stop apologizing: a story that is secretly about Natalie Portman

My friend was flipping through a magazine, making appreciative sounds towards a series of photos of a model with a flower in her hair.

“These are so good! I love this!”

I looked over her shoulder. She paused on the next page, squinted, and tilted the magazine a little.

“Wait,” she said, “Doesn’t that look a little like…” and then she stopped.

“Like what?” I said. “Like who?”

“No, I don’t know. I was gonna say, she looks a little bit like me.” She looked immediately guilty. “I mean, not a lot, but just a little—there’s something about her face from that angle. Do you know what I mean?” She pushed the picture closer to me, still talking. “I’m not at all saying that I’m that pretty. Obviously she’s really beautiful and I am not. But for a second she just reminded me—“

“No, no,” I said quickly, “I can totally see it! It’s the shape of her nose. Her features are sort of delicate like yours. I can definitely see it.”

“Yeah, right? I mean, I’m much less—“

“You’re beautiful,” I said.

“Aw,” she said, laughing and shaking her head no. “You don’t have to say that.”

She is. And I did have to say that.

I catch myself doing it, too. That thing you do when you suddenly realize you’re complimenting your own appearance. When you’ve gone too far and implied that maybe you’re pretty.

It’s like a nervous reflex. I really think it’s tinged with fear. What if someone corrects me, and tells me, alright now, honey, let’s not get carried away

(you’re no Queen Amidala! source)


I have a friend who never does this. She’s Russian-American, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a cultural difference. She says things like “Of course, everyone was checking me out,” and “Obviously, he loved my dress” and “I know I look good right now.” And she doesn’t sound like she’s bragging and obnoxious and conceited. She sounds like she owns a mirror and has looked in it before. She smiles playfully sometimes when she says these things, as if to acknowledge that people aren’t really supposed to say them.

I laugh aloud in surprise. Did she just say that? I shake my head in fond disbelief.

But she’s right.

I am not beautiful like her, I rationalize. Which is why I am still not allowed to talk the way she does. I am also not Russian, so no one will say, “She’s a fiery Russian!” or whatever it is that people say. Even though once a guy yelled at me in the street “You Russian?” and I yelled back “a little!” because I definitely am a little Russian, somewhere back there in history. The point is, it doesn’t count.

I don’t really want to draw attention to my appearance because what if it turns out that there’s nothing there worth paying attention to? Because what if some comment I make causes people to wonder why I think I’m so great? Because what if I accidentally imply that I am stunning, and that would be absurd and everyone would have to laugh at the absurdity of that idea.

What if I look arrogant and misinformed and oblivious?

Even movie stars and supermodels are supposed to find, memorize, and readily identify their own physical flaws, to prove that they are real people who we can get to know through magazine interviews with titles like “What she REALLY thinks about love, her hair, and being the ‘it’ girl of the year.”

Oh my god. It’s shocking. She thinks her thighs are too fat! They’re not fat at all! She thinks her eyes are too big! But that’s her most famous characteristic! She thinks her boobs are too perky! She is eating a burger in this picture, as though she eats them all the time!

She is insecure like us. It’s refreshing. I’m glad it hasn’t gone to her head. I’m glad she doesn’t think she’s too pretty.

I’m not really sure why I’m worried. So what, if someone thinks I’m arrogant? So what, if someone thinks I’m not that gorgeous? Wouldn’t it be better to go through life feeling gorgeous anyway? Or at least pretty. I’ll take pretty.

It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while, I think I’m ravishing. I think I’m awesome looking. Once in a while, I momentarily adore the awkward girl in the photo with the round eyes and the strong nose and the confused hair. I own her. And I’m proud of her, the way I am of my Dinotopia collection. I even like the places where the binding is worn, because that proves it’s really mine.

(it’s so awesome it gives me chills. source)

Occasionally, I think my legs are perfect at this length, not because they look good next to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s legs, but because they are mine, and I don’t have to stand next to her anytime soon anyway.

Once and again, I am content and pleased with this whole person that I happened to be.

And the rest of the time, I am apologizing.

I am backing away slowly, my hands up, waving placatingly. I am making sure no one gets the wrong impression. I’m not a threat! 

Oh, I don’t know if I’d look good in that…Maybe if my legs were longer.

I couldn’t pull that off because of my arms.

Yes, she is gorgeous! And she is gorgeous, and of course, she is gorgeous. Oh, and her! I didn’t even see her. Yup! I agree. There’s just something about big boobs… I don’t even really need to wear a bra—ha! Ha! I’m basically twelve, developmentally! Except for my thighs. That’s where all that pie I just ate went!

But you know what? Secretly, Natalie Portman has always reminded me a little of myself. Something about her face. The round eyes, maybe. I can’t exactly place it. Maybe it’s nothing to do with her features at all. Maybe it’s something about the way she moves, her expressions. I can’t explain. But once when I was a teenager I said something about it to someone and they laughed and were like “Are you kidding me?” and I realized that I sounded ridiculous and delusional because Natalie Portman is famous and famously beautiful and I am just a normal person with an awkward face.

Sometimes we’re watching a movie with her in it and I have to resist the urge to lean over and whisper to Bear, “She reminds me so much of myself!”

Because who do I think I am, exactly?

But now that I think about it, I’m not sure why it’s a secret that Natalie Portman reminds me of myself.

(I swear, it’s not actually the buzz cut! I thought it before that! source)

And I know exactly why I’m always apologizing, but I want to stop.

It was true—my friend looked like the model in the magazine. The only difference was their hair. Hers is brown, the model’s was red. But even if she had compared herself so another model who to me looked nothing like her, would it really have mattered? And if she had said, “I would look amazing in that dress she’s wearing. I have the legs for it,” would there be something wrong with that? And EVEN if she had stood up and yelled “I am friggin’ gorgeous!”

Well, sure, that would’ve been a little weird, and I would’ve worried about the neighbors since this is a new apartment and I want to make a good impression and I get all anxious about the volume on the TV. But really—whatever. It would be better for her to think that. It would be better for us all to think that.

But at the very least, it would be better for us to stop apologizing.

*   *   *

Do you ever just admit to people that you like the way you look?

Unroast: Today I love the way I sometimes just throw on the most comfortable thing I own and walk to the park in it. There was a time when I didn’t really do that because I thought I had to look better to go outside. No, for real.

So sometimes women and girls send me pictures of themselves with new, short hair. I love it. This is one from a reader named Isabel and it made me so happy. Speaking of looking gorgeous:

Isabel says:  I’ve been chemically straightening or braiding my hair with extensions since I was 8 years old.  I haven’t seen my natural hair literally since childhood.  As a black woman the whole issue sooooo fraught.  Some people will tell you aren’t being true to yourself if you’re not wearing your hair natural; other people give you real push back when you talk about going natural because they don’t want to do it, but feel threatened by it.  Hair, for black women, is this really charged, political issue and it took a long time for me to muster up the courage to do this.  Two days ago I took out my braided extensions and then yesterday I went to the salon and told them to cut off everything that was chemically straightened.  At first I was terrified that I’d accidentally ended up with my father’s Afro from 1987, but the hair stylist showed me what to do and as soon as I threw on some big earrings I loved it!  I’ll probably post on my own blog about this at some length (haha) at some point, but I wanted to send you my picture as well to honour the fact that your courage helped give me courage as well.  



Kate on August 13th 2012 in beauty, being different, body

37 Responses to “stop apologizing: a story that is secretly about Natalie Portman”

  1. T.K. responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    that’s funny cause when Natalie was pregnant and had the rounder cheeks so you couldn’t see her bone structure as much (cause really, does anyone in the world have her bone structure???) i thought we kind of looked alike. and my ex thinks that you and I look a lot alike. so by that extension, it makes perfect sense that you would see yourself in her. at least it does to me :)

  2. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    @T.K. I agree with all of this logic.

  3. Melanie responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    First of all, I TOTALLY see the Natalie Portman thing. And she is amazing looking. And so are you.

    I say outrageous self complimenting things quite a bit. And I’ve often been told, “You are the only person I know that can come off as confident without sounding arrogant.” I think that’s a great compliment. But you know what? I don’t care if people mistake it for arrogance. I like myself, and I have nothing to be ashamed of for liking myself.

    Isabel’s hair is amazing. I love it.

  4. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    You rock. And I want to say that to you all the time!

  5. NB responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    This made me laugh with recognition, because even before this post, I would have picked Natalie Portman as your celebrity doppelganger. It’s not your hair, exactly. Or maybe it is, but also something about your eyes, and the curve of your jawline and where your lips sit on your face.

    But can I just say, now that you’ve put the comparison in all of our heads: She is beautiful. You are beautiful. But your face? Seems so capable of exploding into this gorgeous, unabashed, pure expression of joy in a way that not *all* faces (even famously beautiful faces) can—like its just there, hiding out around a very mischevious, very heartfelt corner. And that, friend-from-the-internet, is unbelievably gorgeous.

    (And now I’ve told you things about your face, because hi, am creepy person on the internet. The point it: YAY for faces! Let us all take a step back, look in the mirror, and embrace them and acknowledge how completely rocking they are, even when not covered in Star Wars makeup)

  6. Laurie S. responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I think I look like Natalie Portman sometimes, too! And sometimes when I catch myself in the mirror at a different angle, I think I may bear a slight resemblance to Keira Knightly or Emma Watson. And, in those moments, I feel like a totally smokin’ hotcha-mamma.

    I think most ladies in the world catch glimpses of famously pretty people in the images staring back at them from the mirror. Maybe in the flash of her smile, maybe in the shape of her eyes. That’s the moment of triumph! And I don’t think one should have to apologize for feeling like a badass.

    That being said, some people *can* just be killjoys. Plenty of people will scrunch up their noses, tilt their heads, and say, “Eh, no. No, I don’t really see it at all. You don’t look like her at all.”

    So, Kate, thanks for being one of those awesome people who doesn’t snuff out another person’s moment of badassery. And, for the record, I think you look plenty like Natalie Portman.

  7. katilda responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I. LOVE. DINOTOPIA. Also, this topic you’re discussing is one of the reasons i like volunteering to the special olympics so much….i love the way the athletes celebrate themselves. They are free with their praise of their fellow athletes and that is admirable and great — they treat each other’s successes like its their own, even if it means they don’t get the gold medal or whatever. But more than that, i love the way they unabashedly champion their own achievements. There was one adorable basketball player with downs syndrome who would yell at the top of his lungs and run down the court with his fists in the air every time he did something good. And then, if you ever get in a conversation with an athlete, they will tell you exactly everything good they accomplished that day and all the prizes they won or almost won. I love it so much. There is no shame in championing themselves.

  8. AngusPrime responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    This is the reason i only wear shirts that say 100% lean beefcake. So I dont have to deal with complimenting myself. Everybody just knows.

    My only other shirt says “more diesel than vin diesel”. Its custom. Because i have money like that.

  9. Janet T responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Kate, I can completely see the resemblance- you would totally rock the queen amindola headdress- my celebrity doppelganger is Kate Hudson- even though she is 20 years younger. When Almost Famous came out, my best friend called me and said go see this movie- she looks just like you at that age. My husband thought so too. Me? I can see it, but honestly, I was never that cool.

  10. Mindy responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    I love this post! I’ll admit, I sometimes catch myself in the mirror and I think, wow! She is gorgeous! Who wouldn’t love her? It helps me get through the days where the mirror doesn’t like me so much. ;) I wish we all felt more comfortable complimenting ourselves. I have pretty awesome arms and shoulders… I get compliments on them all the time… and even though I know they’re awesome, I never know what to say in response. Usually a thank you, but I always feel like I should say something like, well… my torso is short, and my deodorant always balls up in my armpits, and my waist is straight up and down… you know, make sure they know that I don’t think I’m perfect. ;)

  11. Gaby responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    So much to say about this post! But I”ll stick to the basics because I”m supposed to be working :X First of all it IS a Russian thing! My first yoga teacher and the one who certified me, I call her yoga mom because we spent so much time at the studio together….anyways, she’s from Kazakstan, and during our training when we’d have heart to hearts with all the women in my group and reveal our darkest worries and stresses and self conciousness, she told us Russians don’t have that. I mean, of course you have insecurities, but generally the women are taught to think they’re the hottest things to grace this planet. No matter what they look like, you put on a tight dress, you put on make up to go to the market, some high heels and then flaunt all you’ve got! She told us that all of us need to do that! We don’t have to be Russian to think we’re gorgeous.
    Second thing, I can totally see the Natalie Portman thing! Especially with the buzz cut. I was told once “I’m sure you get this all the time, but you look so much like Natalie Portman!” and my response was “no I’ve never heard that before but you’re now my favorite person ever!” I guess that means we’re both beautiful :)
    Lastly, while I still think I leave a lot to be desired body wise, I’ve been feeling good about my face lately. I have all the same complaints, big nose, sharp features, but occasionally I look head on in the mirror and think I am frickin adorable! I went on a date a while ago and I looked in the rearview mirror before getting out of the car to meet him and though man, he’s just going to be staring at my cuteness across the table the whole time! Oddly enough this guy never called me back but that doesn’t really take away from how cute I looked.

  12. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I was hoping someone would have read and loved Dinotopia!! So amazing!!
    And also amazing that you volunteer at the special olympics

  13. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I love this. I love that you thought this guy you were meeting would be unable to help thinking about how cute you are. He probably was.

  14. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I have that problem with deodorant perpetually. But I think I’m still going to do a triumphant fist pump whenever it’s called for. Which is a lot.

  15. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Also, can I just say:
    I love how many people see themselves in Natalie Portman
    I am sort of amazed that people actually think I look like her

  16. Kate responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Scroll to number 11, Brendon O’Connor:
    I laughed a lot

  17. Bethany responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I definitely see the resemblance! And she’s one of my favorite actresses. She’s gorgeous…so you know what thaaaat means…

  18. Karen responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    My husband says I remind him of Demi Moore. I always say No Way. But inside Im saying, Really! Wow! Shes beautiful. Could I really be beautiful too?
    Ive always wanted to be beautiful. I dont know why. Its not like beautiful people are intrinsically more worthwhile or better. Right? But we want it, oh yes we do.
    Yeah, I can see and Natalie. Just like me and Demi.

  19. Sheryl responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    When I admit that I think I look good, and I sometimes do, it’s usually very specific and I don’t really give myself the credit. Like, I think I look good in this dress – I’m giving the dress at least half the credit. Which isn’t really fair. Or else I laught it off as a joke, which also isn’t really fair.

    I’m envious of your Russian friend, who is comfortable with her own beauty and with just owning it.

  20. morgaine responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    The first time I visited this blog and saw your picture, Natalie Portman came instantly to mind.

  21. Emily G responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I recently described myself as a mix of Winona Ryder (circa Reality Bites), Fiona Apple, and Kat Dennings. And I thought nothing of it!

    I remember at work once I overheard two girls talking about how much they loved their bodies and it made me really happy to hear. Ever since I made the decision to speak outloud more about it because I think most people prefer that than people putting themselves down.

  22. bonita responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    My brother-in-law says i look like Uma Thurman. Can’t see it myself, but hell, I’m hardly going to argue with someone thinking I look like an uber-babe, am I?
    Isabel looks fab.u.lous!
    And you, Kate, absoslutely look like Natalie, you gorgeous thing, you.

  23. contrary kiwi responded on 13 Aug 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    I can think of no celebrity that I look like, but that’s ok. Not even Natalie Portman, even though my hair is buzzed that short.

    I tell people all the time that I think I am gorgeous. If someone gives me a compliment, I will often either say “thanks, I know” or “thanks, aren’t I?”. When I tell people that I think I’m beautiful, I usually get a surprised laugh in response. I’m sure some people are disagreeing with me, and most are just surprised that I’d actually agree with their compliment, given that the usual “womanly” response is to give some reason that we’re not attractive.

    And do you know what? It feels great to tell other people that I’m gorgeous. I started doing it before I felt it – I’d occasionally feel great, but I’d say I looked good way more often than I felt good. These days, I feel good about how I look almost all the time. Except for my unshaven armpits, which are brand new (and therefore scary!), I am not at all insecure about any part of my body probably 90% of the time these days, and it’s fantastic.

    Nobody has accused me of being arrogant yet, but if they do I will not be bothered. I don’t use my belief in my own beauty to get things off people, or to hurt others. It does no harm to another person and it means that I’m happier. A happier me means a more pleasant and productive me, so I’m really doing the world a favour by thinking I’m gorgeous!

    And you are gorgeous too. And so is Isabel. I’m only just learning about the significance of hair for black women, and I am so happy that Isabel is learning to love the hair that is a part of her. She looks beautiful!

  24. Kay responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 3:03 am #

    omg Dinotopia!! Forgot how much I liked that book. I thought of the Natalie Portman connection when you debuted the buzz cut. It’s true, there is something similar about you two and not just that. Mine is Anna Paquin. Our facial features don’t look much alike (though we have the same coloring) but the faces/expressions she makes remind me of myself.

  25. Alpana Trivedi responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 8:02 am #

    When I was much younger, my father and aunt used to tell me that I look like this Indian actress named Farah Naaz. Of course, she’s probably retired by now. I remember thinking it’s neither here nor there that someone thinks I look like someone famous.

    Regarding the apologizing, it seems that for women it’s a double-edged sword. We seem to reassure our friends if they criticize themselves, but if they actually say that they think they’re beautiful or gorgeous, the reaction is one of discomfort (i.e. “Well, SHE’s uppity” or “That was so vain”). Seems like we can’t win either way. We’re supposed to be confident, but “not too confident.” And it seems that there’s social acceptability in certain looks more than others. Being put-together, matching, and looking youthful enough means that you’re “allowed” a little bit of vanity. But looking unconventional and being confident about that is somehow seen as “self-delusion.” Like I said, at that point, you just have to say, “To hell with society. I AM gorgeous and I’m going to say it.”

  26. Bethany responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 8:25 am #

    This is making me wonder who I look like? I don’t think anyone. Someone once said a brunette Kathryn Heigel (or however you spell it).

    I have the big nose thing going on. Not enough women with big noses in the magazines, I say!

  27. Arien responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 10:39 am #

    1. I love this post. I compliment myself around people I’m comfortable with (especially my boyfriend!), but the taboo is definitely there. A lot of my “bragging” also has to do with putting on muscle, which can make it both more acceptable (I’m not being bitching by bragging about weight loss, I guess?) but also just weird.

    2. Dinotopia! I’m visiting my parents and decided to get rid of some of my old books, but Dinotopia was immediately on my keeper list. I get happy just seeing the spine on my bookshelf. Incidentally, I remember it as being pretty pro-women/women-friendly for a book that centers on 2 guys.

    3. Thanks for writing your blog! I always enjoy it.

  28. sami responded on 14 Aug 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Every time I see Toni Collette I think of my mum. There’s not a huge physical resemblance (just a little maybe) but I think it’s the way she ‘is’. She’s been famous in Australia for a LONG time so that’s years and years of seeing her and going ‘wow!! She reminds me so much of mum!!’ every time she pops up on the telly :) I look pretty much identical to my mum, just 20 years younger, but strangely I don’t see myself in Toni. Maybe I’m not as aware of how I move? Or my facial expressions? Not sure. Very strange. But interesting!

    My boyfriend looks like a cross between Jason Statham and Sid from Ice Age ;D he has the sexy manliness of Jason and the dorkyness of Sid. Weird combo but I wouldn’t want him any other way. It was actually him that noticed the resemblances and pointed them out to me and I went ‘hey yeah!’ and he was exactly right. Are men better at this? Are they less self conscious?

    Also I LOVE ISABELS HAIR. I hardly ever see women with hair like this in real life but I wish I did because it’s super cute. Also her skin is amazing. She is great :)

  29. Fuchsia responded on 15 Aug 2012 at 10:55 am #

    People used to tell me that I looked just like Keira Knightley (I did a bit) and it was funny, being told that used to make me feel beautiful even though (pretty as she is) I wouldn’t have chosen to look like her. It was more it felt good to be identified with somebody that most of the world concedes to be beautiful, and it almost became a part if my identity! People say, ‘you resemble someone classed as beautiful’ Not ‘you are beautiful’ but if you claim the resemblance it’s seen as conceited… I don’t look like Keira Knightley anymore, but I do like my face a lot.

  30. Heavy responded on 15 Aug 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    First off, Kate, I totally see Natalie in you (or the Kate in her perhaps, not sure who preceded who, teehee). There really is a lot to be said for knowing what is great about ourselves. It took me years to just be able to say “thank you” to compliments but after that I quickly made the leap to “this is what’s awesome about me.” I figure I need those things to offset what’s less than awesome about me! Thanks for posting my hair pic and thanks to all of you who posted kind comments about it! Each day with it is still an adventure (grin) but I’m enjoying it!

  31. Jennifer responded on 15 Aug 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Ugh, I have the hardest time talking myself up. I was thinking about this recently… I’m unemployed and have been job interviewing, and I have THE HARDEST TIME bragging about my ‘good qualities’. And instead of saying things like “I am smart and capable and a hard worker!” it comes out sounding like “Umm… well… I think I work hard?”. This is probably part of the reason why I haven’t gotten a job yet, I do not interview well.

    Also: I totally see the Natalie Portman thing. Totally.

  32. Self Praise and other Endangered Species | Manolo for the Big Girl responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:10 pm #

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  33. Nomi responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    People have said I look like Annette Bening, Nadia Comaneci (former olympic gymnast), and most recently “a young Judi Dench.” I can’t see any celebrity resemblances in anyone, including me, because I have prosopagnosia, where you can’t recognize faces. I can’t even recognize the celebrities themselves, in movies. But I also have the self-esteem thing, so those kinds of compliments always make me uncomfortable and I wind up saying something that probably offends the speaker, like “How can you think that?” or “Not really.” I hate that, but I’m so floored in those moments that I just want to run away.

  34. Beth {Southern Bluestocking} responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 12:26 am #

    So very well said.

  35. Dane responded on 19 Aug 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    “She’s Russian-American, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a cultural difference.”

    I can’t speak to the experience of Russian-American women, but I had a serious relationship with a Russian-Canadian man for a year and half, and he encouraged me to be what I thought of as arrogant and talk about how good I looked, what I thought other men were thinking of me… It may be a cultural thing. His female Russian friends were also very confident in their appearance.

    I ultimately think this was a good thing for me, because I’m still that confident most of the time even though we broke up years ago. Being nice to yourself is addictive I suppose

  36. One Giant Step… « HeavyMe responded on 24 Aug 2012 at 5:28 pm #

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  37. One Giant Step… « HeavyMe responded on 24 Aug 2012 at 7:26 pm #

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