Sorry, Not Sorry: Things That Don't Require An Apology

By Erin Brown

It had been a long day in the trenches of mothering, working, striving to hit that ever-so-delicate balance of doing everything and feeling as though I’m losing.

SorryNotSorry-Sock-450x338I stumbled a bit walking across the living room and out of my mouth came, “I’m sorry.” A phrase I use so frequently and often, without thinking. It gave me pause this time as I had muttered it to a sock.

It’s funny at face value that in my exhaustion I had apologized to a small, inanimate object, except that this kind of “I’m sorry” has become a way of life for so many of us. A blanket statement we use for taking up any kind of space, anywhere. This particular evening as I stood staring at the sock, whose presence I felt I had somehow disrupted, and that was clearly not staring back at me, I decided I had had enough.

I have learned to say “I’m sorry” for standing, sitting, existing in spaces. I apologize when people bump into me, choose to get too close to me, or block my way of passage. I have learned to apologize before speaking, if I become passionate—and certainly if I cry.

My favorite way to move forward in any kind of growth productively is just to get curious about my own behavior.

After my sock stand-off, I started paying attention to when I apologize. What I found is that I’m not sorry. Not all of the time, anyway. Not for all of the things for which I usually apologize. It feels like a leftover habit from a time when I was obsessed with all of the ways I didn’t measure up. One more way to shrink myself, to disappear, to make myself easier to digest.

I notice this same behavior in so many of my female peers. Apologies before speaking up, if sharing an opinion or idea, if someone runs into them, and even before making completely reasonable requests. Apologies that are notably unnecessary.

Here are a few things that I am no longer sorry for (and thus will stop habitually making apologies for):

For my body’s appearance.

I’m not sorry I look the way I do. I’m not sorry if anyone finds displeasure in looking at me or if they can’t empower themselves to look somewhere else. I don’t agree that I am here to be looked at or that I could possibly conform my body to a standard to which everyone would agree it’s perfect. I’m not sorry for my bigness, I’m not sorry for my smallness. I’m not sorry.

SorryNotSorry-ErinTakingUpSpace-450x338For taking up space.

Part of being confident in my skin is being familiar with my body, even as it changes. I know how much room I take up on a couch, while standing in a crowd, in my clothing. I am perfectly okay with the space I require and I can’t keep running around apologizing for simply existing in spaces. If I am in someone’s way or need to request someone move, “excuse me” will suffice. And never again to a sock. I’m not sorry.

For my home.

If you happen to pop by on a Friday afternoon after a long week, it’s possible my home doesn’t look like a display model. Because it isn’t. And the truth is: I really don’t think anyone who is intimate enough to my life to just stop by is actually looking around my home to judge it. So I’ll stop pointing out the infraction that isn’t there. I’m not sorry.

For having feelings.

This is one I really put a halt to when I started public speaking. It’s a rare thing for me to speak with all my passion and not shed a tear or two. What I realized in doing so is that it only took away from my words or even the perceived level of professionalism in my presentation if I apologized for it. I have this misogynistic image burned into my head of an emotional woman “falling apart.” But when you speak through emotions instead of apologize for them as though your feelings are wrong, it only adds power to your voice. I have a lot of feelings. They make me passionate and driven and purposeful, they are not weakness. I’m not sorry.

For the way I’m dressed.

I don’t know how many times I have run into someone running errands and immediately apologized for “looking a mess.” When the truth is, I knew damn well what I looked like when I left the house. That was a clear choice. I don’t agree that leaving my house or running into people I know requires a full face of makeup or an amazing outfit. I actually don’t agree that anyone but me gets to decide what is appropriate for me to choose to look like outside of my home, so long as I’m not breaking any decency laws. I realize some people have very strict ideas for themselves and others about this. I’ve read all kinds of articles about the importance of mothers appearing “put together” at school drop off etc. But that doesn’t mean I have to adhere to those ideas or take to heart others’ judgements. Likewise, if I’ve spent more time on my appearance than others in my company that day, I don’t need to apologize for that choice either. I’m not sorry.

For what I chose to eat.

This is a space where even if I wasn’t saying “I’m sorry” explicitly, I was often justifying my choices or finding another way to apologize to whomever I was dining with. Particularly if I was choosing to eat something commonly deemed unhealthy in a public space. Perhaps out of insecurity or fear of scrutiny I habitually spoke at length as to why I was ordering whatever I chose. Again, I really don’t believe anyone I choose to eat with is really evaluating my decisions or appetite. But this is a space I need to reign myself in. I’m not sorry.

SorryNotSorry-ErinSayWhat-450x338For speaking.

Before asking a question, clarifying something being said or even just sharing an opinion.. The first words out my mouth were usually “I’m sorry.” I’m not even sure I can begin to articulate why.

Perhaps because I was taking up space in a conversation with my voice? Maybe a fear my question would seem silly or my opinion would fall on deaf ears? Instead of just being direct, I would coat whatever words I was choosing to speak with an apology. But I don’t believe I need to apologize for speaking, for having questions, for participating in conversations. I’m not sorry.

Do you also find yourself apologizing at times you don’t need to, and don’t even mean it? Has it become second nature to apologize in some form for your body, for taking up space, for saying what you mean? Have you too apologized to a sock?

It’s not that I think apologies are not important. To the contrary.

I believe sometimes saying, “I’m sorry” is the only way to move forward in important relationships.

But none the above have anything to do with that. In fact, it could even be argued that all those apologies take away from genuine ones. How sincere does an apology for a grievance to my husband sound if 20 seconds earlier, I offered the same words to a discarded gym sock?

So I’m committed to apologizing when I mean it, and letting go of all these spaces in which apologies don’t belong. I’m committed to freeing my headspace of all the big and small ways I’m asked to shrink, so that I can live a big, bold life. Sprinkling it with “I’m sorry” just isn’t a part of that for me. Not anymore.

Not sorry.

Do you struggle with body image? Have you ever…

  • Felt anxious about clothes shopping or wearing certain clothes?
  • Dreaded going to an event (like a reunion or a wedding) — or even skipped the event altogether — because you felt too self-conscious about how you looked?
  • Found yourself not wanting to be in pictures or videos, or hiding behind other people in the picture to shield your body?
  • Scrolled through social media and felt worse and worse as you went?

If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.

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About the author:  Erin Brown

Erin Brown is a writer, speaker, feminist, and activist. Her work focuses on women and autonomy, which includes sharing her personal narrative and helping women own the power of their voice. Erin is the author of Showing All The Way Up: A Guide To Confidence and As Is: A 21 day practice for finding a home and peace in your skin. Learn more about Erin on her website and connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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