks you are dangerous and must be physically attacked, it is a different situation. But it is not qualitatively different from mere disapproval, just more intense.

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      1. David Bellamy :How do you recopgnize when someone merely disapproves of you versus when siad individual might be disposed to commit violent acts against you?

        I assume that strangers who oblige to voice disapproval of me apropos of nothing would hurt me if they could and thought they’d get away with it. Other than that, fists up, weapons out, or past experience and behavior are good benchmarks.

        bloggerclarissa :I really can’t imagine a situation where people would perceive me as such a huge danger. I look pretty inoffensive.

        I’m right now picturing you waving around a flamethrower.

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        1. “I’m right now picturing you waving around a flamethrower.”

          – Strangers sometimes come up to me in the street, pinch my cheeks and make cooing sounds. It’s a little weird given my age but I know the intention is good. 🙂

          That’s an example of how inoffensive I am.

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  6. bloggerclarissa :– So true! Every single day American people slaughter me with their kindness and generosity. I don’t know how they do it but they are just so kind.

    It’s a culturally developed manner of distracting you from the fact that we are all thinking about keying a misspelled slur in two foot high letters along the side of your car. I believe Richard Nixon passed an executive order about it.

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  7. I didn’t come from a very lookist culture. That was part of not being in step with the rest of the world, due to sanctions and a media blackout. We had the notion that dying your hair was absolutely outrageous. Also, the clothing in the departure stores was limited to about one rail. Fashion came from the more industrialised country down south.

    If people critique my appearance, like with regard to so many other aspects of life, they are speaking a different language from me. At my current age, I’m not going to tolerate that at all.

    I’ve come to realise I wear very, very eccentric fashion, whenever I do dress up at all. It’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea. I never had the ambition to be a fashion plate.

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  8. I suspect that very often when negativity is projected it is an indication of a person feeling inadequate. We tend to compare ourselves to others and their behaviors and mannerism can remind us of our own weaknesses. I think negativety and insult is often a person groping to feel equal by projecting their inadequacy on others. I have found that the fastest way to shut it down is to ask them directly what I am doing that reminds them of their inadequacy. Of course be prepared for unwanted therapy. People can be real shits but I think its because thats what they choose to sit in.

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    1. In my culture people are mean because

      a) of our tragic history of the XXth century and the pent up anger
      b) policies of collectivism that make people hate each other like nothing else.

      ” I have found that the fastest way to shut it down is to ask them directly what I am doing that reminds them of their inadequacy. ”

      – A brilliant strategy. I think I will now adopt it.

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      1. I have met a number of people from your neck of the woods. A Russian Jew that worked in the ship yards and taught me marquetry. A Serb teacher going home to fight. A Croat youth who lost his father and mother. A Russian woman that asked me to close my business and move away with her. A prison guard posing as a survivor. I once asked what the differemce was between Canada and the Soviet Union. I was told that here you can say what you want as long as you dont do it and there you can do what you want as long as you dont say it. My how times change.

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    2. “I suspect that very often when negativity is projected it is an indication of a person feeling inadequate.”

      I tend to agree, although I’ve always thought that some of these behaviors were also about jealousy and envy. Some of this is insecurity and with other people they act entitled. I don’t believe that all entitled behaviors come from deep insecurity. That is not my experience.

      “We tend to compare ourselves to others and their behaviors and mannerism can remind us of our own weaknesses.”

      This is probably true and I would agree and what better way is there to feel good about one’s self (for those lacking in self-introspection) than to focus on other’s perceived weaknesses and start attacking and berating them? Yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of BS.

      “I think negativety and insult is often a person groping to feel equal by projecting their inadequacy on others.”

      Yes, I agree as well, although I try to look at this individually. We don’t always know another person’s circumstances–their collective history and experience.

      “I have found that the fastest way to shut it down is to ask them directly what I am doing that reminds them of their inadequacy. Of course be prepared for unwanted therapy. People can be real shits but I think its because thats what they choose to sit in.”

      I agree that this is a good strategy, although I’m usually not too desiring of “unwanted therapy”. People wanting me to understand them, but not reciprocating with understanding towards me has been a real issue in my life. Agree also that people can be real shits! My thoughts exactly!

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  9. Keith :
    I suspect that very often when negativity is projected it is an indication of a person feeling inadequate. We tend to compare ourselves to others and their behaviors and mannerism can remind us of our own weaknesses. I think negativety and insult is often a person groping to feel equal by projecting their inadequacy on others. I have found that the fastest way to shut it down is to ask them directly what I am doing that reminds them of their inadequacy. Of course be prepared for unwanted therapy. People can be real shits but I think its because thats what they choose to sit in.

    They’ll usually tell you exactly what they feel inadequate about. It may be their status as people from another culture, which they fear might be inferior. Many people project and others make legitimate criticisms. Not all criticism is projection.

    But, projection, I have found comes about through a component of unlived life. One wishes, for instance, to have the audacity to do something different, but one’s morality forbids one from taking risks. Thus one is down on those who do take risks.

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    1. Scratchy888.

      Absolutely agree, well put. Personally I think culture is just an available technology, more of a starting point than an ending point. I find very little difference between people once you get past the guise of their technology. Of course our cultural technology promises reduced risk by adherence a farce that too many believe and follow.

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    2. “Many people project and others make legitimate criticisms. Not all criticism is projection.”

      I’m not disagreeing, although I would say that I’m hard-pressed to think of an example of a legitimate criticism. This just hasn’t been my experience–the legitimate criticisms, although routinely when criticism has been directed at one the giver of the criticism will frame it as being “constructive”. If one is talking about behaviors then I can see some room for legitimate criticism, but when it comes to making very personal comments to others about their looks, etc., I have a hard time recalling an instance when the criticism wasn’t all about the other person and their gratification at feeling better or one-up.

      “But, projection, I have found comes about through a component of unlived life. One wishes, for instance, to have the audacity to do something different, but one’s morality forbids one from taking risks. Thus one is down on those who do take risks.”

      This is probably true–people living fear-based lives or they simply lack the communication skills necessary to think about situations which are out of the realm of their own personal experience.

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      1. “I’m hard-pressed to think of an example of a legitimate criticism. This just hasn’t been my experience–the legitimate criticisms, although routinely when criticism has been directed at one the giver of the criticism will frame it as being “constructive”.”

        – Same here. I can’t imagine a situation where two adults are interacting in a non-hierarchical situation and then one begins to offer criticisms to the other one in a non-manipulative way.

        For instance, I absolutely recognize the right of my departmental Chair to criticize my performance at work. But if any of the other colleagues tried to do the same, I would be absolutely appalled.

        I really can’t imagine a situation where people engage in criticizing each other without a mutual request and that is somehow normal.

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        1. This may be another good topic about legitimate criticism, since so many people seem compelled to frame their non-helpful commentaries as “constructive”.

          On that note, I was once in a writer’s group and when I was examining the critiques (collected by piece) I found that someone had circled every single THE in the entire piece. THE is not exactly a word that can be replaced with another–not very easily to my knowledge and if someone can do that I’d reallly like to see supporting evidence. So, in other words I found the critique to be non-valid and not helpful, which is pretty much how I’ve experienced what most people have to offer. Besides that most people who criticised had the annoying habit of not offering any alternative or constructive way to write something differently, and differently doesn’t always mean clearer or better. They didn’t offer an example, so I found it pretty, damned useless as well as frustrating. I feel this behavior is akin to someone criticizing something because of personal preference, which I dont find valid. It would be like people stupidly engaging in an argument over their favorite color.

          This same type of scenario has repeated itself again and again and that is one reason why I feel highly suspicious of other people framing their criticism as CONSTRUCTIVE. This goes for people in higher positions of authority as well. I once had a male boss tell me that I was too aggressive and too assertive, and that I was turning off all of the men. I feel like cussing when I recall that story. The stupid a**hole. I replied to him that it wasn’t my job to turn them all on.

          In every instance that I can think of in my life, I’ve felt bombarded by other people’s need to offer “constructive criticizm” when it was not solicited and when it was NOT constructive. Thus that terminology has a negative connotation to me. This is a good topic though and it really has triggered a lot of memories for me.

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          1. “This may be another good topic about legitimate criticism, since so many people seem compelled to frame their non-helpful commentaries as “constructive”.”

            – A great idea! I will now write a post about this.

            Like

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