Monday, August 20, 2012

Mistaking Coping Mechanisms for Normal Behaviour

I'm still thinking about my Last Post, the pro-woman line, and the way that people cope with undesirable situations. I think that a lot of people are damaged or fearful and they have developed coping/defense mechanisms that allow them to deal with these issues. They developed these behaviour patterns because something horrible happened to them or someone they know or they were living under very harsh conditions. For instance, some people drink, do drugs, or over eat to cope with their pain while others starve themselves or overwork to feel powerful and in control. Others overcompensate by working out excessively, getting plastic surgery, or wearing too much make up. Some women gain weight or wear baggy clothes in an attempt to protect themselves from sexual advances and abuse. Some men adopt a threatening appearance and mannerisms so that others will not try to take advantage of them. Other people withdraw and act antisocial to protect themselves from harm while others are too passive and try to appease everybody so that they are not rejected. As I mentioned in my previous post, some women make themselves pretty, or even reveal too much skin in order to avoid the negative consequences of not being attractive (e.g., lack of attention, not being asked out, not getting special treatment etc.).

A lot of the time these people don't realize that they are using coping mechanisms but instead insist that their behaviour is "normal", it's just the way they are, or it is just their preference. In some cases people who do not engage in these coping mechanisms (because they have not experienced the same damage or fear) are told they are "abnormal" for not expressing the same behaviours! In other cases, because these coping mechanisms are used by influential people (e.g., family, friends, neighbors, celebrities, politicians, academics) other people who don't have the same fear or damage adopt the mechanisms and it become a trend. Then when asked about the behaviour people will respond, "I do it because I like it not because of anyone else".

These are some things I think some women started doing as a coping mechanism but they have now become a trend and "normal" behaviour merely expressing someone's preferences:

  1. Excessive or frequent plastic surgery- Originally used by accident victims and those born with deformities and then those with below average looks. Then it was adopted by wealthy celebrities who's careers depend on their looks. Now done by anyone to fit with high standards of beauty, including very attractive people who are perfectionists and see flaws where they do not exist. 
  2. Maintaining a below average weight- Originally the undesired state of people who were deprived of food or ill. Then adopted by individuals with anorexia who needed to feel in control (a mental illness). Then adopted by the fashion industry as beautiful and achieved through starvation, bulimia, or drugs. Now adopted by some women who see being underweight as beautiful and desirable to men. 
  3. Casual sex and being promiscuous- Originally only adopted by prostitutes or against a woman's will. Men were encouraged to do this prior to marriage. Then this was promoted after the advent of birth control. Now adopted by some women to get attention, affection, or love when they don't think they will get it otherwise. Also done by women who have been sexually abused and mixed up about love, sex, and the value of their bodies. Adopted by others because feminism taught them that women can and should do whatever men do. Others do it because it has been labeled "normal", "healthy", and "harmless" and they are told it is no big deal (i.e., slut shaming is wrong).
  4. Excessive make-up- Originally worn by prostitutes to distinguish themselves from other women. Worn heavily by actresses so that they could be seen on stage and on camera. Also worn heavily by women with bad skin or deformities. Now used by regular women for enhancement. Also used by some to express a certain style (e.g., goth, punk, gyaru etc.)
  5. Excessive drinking and doing drugs- Originally done by women of ill repute or at least by other women behind closed doors at parties (never before the general public). Also done by women to cope with abuse or trauma. Now done for similar reasons but also because it has been deemed "normal", "fun", or "because men do it so women should be allowed too" (e.g., ladettes). 
  6. Becoming workaholics- Originally done by women out of necessity to care for their families. Also done by women to prove that they could do the same work as men. Now done by some women who do find it fulfilling. However done by others because they feel pressure to do so and that it is "normal" to devote yourself to work, 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. 
  7. Excessive shopping- Originally done only by the wealthy who could afford it. Now done because it is seen as "normal" or even "good for the economy" to regularly consume, get the latest and newest thing, and keep up with the Jones'. Also done by addicts who cope with stress by shopping and may end up in debt or become hoarders. 
  8. Hair straightening- Here's a big one. Originally done by Black women because their natural hair was insulted, they couldn't get jobs, or they were mistreated if they did not have straight hair. This became a trend and then "the norm". Done today because it is the norm and sometimes women with natural hair are still teased and rejected. Similar statements can be made about using skin bleach. 
  9. "Mean mugging" or making one's face look mean- Done originally when someone was feeling angry or sad. Worn by women (and men) who live under constant stress or unpleasant circumstances because they feel bad. Then adopted by women (and men) because it kept men and other people from bothering them even though they were not unhappy. Then adopted by the hip hop industry as a sign of defiance (also punk and metal communities, rebellious teens etc.). Now adopted by fans of this music and considered "the norm" or "keeping it real" for Black people. Black women who do not mean mug are sometimes called "whitewashed". 
  10. Wearing dresses and feminine clothing- Originally done (I'm guessing) to distinguish women from men and women were only allowed to wear women's clothing. Then fashion was created and women dressed to be attractive to men and it fueled an industry.  Only people dressed in men's clothing were allowed to do certain things (e.g., vote, walk alone at night etc.) and men and women had different uniforms. Now women wear dresses and feminine clothing because society generally approves (some feminists don't), they get rewards for doing it (e.g., attention), and they may find it more attractive because it is so visible, heavily advertised, and more varied than men's clothing. There is no knowing if we are socialized to like it or if we like it because it looks good. 
  11. Supporting feminism- Many women (especially White women) supported it because they wanted to work, be treated as equals, and be protected by the law. Many supported it because they expected that it would make their lives better. Now some women support it because they agree with modern feminism. Others only support it because they feel they owe feminists for major things they did in the past and they are told that anything less is condoning their own oppression. Others have learned that they may be ridiculed or mistreated if they self-label as feminists so they resist that label. 
The point of this post is to say that some behaviours were started by people because they were hurt or desperate for protection but those behaviours became a trend and are now considered "normal". I touched on some of these issues in my posts about Victim Mentality, Some Black women are labeling themselves handicapped, and We don't live in bubbles (controversial posts so be warned). If you have not been hurt and are not desperate for protection then there is no need to adopt those defense mechanisms. We all have to examine the reasons why we do things and expect others to act in certain ways. Are you imposing defense mechanisms on others and telling them that behaviour is "normal" (e.g., dysfunctional behaviour is acting Black)? Are you adopting dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours because other people (damaged, at risk, and fearful people) are pressuring you to do so? Are you following a trend started by people who lived under totally different and dysfunctional conditions from you (e.g., thinking they are living during slavery or more racist times or living when women had no rights or protection)? Are these defense mechanisms actually helping you or harming you and are they actually necessary? You may just be shooting yourself in the foot for the wrong reasons. 


  1. This was a really good post it made me think about the things people do and why they do it.

    Most of the things on the list are very risky!
    1, 2, 3, 4 (Not risky but makes you look very crazy!), 5 (Extremely risky I don't even want to do drugs or drink!), 6 (I want to work hard AND love what I do, I don't want to be exhausting myself like that, stress!), 7 (Never done that before, but I feel if you are buying useless things that you can't use long-term (and give it away or sell when you're done, it's useless), 8 (Never done that for nobodies approval.. never had a job or people who were worthy of me changing myself, but I do wear straight hair sometimes),9 (I am guilty of doing these faces for cameras because I thought it looked cool, I read your post the other day about that, it opened my eyes so much! Not doing that EVER again)10 (I dress like that because I honestly feel so pretty I guess its something I would have to talk about with another woman that dresses feminine but it really does make me feel better about myself and the attention is an added plus)

    11 (I have controversial thoughts on feminism, so I'll just leave that one alone :))

  2. Hi Pearl Rose,

    Thanks for your comment! I haven't done the first three. I wore excessive make-up in high school before I knew what I was doing (I followed the instructions in a magazine lol). I did hair straightening before but went natural 4 years ago. Never did the mean mugging but I also don't take photos as much as other women...maybe they are bored sometimes?
    The feminine clothing I started because it fit better but the compliments and attention made me want to do it more! Plus I have yet to meet a guy who didn't actually get excited when I told him I prefer to only wear dresses and's because men love the way we look in these clothes!

    Yes 11 is controversial for sure :)

  3. I LOVE the attention an I'm not afraid to admit it! If you just ask guys what they prefer they'll tell you! A guy I spoke to said he liked long hair and nails, but he also likes a girl that looks pretty all natural. Which then got to me a little. But when I'm not wearing makeup I can still be pretty. I have had days where when I wake up I look like I just got beaten up! But I noticed girly and pretty pajamas do the trick. Of course you'd look like you just got beat up when yo wake up mummy walking in a huge toothpaste stained t-shirt and your dads sweat pants! lol

  4. Another great post, Elegance! :)

    Many of these behaviors or habits are so prevalent today, rarely do people put the origins in perspective.

    I also think another common coping mechanism for so many BW is the excessive need to care for damaged people, which I like to call "healing projects." I think so many of us do it to avoid fixing our own problems that prevent us from living our best life.

    There is nothing wrong with helping others, but some of us are doing it excessively.

    I almost got caught into that vortex, but thankfully I wised up.