Finding the mean point of ‘brave’ – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Finding the mean point of ‘brave’

Finding the mean point of ‘brave’

This week, we can identify those people who are brave on the internet according to their decision to post a photo of their face, sans makeup, with pock marks and wrinkles and the other things that the cowardly amongst us usually hide. That’s how being brave is defined week commencing Sunday, August 18.

Some weeks earlier, we defined brave based on whether we posted a photograph of our bodies in their full glory, with shimmering stretch marks and breasts sagging like socks with marbles in them and thighs that don’t just meet in the middle but actually don’t diverge again until the ankle. That was brave, then.

Before that, confessing to unpopular opinions that we hold, secretly. Before that, breastfeeding photos.

We meet collectively at a point of pedestrian revelation. On a platform where we can search for–and find–the most devastating vulgarities in seconds, by voice recognition, we take photos of ourselves before we’ve covered our shameful lack of foundation and loose powder and label that as brave.

The generic mean point of brave.

Bravery is not singular or objective. We can’t put brave on others, determined by our own subjective definitions. I can’t say, “It’s brave for the girl with burn scars to show them, but it’s not brave for Miranda Kerr because she’s beautiful with or without makeup,” because maybe the girl with burn scars has stopped fighting with her injury or maybe Miranda Kerr has a tiny mole that no one else can see but that makes her knuckles white.

These common braveries aren’t compelling us to be brave, but to be unified. If a women’s publisher suggested that we demonstrate our bravery not by Instagramming our skin–blemished or unblemished–but by taking feminine hygiene supplies into war-torn Rwanda, maybe we would. Maybe we would hashtag it #braveinrwanda and photograph ourselves in tiny aeroplanes with parachuted boxes.

But even then, we wouldn’t all be showing our bravery. For some, the fear is of travel. For some, tampons. For others, war. Some people might not be afraid at all.

This morning, I went to the supermarket to buy dog food. The dog food is way down in the last aisle, far from the door, and far from escape. When I did it, I felt brave. But how can I celebrate my bravery, when bravery itself has been boiled down to a beige genericness that may or may not apply to those who participate? When I came home from the supermarket, I called my dad, which didn’t make me feel brave but might have made others feel brave.

I don’t even mean that we should be activists instead of posting photos on the internet, or that we should be making a real difference instead of collectively sighing at how we’ve been conditioned by society to cover our flaws or whatever. But why aren’t we celebrating each of our abilities to be brave, the way we conquer our various fears on small or large or in-between levels every day, the bravery that matters to us and to our sense of worth, instead of looking for the mean point at which bravery is singularly defined as being “the ability to take a photo of our faces without makeup” or “boob photos”?

Every time this goes around, we minimise the people who really do need to summon great courage to participate, and ourselves for choosing to slap bravery on something towards which we felt indifferent.


  • Kelly Exeter

    August 20, 2013 at 1:24 pm Reply

    I have so many complex thoughts around the word ‘brave’. I just typed a loooooooong comment but it came out sounding so judgey I deleted it.

    I don’t want to tell people how they get to use a word with such highly subjective meanings … but 99% of the ways it gets used makes me cringe

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      August 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm Reply

      That’s pretty much the crux of it for me, too. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t people who are being genuinely brave in posting photos of themselves without makeup, just that it does rather diminish the meaning of it.

  • Rachael Spencer-Smith

    August 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm Reply

    Clever lady. All I can say is BRAVE-O! :)

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      August 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm Reply

      Thank you lovely! I owe you an email tomorrow as well!

      • Rachael Spencer-Smith

        August 20, 2013 at 11:09 pm Reply

        No worries. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant post! You should do a PhD, seriously.

  • traceyb65

    August 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm Reply

    much food for thought Anna, my standard response to how loosely ‘brave’ is attached to something (to me) as trivial as a photo without makeup is to sneer … that such a simple act might be a massive personal challenge to some doesn’t always enter my mind. the lighthearted note of the #convoyofcleavage took a deeper tone when a Twitter friend posted her mastectomy scars … a reminder that brave is deeply personal. xt

    • katesaysstuff

      August 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm Reply

      Tracey you’ve articulated what I was thinking much better than I was about to.

      • Anna Spargo-Ryan

        August 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm Reply

        Thank you both, I’m glad it resonated in some way :)

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