You’re sitting in a coffee shop, sipping tea, and suddenly another woman walks through the door. She’s dressed in a killer outfit but looks totally relaxed, she walks with purpose, and she speaks with a sweet, confident sense of humor to the barista. Oh, also, she’s thin.
And then it begins: the deluge of reflections on this woman’s appearance and demeanor.
“How is she so charismatic? I can barely form sentences when talking to strangers.”
“I can’t believe I left the house wearing this. She looks flawless.”
“I need to work out more. I bet she’s never skipped a gym day. I’m so damn lazy.”
These types of thoughts can also come in the reverse form. Think something along the lines of, “She’s not even that pretty. She needs to stop walking around like she owns the place. I probably weigh less than her.”
A lot of woman-on-woman crime occurs in our minds. And where does all of this destructive scrutiny even come from? It’s as if all of a sudden the appearance of another woman puts us on-guard; she somehow becomes “special” in our eyes, otherwise we wouldn’t be giving her this type of attention. We either attack her or ourselves, but no one gets out unscathed.
I spent years (okay, probably most of my life) doing this. And when I was in the throes of disordered eating, this type of criticism was at an all-time high. But through lots of work in counseling, coaching, and self-reflection, I was able to grasp the “whys” of this damaging behavior.
1. I know nothing about the other woman.
We assume so much when it comes to these comparison mind games. We conclude that she is better, worse, happier, miserable, etc. based on a few moments of being in the same room together. Truth is, we know nothing. Sure, I may visibly see that she’s thin – but what types of assumptions am I drawing there? That’s she’s totally content with her body? That she works out every day? That she hasn’t touched a white carb since 2013? We just don’t know anything for sure.
2. I’m not better than her; she just makes me feel threatened.
I was especially attracted to looking at other women’s tummies and trying to figure out if she had tighter abs than me. If the answer was yes, then the insults started flying – at her. I would think, “Okay, so her stomach is flatter than mine. But my legs are clearly stronger. And I’d look better in that dress than she does.” I would dig up anything I could to make myself feel superior to her. In reality, I was just threatened because I assumed she was confident in her body when I was miserable in mine.
3. I’ve got something to learn from her.
After a while, I decided to start thinking about why I envied these women and what that meant I was lacking in my own life. If I felt disgust at seeing a woman stare lovingly at her partner, I realized it was because I was craving intimacy. So, I found ways to cultivate more intimate and meaningful relationships in my life. Being jealous of another woman’s charisma made me want to be more present and engaged in my daily conversations, which allowed me to “show up” more and truly be myself. This turned my inner critic into more of a talent spotter than a bully.
4. We are all equal. We are all struggling.
No woman is entirely free from the societal pressure to be perfect. Just because someone looks happy doesn’t mean that they are – each woman has struggled in her own distinct way with herself. Most importantly, no other person is better than I am, and I am no better than anyone else. We are all humans walking around the earth, trying to be our best selves and avoid getting hurt, by whatever means we feel most uniquely appropriate. These gentle reminders keep me balanced in my moments of girl-on-girl comparison.