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Self-Image: How to Get an Undentable One

Self-Image: How to Get an Undentable One By Snatching Love (and Marriage Proposals!) From the Jaws of Critique

by Kelly Diels

Warning: this piece contains numerous very important Public Service Announcements and so may be Irritating and Pompous and Idealistic which is to be expected since the three usually go together.

Do you get weak-kneed, lily-livered and lock-jawed in the face of criticism? Or do you get belligerent? How do you handle criticism and the slings and arrows of outrageous, offensive people?

I am a fragile flower.  My skin is thin and only barely and mostly unsuccessfully contains my pulpy emotions.  There was a time where you could blink at me absentmindedly and I’d be wounded for days over the imagined slight. I have been known to (as recently as oh, two days ago) call my boyfriend in the middle of the night and demand sweet words because I’m feeling vulnerable.  (Don’t you wish YOU were dating me???)

So, as you can imagine, criticism – well-intentioned, well-meaning, constructive, malicious or malignant – has never been my friend.  I avoid Criticism like it is infectious and that is also how I handle her benign younger brother, Feedback.

Emotional hemophilia

Recently, I wrote a piece that then got taken apart, once (okay, twice) in comments and then in a response-piece on another blog. This is not terribly unusual or a great travesty and I shouldn’t take it personally.

When you publicly create anything, even something as inconsequential as a blog, you will have hundreds – or a handful – of people telling you you’re an idiot. Still, given my history of emotional hemophilia, it should have been safe to predict that when someone wrote weird/nasty/critical or just plain not-kissing-my-ass stuff about my writing that I would be destroyed. Distraught.


I know! I’m shocked too!

In fact, this surprising criticism/feedback/unwarranted hooey hasn’t made even the slightest dent in my wobbly, rickety, held-together-with-shoelaces-and-safety-pins-and-fake-bravado armour. My self image is intact.  I am no longer a fragile flower. I am a rock. I am an island. I am Simon AND Garfunkel without the travesty that was their hair circa 1966.

Personal Development?

This might not be a big deal to all of you non-fragile flowers who are not praise-dependant, but I’m positively giddy over this novel development.  It feels suspiciously like personal development.

Maybe this new bit of personal strength can be explained away by a ratio. That ratio is 1:39.  Right now I receive one “I don’t love you, at all, or maybe only a little bit, so I think we should just be friends” for every thirty-nine “I’m calling the pope, you’re so holy-righteous-awesome that he needs to resign immediately and give you his job” comments.

And yes, in a related development, Sara Silverman is totally stealing my thunder.

Back to my ratio. Those numbers are hot but there’s more to this super sexy story that doesn’t get captured in that formula. For example, as a direct result of blogging for myself and other people I have received two marriage proposals.  One man is gay and the other was sereptitiously insane so I hereby, publicly decline both offers [PSA #1] but as you can see the outpouring of love far exceeds the hate.

So it may well be that I’m not growing as a person and am still a fragile, external-praise reliant flower but validation is hogging all my airspace the nasties can’t land. I’m okay with that.

Is it the wisdom of the ancients?

Or maybe I did something wise and mature (I know! I’m shocked too!) and thought about the place and perspective and agenda of the person offering the criticism.  What’s the deal?  Do they really hate my writing?  Am I really a crap writer and that’s the lesson being imparted?  Is this a lesson I need to learn?

Honestly, I took these general pieces about focus and letting go of cleverness far more personally than I did the criticism actually aimed at me, because those spoke to my actual worries and weaknesses.

And that’s because in most critical cases, it wasn’t really about me.  One of the guys who wrote smack about me (and it was only half-hearted smack because he said nice things too) writes in his bio that that he’s not really a douche, he just plays one online.

A lot of us do.

So that’s PSA #2: sometimes criticism is warranted and useful and you can learn from it if your ego is in check. But sometimes criticism says more about the offerer than it does the subject. And so you should just let it slide like water off your ducky back.

Maybe that’s the key.  Maybe thinking about the source and intention of the criticism allows us to laugh at -and yes, even enjoy – online douchery rather than react with a drunken flight on the wind beneath the wings of Grey Goose.

Because sometimes controversy is fun.  We like being outraged. There’s actual scientific research documenting this fun fact, which brings me to PSA#3: The revolution will be kvetched.

About the author: Kelly Diels bakes cupcakes and rages against the machine which means she is a writer and a mama and basically a superhero.  She totally wrote this bio herself.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kira October 14, 2009, 2:01 am

    I have no idea what you’re talking about? Probably says more about me than you … I’m a simple soul 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 7:56 am

      @Kira: the point is, will you marry me? We’re talking about marriage proposals, I think.

      • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:06 am

        @Josh. I’m telling Janette. I suspect she’s not down with bigamy.

    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:05 am

      Oh Kira, you totally got it :). You said it exactly. Buried in those loopy paragraphs was exactly that point: sometimes criticism says more about the offeror. And wow I love simple souls. We’re all very complex and emotional in my house and it is effing EXHAUSTING.

  • Suzannah October 14, 2009, 2:22 am

    I hate criticism, especially about something as near-and-dear to me as my writing. But then, a lot of the time the person criticizing is right. Usually it’s my husband, and I spend hours being mad at him, only to realize later than he had a darn good point. First reaction is always to be hurt. But, like you say, if you’re putting yourself out there for the world, someone isn’t going to like what you’ve got to say.

    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:07 am

      @Suzannah. I USUALLY hate criticism,too. That’s why I’m so confused/delighted: it isn’t bothering me as much, lately. Maybe this is maturity and I’m finally an adult? I’m totally telling my mom about this.

  • Mike CJ October 14, 2009, 3:34 am

    It’s an interesting subject this. I think we (as in the blogging community generally) don’t actually offer enough constructive criticism.

    On the odd occasion when I’ve posted a mildly critical (and I do mean mild) comment on other blogs, I somehow haven’t made it through moderation. It’s a shame, because I think debates in comments could be so much more stimulating.

    Anyone else share that view, or disagree?

    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:13 am

      I pretty much let everything through moderation unless it is actual hate speech or obvious spam. I think debate is actually the POINT of enabling comments on blogs. In theory blogs are part of the much vaunted Conversation, yes?

      So mildly critical, or constructively critical: awesome. Bring it on.

      I was talking about just straight up aggressive, nasty-for-the-sake of being nasty, ad-hominem attacks. Those says more about the offerer than the subject, for sure. And, strangely enough, doesn’t even hurt my feelings because it is so baseless.

      (One person referred to my ‘blogging is like the Wizard of Oz’ piece and said, “L. Frank would be rolling over in his grave.” I mean, seriously, have she read WofO? It is CRAZY. L. Frank was CRAZY. I’m (mildly) CRAZY. He’d LOVE anything I wrote – that is, if he didn’t think it was too sane and well-reasoned.)

  • Stefan October 14, 2009, 5:57 am

    @Mike CJ: I would say it depends on what you are criticising and whose blog. Often when it’s on smaller blogs the comment tend to be published without any answer from the blog owner. When it comes to a bit more famous people it will rarely go through moderation.

    Personally I prefer to approve all of my comments except those who are obvious spam. I actually like to create discussion in the comments and hopefully you end up learning something new. Just remember to not answer a criticising comment right away, since they might have a point while you brush it off in anger.

    @Josh: I highly recommend you to add threaded comments as a discussion setting. It becomes much easier to answer a comment then.

  • Ben (from TIC) October 14, 2009, 8:01 am

    Kelly and Josh,

    Harsh words of criticism can only be efficacious when they are said in love. Without love they wound. With love they wound and heal.


    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:15 am

      @Ben I think you are officially a Zen master. Or adequately therapized. Are you married? I’m collecting proposals.

      • Ben (from TIC) October 14, 2009, 1:30 pm

        I do self therapy now and zen.

        I love walks on the beach, waking up early, Coen Brothers movies, and cooking large portions of food all day on Saturdays. That’s to say, I’m married 🙂

        To keep your numbers up, I’ll round up some addicts of the digital word and send ’em your way. I’m sure they’ll fall in love since you manufacture their drug of choice.

  • Stephanie Smith October 14, 2009, 8:03 am

    Rockin post – reminds me of a funny conversation I had with my husband Frisco. He said something a little insensitive and although you have to know me well to see it, I do have a soft side. When he made his remark -I flipped back with “Hey, I’m F***in’ delicate, man!”. We both started cracking up since those 2 words don’t usually go together and now it’s a running joke.
    That first paragraph….I thought you were channeling my mom! She is getting better, but has a hard time believing in herself.
    I am working on not being belligerent about blog critiques also-you are right, some personas want to down others, whether the work was derserving of a bad or nasty comment or not.
    Excellent – I LOVED this post -it was true and witty and expressive!!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 9:24 am

      @Stephanie: Kelly always makes me laugh. And scratch my head and say “What?” But mostly laugh.

      @Ben: “efficacious!” Whoa there, Ben, you just won word of the day!

      • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:17 am

        @Josh. You don’t understand me because I’m DEEP. And effing delicate man, so watch it. (See Stephanie, it’s mine now)

      • Ben (from TIC) October 14, 2009, 1:12 pm


    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:16 am

      @Stephanie. You’re on notice. I’m stealing your catchphrase.

  • Philippe Til October 14, 2009, 10:09 am

    Great. I just solicited Josh to comment on MY blog.
    I’m looking forward to dent-proofing my self-image too!
    One has to admit: Kelly Diels is one tough cookie. A sense of humor is an undeniable trait in survivors (read “Deep Survival: who lives, who dies, and why” by Laurence Gonzales). The current economy is putting my business to test. This blog of literary gems and writing that rivals David Sedaris has already taught me a few lessons.

    • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 10:19 am

      @Philippe. I’m copying and pasting your comment that I’m a ‘tough cookie’ into a mass e-mail to all of my family members. Much hilarity will ensue. I will try not to cry. Thank you so much.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 10:51 am

      Philippe, I just saw that. I’ll be over in a bit. I’m a huge Sedaris fan. You’re on blasphemous grand. Careful.

      • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 11:07 am

        @Josh. I think he was comparing YOU to David Sedaris. I think that’s a compliment. I don’t know. I’m googling DS right now to find out.

        • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 11:11 am

          Update: Yes, it is officially a compliment. I now know who David Sedaris is (quiet, you, I’m Canadian. We don’t have NPR. I think. I don’t know. I don’t have cable) and he wrote a book called Naked, so he’s my new imaginary boyfriend.

          @Philippe. Look at that! You made me a little more culturally sophisticated today. Now I’m off to watch Maury so catchya later.

          JK. As I said, I don’t have cable.

          • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 11:26 am

            Kelly, Sedaris is great. Naked is good, but everything that came after is better, in my opinion. If you want Canadian Sedaris, look up David Rakoff and his book, Fraud. Very good and very funny.

        • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 11:27 am

          @Kelly: It was a compliment and I assumed it was directed at me, not you:) You’re good, sister, but you’re still at the kid’s table on this street.

          • Philippe Til October 14, 2009, 1:00 pm

            @Josh: Sedaris you are for the literary cunning.
            @Kelly: Sedaris you are for making me laugh in your self-deprecating tone.
            Everyone wins.

  • Jessica Marie October 14, 2009, 10:23 am

    I don’t mind criticism as long as it is helpful and has a real purpose. If someone is critical of my work so that it will improve and make me a better person than I can handle it. If I am criticized because someone is having a bad day and needs a punching bag I tend to punch (verbally) back. For me it is the delivery and intent of the criticism more than the criticism itself.

  • Casey October 14, 2009, 10:57 am

    I suppose another way to look at criticism is that at least people are caring enough about what you are saying to respond to it.

    Whats worse, a post that riles people up, or post that evokes nothing at all?

  • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 11:04 am

    @Casey. I tweeted the same thing (I tweet therefore I am? If I tweet it, it must be true?): If they’re talking smack about you, at least they’re talking about you.

    Being a praise-junkie is the logical extension of being an attention hound. Good, bad, ugly, it is all attention. Yay, attention.

    And why are we writing blogs if we don’t want people to respond? I want people to respond. Getting riled up is all the better. Controversy begets good traffic. Just ask Penelope Trunk.

  • Ronna Detrick October 14, 2009, 5:44 pm

    So, so beautiful, Kelly. I especially love the movement toward/awareness of personal development. Whether we like it or not, the opportunity for such is rife – in affirmation and love (or marriage proposals) as well as in criticism or rejection (and turndowns). Thanks, as always, for being raw, honest, and true!

  • Andrew October 14, 2009, 8:26 pm

    Kelly, I love this article. Your honesty and ability to express your frustration and learn from your experience is so refreshing.

    Personally I think there is very clear distinction between criticism and abuse. As Casey said it’s better to get some feedback, even if it’s not what you want, or expect to hear, rather than being ignored completely.

    There is not a lot you can learn from silence, but there is plenty you can learn from even the harshest critics.

    Abuse however is something to totally ignore!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 8:28 pm

      Hey Andrew, glad you made it. I think the distinction between abuse and criticism couldn’t be more clear. Abuse is perverse. It is made of whatever a stronger person gets out of attacking a weaker one. It preys on the vulnerable and steals confidence. It is about control and cruelty and depravity.

      Sorry–I’ve got some real issues with this. I’ve seen too much of it and I hate bullies. Glad you made it, though!

  • Andrew October 14, 2009, 8:35 pm

    Hey Josh, I’ve always been here, hiding in the wings.

    You know something that I’ve learned over the years is that bullies are bullies because of one of two reasons.

    1. They are jealous people who make an attempt to steal your thunder through their own bullying.
    2. They are afraid of their own shadow and compensate for that by being aggressive and abrupt.

    How I’ve learned to deal with them is for the 1st type, embrace them. They’ll crumble like a cookie. For the 2nd type, push back. They’ll run for the hills.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 14, 2009, 8:37 pm

      Andrew, I’m a push back person. And you’re right. Some of them are still running.

  • Kelly Diels October 14, 2009, 9:50 pm

    @Andrew. You’re so insightful. I usually embrace (I know, you’re all shocked) and you are RIGHT, people melt. You expect prickles but they’re really pears.

    @Ronna. I swear you’re blowing my head up like a balloon on a daily basis. Please don’t stop.

  • Oleg Mokhov October 21, 2009, 10:30 am

    Hey Kelly,

    If you truly are happy with who you are, nothing else matters.

    No amount of criticism will dent your self-image because you know who you are to be true. You believe in what you do and how you do it, so you don’t need others to validate you, and you can easily brush off comments telling you you’re wrong.

    Criticism becomes an external object. It’s like someone pointing at the grass and telling you its blue; it’s just not true in your reality, and it doesn’t phase you. If a criticism makes sense to you, you can consider it, but the point is they’re all on the same external level. They don’t get to you personally. Your self-image is undentable.

    Focus on what makes you happy. Live that confidently. You’ll know for sure that what you’re doing is at least right for one person: YOU. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t enjoy it so much. That builds confidence, which leads to outside opinions becoming neutral external objects rather than potent personal jabs.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story, and how you have been able to strengthen your self-image online,