It might be somewhat ironic for me to write an essay entitled “I’ve learned when to shut up” when I never actually seem to shut up but stick with me. I don’t make comments on people’s appearances, or at least I try really, really hard not to. That’s it. I’m not trying to convince you to copy me or to suggest that this makes me any happier or better or more easy-going than you. In fact I don’t really feel the need to broadcast this fact very often. I don’t take some moral high ground when it comes to personal comments, I just try not to make them.

I think it probably stems from the fact that I constantly had people criticising my appearance from the time that I was very young. My hair was too long or my clothes were too colourful or I presented too feminine or I didn’t have enough facial hair etc. And at this time when I was constantly being criticised, I used to also criticise people constantly behind their back. I make no secret of the fact that I was an extremely bitchy teenager who wasn’t anything like I am today.

But in the last few months, I’ve been making a special effort not to talk about people’s appearances unless it’s positive. I’m not saying I haven’t had slip ups, but I’ve really been trying and I think that’s what’s important.

Irish people don’t often have the same mind-set as myself when it comes to people’s appearances. We live in a culture where your business tends to be everyone else’s business and we’ll so often pass comments about friends, family and even strangers because why not? I understand this and I don’t try and stop people from making personal comments. Number one, that would be exhausting and number two, it’s not really my place to tell people how to be a decent human (unless they’re being really intentionally offensive).

So if people start a conversation about a certain person’s clothing or their hair or their use of make-up, I’ll generally detach somewhat from the conversation. I try to make this detachment somewhat subtle. I’ll look down at my phone for a minute or I’ll stare out the window or I’ll lean forward to pour myself another glass of wine. And then I hope that the conversation swiftly moves on to a point where I can join in chatting once again.

But often I’ll come up against a resistance to my detachment. People will tilt their head and look at me and ask “don’t you agree David.” It’s hard to know what to do. Most of the time I don’t agree, because I like to think I have quite unique preferences when it comes to standards of beauty (especially for Ireland), but I don’t want to join in the conversation. I’ll smile genuinely, muttering something about how I don’t talk about people’s appearances and hoping whoever it is leaves it at that. But I’m sorry to say that they rarely do.

They’ll either say “since when?” with a smirk, as though striving to improve myself is a bad thing or they’ll say something like “I’m entitled to my opinion.” I’m so sick of being told stuff like this when I’m actually not telling someone they’re not entitled to their opinion. If I can’t agree with your opinion or if I don’t really want to hear your opinion, that’s not me telling you that you can’t have it, I’m merely not interested in it.

What is this resistance that we have for people who are trying not to be bitchy? Why do we criticise those who don’t want to engage in a culture that hates women? Because most of the time, when someone’s criticising a person’s appearance, they’re talking about a woman.

Also, I have no problem if you tell me something like “I would never wear a dress like that,” or “I don’t personally like wearing much make-up” or “I’d rather leave the house in jeans than tracksuit bottoms.” That’s fine. Good for you. We all have our preferences. But there is no need to either give me examples of people who do the thing that you dislike or to point out someone doing it and then tell me about your distaste for it. It’s just unnecessary.

So if you want to give out about someone’s appearance, I’m not going to say anything. But don’t you dare get stroppy when I won’t join in the conversation. I’m not criticising you, I’m just living my life in the way that I think is healthiest for me and for my own wellbeing.

Read the things I didn’t know before I lost my virginity here.

Watch how I block out negativity below:

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