The first time I remember comparing myself to others and trying to change to be like them was a complete disaster.
I was around four or five years old. I grew up the only girl in my family, surrounded by a brother and endless boy cousins including my cousin and best friend Brian. Since Brian and I were so close in age and in relationship, we were practically joined at the hip. Everything was fine and good, except for one thing: Brian peed standing up. So did the rest of my cousins and my brother. I didn’t understand why I was trained to pee sitting down. Even though I was obviously an anatomical outsider, I hated feeling like I was different from Brian and the rest of my family members. I was convinced that even though everyone called me a girl, I could be a boy if I wanted to. All I had to do was pee standing up. Then I could be just like everyone else.
How hard could it be? I mean, it seemed pretty straight forward. So I marched into my mother’s bathroom, closed the door, pulled down my pants, faced the toilet, and went.
Needless to say, I missed, and I was devastated.
I tried over and over again to perfect this practice, but somehow I was physically incapable of successfully peeing in a standing position. I don’t remember who it was who reasoned with me. It could have been my mother, or my brother, or Brian, or one of my friends. But when I voiced my frustration, they simply laughed and said, “Well, duh, Lindsay. Of course you can’t pee standing up. You’re a girl!”
And that’s when I gave up my efforts to turn into a boy. I accepted that I was a girl, albeit the only one in my family, and vowed to live life okay being different.
But the comparisons didn’t stop when I accepted my gender. As a matter of fact, they got worse.
I started comparing myself to my friends in school. Girls I didn’t even know. Girls on TV. Girls in books. If I was different from a girl I came in contact with I panicked and automatically assumed it was because I was ugly/wrong. If a friend of mine had brown hair, I’d wish my hair was brown. If a girl I knew had green eyes, I’d envy them. If someone was covered in freckles, I’d get upset over my lack of freckles.
This problem got really out of hand when a) I decided to get serious about dancing and b) I started dating boys.
The whole idea of competitive dancing is that you are rarely a soloist. More often than not, you are part of an ensemble, and you are to be completely in synch with and look just like your fellow dancers. As I went through puberty, this proved to be more and more impossible for me. I was the only one with a “fuller” figure and I was constantly berated for it. But, just like I thought I could turn into a boy if I just learned how to pee standing up, I figured I could transform my body into a ballerina’s if I really tried hard enough. So I dieted. I fasted. I cried. I hated my body for not looking the way the other dancers’ did. More than that, I hated that I was failing at changing myself. Therefore, I hated everything about myself.
My first serious boyfriend was a complete and utter douche bag. And that’s putting it lightly. He was mentally and sexually abusive and controlled everything about my life. After making my life a living hell for two and a half years I’ll never get back, he finally broke up with me after sleeping with one of my friends from school. My self-esteem was already null and void by this point, so I assumed that it was my fault that he cheated on me. The girl he slept with was taller than me, thinner than me, a brunette, had brown eyes, and had a personality as different from mine as night is from day. I assumed that because I wasn’t like her, I deserved to get cheated on. The next boyfriend I had wasn’t a douche bag at all, but at the end of our relationship he had developed feelings for another girl and even started pursuing a relationship with her. This time, I was convinced it was my fault he wasn’t interested anymore. So I did actively start trying to be like this other girl. I dressed like her. I talked like her. I acted like her. I even dyed my hair dark brown.
The good news about all of that is that it’s in the past. Several years in the past, mind you. And since then, I’ve changed a lot. (I’ve seen a lot of therapists, too.) And, just like I accepted that I’m never going to be a boy, I’ve also accepted that I’ll never not be me. I’ll never not look like me. I’ll never not act like me. I’ll never be anyone else. But me.
However, unfortunately, being aware of the problem doesn’t make it go away. I still compare myself to others frequently. Usually, I compare myself to other women in their mid-20s. Who are wives. Who are artistic. Who are similar to me. It’s like I’m always in a competition with every other woman in this world. When I’m in the right frame of mind, I brush it off and remember that none of this dictates my worth. However, when I’m not thinking clearly, I can easily be beaten into a depression by my own thoughts.
But I can’t possibly be the only one who does this, right? In a world currently housing 6 billion people, I can’t possibly be the only person who has ever fought this battle in his/her mind. Right?
I took to my Twitter/Facebook to ask my friends if they ever compared themselves to others concerning looks, life styles, personalities, or anything else:
“I compare myself to people by what other people’s opinion of them is.” – Nikki
“Definitely. I would say we all do in some form based on our need for assimilation. I think SES and morals are two of the biggest factors I use in comparison.” – Ally
“All of the above, mostly with my family members… It gets worse when you have kids, you start comparing them to other kids and yourself to their parents. It’s horrible!”
“I would say intellectually yes. Before it was grades. Now I base my intellectual comparisons on how open minded someone is… Oh and yes weight too. I do it with weight. I always wish my butt was smaller.” – Ali
“If I feel I have something in common with them I am more likely to examine them closely and compare myself to them in other ways such as weight, personality, spirituality, and fashion sense.” – Chantri
“I compare myself to everyone I think has it together more than I do and also any and all women [my boyfriend] Nick happens to have had feelings for or even thinks is interesting.” – Liz
“All of the above. Everyday.” – Magan
“I used to do that a lot In every area. Someone pointed out how unhealthy it is. It’s still a struggle, but I’m working on it.” – Rebekah
Not a single person said, “Nope. I don’t do this. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lindsay. You be crazy.” Obviously this is something that needs to be addressed.
I think most of my friends who commented understand that This. Isn’t. Healthy. Comparing yourself to someone else will never lead you anywhere good. When you compete with others in your mind, there are two possible outcomes:
- You win, and you become conceited.
- You lose, and therefore become bitter and/or depressed.
That’s it. Really. Those are your options. Not very appealing, are they?
So. Where do we go from here?
You’ve got to become aware of the comparisons. I know that sometimes they happen so swiftly and automatically it’s as if you have no control over them. But you do. Once you notice your mood begin to dip because you’re not as X as her or as Y as him, immediately turn your thought process around. It’s not easy at first, but you need to commit to it. Like I said, I’m not perfect at it yet either. But, who doesn’t love a good rhyme? Memorize this (very true) quote by a very wise man (a doctor, you know) and say it to yourself each time you fall victim to the comparison trap:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
– Dr. Seuss
And if that doesn’t work, remember that trying to be something you’re not is just as stupid as peeing on yourself.