When people call someone "brave," I trust that they mean it as a compliment almost 100 percent of the time. But the problem is, sometimes, this word is used to describe things that should be considered the norm — not something that necessarily needs to be brave at all. And since bravery means overcoming fear, telling someone they're brave implies that you assume they're scared — often of something our culture teaches us to be afraid of, but which really shouldn't be frightening at all.
Of course, there's a reason even everyday acts seem brave in our culture: Because people get shamed and ridiculed for them. While we have no good reason to make a big deal out of anyone's body hair, for example, women are frequently criticized for not shaving, so a woman who doesn't shave may be risking criticism — thereby making simply having body hair a frightening idea.
However, since bravery is defined by how we ourselves feel about an action, other people don't get to tell us we're being brave. Only I know whether or not it took any courage for me to get out of bed without makeup this morning. Nobody else gets to draw conclusions about my own internal struggle or lack thereof.
Here are some things that may or may not be brave, depending on how difficult they are for each individual, but should one day not be considered brave. There's nothing "abnormal" or negative about them, and it's long past time our culture realized it.
1Showing Your Body
Women, especially plus-size women, often get told they're being brave for wearing bathing suits or other revealing clothing. But we have no reason to be scared of others seeing our bodies, because if anyone takes the fact that we're showing skin as an invitation, that's their problem, not ours. And a plus-size person showing off their body should not be treated any differently from a straight-size person doing so, because both can be just as beautiful — and our right to be seen should not depend on our "beauty," anyway.
2Wearing Clothes That Stand Out
When I used to wear more colorful and patterned clothes, my fashion choices got labeled "bold" — and honestly, that label made me more uncomfortable than anything I was wearing. "Bold" implies "risky," and what exactly was I risking? Nobody ever made fun of my clothes, and I had no reason to care if they did. Calling someone's fashion choices bold or brave draws attention to their critics, whether they're real or imaginary, and implies that we should feel self-conscious about our style.
3Not Shaving (Or, In Other Cases, Shaving)
As someone who doesn't shave my legs, I'll admit it did make me a little anxious to wear shorts without shaving at first. But only because I was taught that it should make me anxious. This anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is why it's so important not to imply that people should be afraid. When we tell women to shave their legs, we teach them that walking outside with their legs in their natural state is scary, and we imply the same thing when we say that not shaving is brave.
Conversely, we teach men not to shave their legs, since shaving (and primping in general) is considered a performance of femininity. So, if a man shaves his legs or pays more attention to his appearance than he's "supposed" to, he's considered brave. But all grooming choices should be considered the norm, no matter what they are; it's just a matter of personal preference.
4Talking About Sex
People who read my articles about sex often tell me how "brave" it was for me to talk about the topic — and it always leaves me thinking, "Wait, did I say something embarrassing in that one?" The answer, of course, is always "no." I have nothing to be embarrassed about. But by assuming I'm embarrassed, people imply that I do have a reason to be. Having a sex drive, experiencing sexual problems, and having questions about sex are all totally normal things. Yes, it takes courage for some people to talk about sex because of the shame many of us harbor. But dispelling that shame requires destigmatizing sexuality, which in turn requires treating open conversations that treat sex like no big deal.
5Going Places Alone
Whether for traveling alone or just going out alone for the night, women are often assumed to be brave or even to be pitiable because they're lacking travel companions. This is also something that needs to be destigmatized. We need to challenge all the fear-mongering that claims women are inviting trouble by going out by themselves. You can get so many new experiences and meet so many interesting people when you go on adventures alone, and there should be no shame or pity in being spotted at a concert, at a restaurant, or in a hostel unaccompanied.