On Self-Respect: Joan Didion’s 1961 Essay from the Pages of Vogue


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Joan Didion rehashes a time in her young adulthood where she felt that she had truly lost herself and lost her own self respect. She starts with the instance where she wasn’t elected for a sorority, Phi Beta Kappa. She could have predicted that it this would have happened but she was blinded and did not care to be rational.

Didion felt that by not making Phi Beta Kappa marked the end of her innocence or her pride. She lost her confidence and security in all her future situations. The automatic feeling of acceptance was lost. It wasn’t just not receiving a position in Phi Beta Kappa, but it was also her her happiness, her honor and the love of a good man. With that certainty loss, the feelings of being an outsider to society and all future endeavors was taking hold on Didion.

Although it might seem hard to resurrect one’s self respect, the one obstacle that needs to be crossed and solved is self-deception. The overall idea of self-respect has nothing to do with the acceptance of others because others deceive and judge easily, but has everything to do with the courage people have. Self-respect and reputation should not be hold in the same definition.

On the other hand, to be without self respect is to lose all those nostalgic feelings of learning from past failures. If we keep ignoring the fact that our self respect has been lost, we will stay in that state of awkwardness. Whether or not we stay in this uncomfortable state depends on whether or not we respect ourselves.

To think there are people who sleep through the whole night with no self respect, is just beyond belief. There is a common notion that people believe that “self-respect” is merely a weapon against trouble. This is wrong. It has nothing to do with confrontation, self-respect is more considered with one’s own peace in life. Didion mentions The Great Gatsby’s Jordan Baker as “an improbable candidate for self respect” and explained that she took her own measures to avoid any obstacles that might threaten her peace. Jordan Baker knows her self-worth. If they choose to make a mistake or commit a crime, they deal with the consequences and don’t hide from the embarrassment it might lead them to.

To summarize, people with self-respect have a thick exterior and toughness. Self-respect is one having character and accepting everything that life has to offer. Self-respect is something that are elders know everything about. They had a certain discipline that by doing things they don’t want to do was the only way of truly living.

Self-respect is to know one’s self worth and to be able to feel a certain way about something with no doubt. Lack of self-respect, means lack of loving or lack of indifference. Flattery is an also an important factor because we think this idea of pleasing others is our way of showing our eagerness to give. In Didion’s definition of “Alienation from Self,” she reveals that one begins by avoiding all sources of communication with others and avoids everything that might make someone feel unease.

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