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Embracing Your Cringe

Black woman with glasses cringing.


What I learned about myself through my obsession with a French pop star.

Dealing with Embarrassment

Embarrassment (and emotions in general) can be so WEIRD. For example, you may read the story I’m about to tell you and wonder, why would anyone feel embarrassed about THAT? Perhaps this is why I love humans, and my job as a psychiatrist is that despite our unique genetic makeup and environmental socialization we all know what shame or embarrassment feels like, despite the variance in events that led us there. AND THAT IS OKAY. What is most important is reflecting upon how your life experiences shaped your experience of that emotion. Hopefully, then, you won’t feel so uncomfortable the next time it happens because it makes sense given your personal story. 

Anyway, back to my embarrassment. The lesson I learned about myself is that I am prone to feeling uncomfortably self conscious, anxious, or like something is wrong with me when I crave attention from someone I think is special. In other words, I hate feeling like I’m too thirsty for attention.

Okay, so we all have celebrity crushes, or at least when you were a teenager. [Back in the day, for me,  it was Kevin from the Backstreet Boys, T-Boz from TLC, or Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs in Harmony.] I know many of you may not be proud of it, but you have definitely participated in a conversation objectifying the looks of Brad Pitt or whoever your “free pass” would be. 

Mine is Yelle, a french pop star. I’ve met her and traveled to see her multiple times on each US tour. In 2018, I saw her in DC, New Haven, and flew to SF. This past February, I saw her in DC and  NY. [If my partner is reading this right now she is making a displeased face.]

Dr. Kali Cyrus on stage with French pop star Yelle.
Meeting Yelle on stage. Look at my face! The excitement!

Prior to the DC show, I almost left my partner and friends at MY HOUSE to make it to the show before the opener. I apologized in advance to everyone that I would be in the zone enjoying the show with little desire to relish in a shared fun. And, ditched the group to talk to other super fans while I waited in line for over an hour to meet Yelle after the show. 

THEN, 2 days later, I took the Amtrak to NY to see Yelle again on a school night! I went to the NY show with a friend for her birthday who’s never seen Yelle (debatable whether this present was actually for her). Pre-show, it was imperative to warn her about how intense I’d be. For example, she needed to agree to leaving 2 hours early so I could get a front stage spot (btw, I was the 2nd person to enter the venue). Mind you I LITERALLY SAW AND MET YELLE 3 DAYS AGO IN DC. 

I was so worried she would think my requirements were crazy and not follow them out of their pure ridiculousness or out of annoyance. Midway through the prep convo, I got so embarrassed by how intense I was. I was damn near 40, dressed in neon, threatening my friend that I would leave her if she didn’t agree to my terms, and warning her that she needed to be ready to rage for 2 hours or stand in the back. 

Dr. Kali Cyrus and Dr. Rachel Ross.
Me and Dr. Rachel Ross MD PhD decked out to go see Yelle live.

I paused and apologized, asking her “why am I like this, like, so obsessed?”  Luckily my friend likes me, and is also a psychiatrist, so she replies “It is okay, Yelle is a celebrity and attention from her validates your specialness.” 

Man, I felt MORE ashamed, why do I need proximity to a pop star to feel special? 

Before spiraling too much, I thought about what Yelle represented. I first saw her music video on MTVU in 2007 and was immediately OBSESSED with her quirky outfits, infectious beats, and the FUN I felt listening even though I didn’t know wtf she was saying in French (I studied French for 5 years, ha). I went to Coachella in 2008 (before it was cool bc I am so hip) FOR YELLE. 

Turns out, 2008 is also when I started loving the version of myself I usually hid because growing up I wasn’t Black enough, feminine enough, or enough in general. Most of the attention I received from my caregivers was either from my good grades or when I successfully accomplished something I was asked (demanded) to do. In college, I didn’t necessarily receive the attention I wanted as an insecure young woman who was gay but in the closet. During most of my adolescence, I bolstered my self-esteem by forming connections across social circles. Or, building a network of friends, or available alternates to give me attention when others were unavailable. 

During grad school (2008), I narrowed superficial social circles, solidified relationships that helped me thrive, and started to come to terms with my sexuality which was an attempt to get the attention I actually wanted, or needed. 

I started to shed insecure straight-ish Kali who wore heels to the KLERB, and transformed into the queer quirky hipster who ditched dresses, listened to “white people music,” and embraced her own form of Blackness. 

Yelle represented my transformation into this form of Kali, the authentic Kali.

Through my evolving music taste (electropop like Yelle), grad school friends who shared the same love, I received (and gave) attention that felt right. Plus, on this tour I met other super fans who were just as obsessed or more which helped me feel normal.

Your Therapy Takeaway

I wrote these as they came to me when I was thinking about my journey with Yelle, but they apply for any aspect of your life, or your behavior, that you are feeling embarrassed about.

  1. Scary feelings give us valuable information. Some emotions can feel icky, morally wrong, or uncomfortably intense. Don’t run away from them or let them make you feel small. Look them in the face and understand where they come from. Sometimes they’re random, but most times they point to an internal dynamic that is floating around in your psyche and needs some attention. It might be an old feeling that went unresolved. Trace it back to your past experiences to make more sense of it now than you were able to do in the past. 

  2. Normalization goes a very long way. If you feel self-conscious about what you’re experiencing, reach out to a friend who knows your true self. This is a great person to have on speed dial because sometimes all you need is a confirmation via text that says “no, you aren’t crazy.” As a psychiatrist I can tell you for sure that you are not the only person in the world feeling whatever you’re feeling. Nothing is wrong with you. And, psychiatrists feel it too.

You got this,


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