It’s a buzzword birthed from social media that Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer said was his favorite word of 2011. (Memmot, 2011) The original definition seemed to first pop up on Twitter and center around celebrities and their “pay attention to me” Tweets.
I first learned of the humble brag when I saw a RT (re-Tweet) from the @Humblebrag account. At first the account was anonymous, busting entertainers for their false humility. The account gained a following and Harris Wittels, stand-up comic and writer for NBC’s Parks and Recreation, confessed to being the man behind the account. (Heyman, 2011)According to Wittels, it’s a true humble brag if the reader feels annoyed when reading it.
Here’s an example from the @Humblebrag Twitter feed, a RT he gave off @Bethenny’s original tweet: “For a girl who doesn’t like wearing makeup, this LA paparazzi thing is a bit intense.”
Humble brags transcend Twitter. Take a few minutes and you will find them on Facebook and Google+ updates. Instagram pictures. Pinterest boards and pins.
And that’s where I struggle.
Because as a writer, I realize the hypocrisy. There’s a fine line between marketing your work and becoming a humble bragger. I’ve caught myself sharing a link to my post with the team blog Christians Read. What made it a humble brag? The gush included how I couldn’t believe I was paired with my favorite authors, and I named them. I went beyond letting readers know my post existed and elevated myself in an effort to be noticed. It was the equivalent of a child jumping up and down and shouting, “Look at me!”
So why do people humble brag?
I think it comes down to one word, insecurity. When I publicized my post with Christians Read, I was full of fear. The other bloggers are published authors and some are names that I’ve considered the best of the best for all I’ve read. Like that song I remember on Sesame Street, I struggled feeling like One of These Things Doesn’t Go with the Other.
One worldly remedy I have when I fight not feeling good enough is to embrace the nice things people say about me. If you’re familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, my primary love language is words of affirmation. I don’t require a lot, but when someone gives an encouraging word, it fills my “love bank.” That’s healthy and how God made me. But, when I throw remarks on Facebook or Twitter with the intention of stroking my ego, that’s a humble brag with wrong motivation. Those are the times I need to rely on God’s word and what He says about me—and you.
I can’t speak for celebrities, but entertainment is a cruel business. Aging isn’t popular and even 19 can be over-the-hill in that business. With reality television, some who are on the scene might not have the acting chops Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep possesses. Letting everyone in social media know what you are doing, wearing, or who you are with puts a Band-Aid on the insecurity. In this instant feedback society social media gives, an insecure celebrity throwing out humble brags on their Twitter accounts is going to receive feedback from fans. Sadly, my guess is the public gives those ego stroking responses in hopes of having their insecurity filled, too. When the actor who portrays Nevel on iCarly gave me a re-Tweet, I promptly let my followers know about it. Why did I humble brag? I felt validated when someone with a bigger following recognized me.
Humble brags, at least with the @Humblebrag Twitter account, can be amusing to read. Overall, I think they are a commentary on evolving social media and me-centered world. Because of my own humble brag experiences, I think they stem from insecurity and the need to be recognized and affirmed. Humble brags aren’t the same as marketing our work, but there is a fine line. As a writer, it’s something I need to keep in check, and own up to when I stumble and fall prey to using the humble brag to feed my fears.
What about you? Were you aware of the humble brag before today? Have you been guilty of one?
Julie Arduini is a writer and speaker. She is a team blogger with Christians Read and The Bella Women Network, and she’s working on her first contemporary romance based in the Adirondack Mountains. You can learn more about her work at http://juliearduini.com.