An essay by Amanda Montell
When I was a little kid, I used to cringe when people told me they were “proud” of me. It wasn’t from a lack of confidence (I was plenty proud of myself at that age). Instead, it was simply that, even at 6 or 7, I sensed a tiny whisper of condescension in this word. I got that it was supposed to be a compliment, but when someone said they were proud of me, it almost felt like the person was implying that I’d surprised them by doing something right—getting a good grade, performing well at a violin recital—or that my achievements were “cute” but not impressive (which, at the time, was probably true). We all have words that rub us the wrong way for some reason, and to my childhood ear, there was a hint of judgment lurking under the word “proud” that I just couldn’t ignore.
Of course, people tell you they’re proud of you way more when you’re a kid than they do when you’re an adult, so I haven’t heard that one in a while. (Maybe by adulthood people realize how condescending it is?) But now that I’m in my mid-20s, I’ve started hearing a word that irks me even more: The word “brave.” Not brave in the context of going to war or battling cancer—I’m talking about the bizarrely common phenomenon of using the word “brave” to describe a haircut. As in, “Wow, you’re so brave for cutting your hair short!” Or, “I could never cut my hair like that—you’re so brave!” As someone who’s undergone a few hair transformations in recent years, I’ve been called “brave” more times than I deserve.