It’s Not You, It’s Society: “You Look Tired”

“It’s not you, it’s society” is a series of rants about socially acceptable and polite comments that bother me. Read more here.

I’ve said it. You’ve said it. But can we all just retire this statement today?

Lets think about it. What are the possible outcomes of telling me I look tired:

  • I’m not tired. I was actually feeling great until now when I started worrying about my appearance.
  • I am tired. I was studying all night and didn’t have the energy to make myself look fresh and perky. Now I’m reminded about both my tiredness and my appearance. Great.

The truth is, the likelihood of me getting this comment has a stronger negative correlation with how much makeup I’m wearing than how much sleep I got. In fact, I may be especially well-rested on my “tired” days because I decided to sleep in instead of putting makeup on. It makes sense. Makeup is designed to make faces look brighter and more vibrant and whatever else we consider “not tired” to look like. Sometimes I care about that and sometimes I don’t.

But lets be real. Particularly if you are in college, most people around you probably are tired. Students do a lot of things and just don’t sleep very much. Sometimes we manage to cover it up by putting on nice clothes, makeup, and a cheerful demeanor–a performance, really–and other times it doesn’t seem worth it. Both options are okay. No one owes it to anyone else to appear like their life is perfect. But when we hear “you look tired” it feels kind of like a criticism of the performance. Like we need to work harder on looking like we have it all together. 

Because unless you are a mind reader, you are not actually commenting on a person’s feelings, even if you want to be. Trying to tell someone else how they feel is both annoying and not useful. They already know how they actually feel.

If you are genuinely concerned about someone because they are falling asleep at their desk, “you seem tired” is a somewhat better alternative. Or better yet, just ask them how they are feeling out of respect for the fact that they know their own feelings better than you do. Or if you’re just an awesome person, actually help them by offering to make them coffee or give them a back massage (warning: the latter suggestion can be either wonderful or super creepy depending on the context of your relationship. Use your judgement).


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