I know making big life resolutions is traditionally reserved for the start of the new year while the start of spring is traditionally reserved for conveniently forgetting all about them but I’ve decided to go ahead and make one anyway. Woo for nonconformity! Or something.
So what’s this untimely promise I’ve made to myself? Hint: it has nothing to do with the gym (I’m not quite that deluded).
I’ve decided…. to stop being jealous. Sounds simple, huh? Or perhaps unrealistic. I know jealousy isn’t something turned off with the well-intentioned flick of a switch. But I do believe it can be done, with effort, over time. Perhaps I should be more specific about the type of jealousy I’m referring to – I’ve decided to stop comparing myself to those around me, for I always seem to do so at the expense of my self-esteem.
I think it might be helpful if I provided some background as to where this resolution originated. Several months ago an acquaintance from university passed away tragically and unexpectedly. I wouldn’t say we were close, he was more a good friend of good friends if that makes any sense. Despite our minimal contact, when he passed away I was close enough to feel the shockwaves. To still feel the shockwaves. To experience that jarring and unexpected grief specific to the loss of someone who had so many of life’s firsts still ahead of them.
In so many ways we equate youth to invincibility – or at least we do while we still consider ourselves young. The various commercials for medications, wrinkle creams, and life insurance resonate only as messages for someone else. Someone with lines around their eyes, cholesterol pills in their medicine cabinet, and a diet that’s replaced Mountain Dew with Metamucil.
When this acquaintance passed away so unexpectedly, I felt for the first time the fraying edges of that cloak of invincibility I had wrapped around myself as a child. Suddenly I became aware of how much I had left to look forward to and how very much I stood to lose, how much there was to be grateful for. This awareness stuck with me for weeks and weeks, cropping up at random moments throughout the day. In one particular instance, I was making my commute home from work when I spied an annoyingly attractive woman across the subway car and had my usual, fleeting moment of jealousy – I wish I had her hair/skin/legs/style. These incidents of comparison – where I hold myself up against another and find myself lacking, are almost as consistent and unconscious as the in-and-out motion of my breathing. Such is the effect of our beauty-obsessed culture, especially evident among women. It is a constant state of being to measure ourselves against the ubiquitous icons of beauty and find ourselves wanting. In this particular moment of envy; however, my newfound sense of perspective kicked in and I was forced to wonder at the pointlessness and absurdity of what I was doing. Sure, this girl may have great legs and Pinterest-worthy hair but I have a supportive network of family and friends, a passport decorated with stamps from around the world, and a warm apartment to retreat to out of this especially bitter winter. While I can’t be sure that this woman isn’t also in possession of these things, I can assuredly state that any one of these things trumps great legs and bouncy hair.
Until recently, I wasn’t even aware of how much I made these comparisons, the same way I’d imagine most women reading this are similarly ignorant. We place ourselves perpetually in competition with other women, as though beauty, poise, and admiration are finite resources we must constantly struggle to retain a share of. It’s not that we’re petty or shallow or undercover masochists, we’re simply byproducts of a culture that has placed youth, beauty, and attention at the apex of desirability. A culture that has taught us to equate our self worth with our sex appeal, to idolize models and treat airbrushed celebrities as achievable standards of what it means to be beautiful.
And truthfully, i’m tired of it. I’m tired of perpetuating a culture that has its priorities so very out of order. I’m tired of feeling my self-confidence shatter to pieces every time I have a major breakout or put on a few pounds. From a rational standpoint, I know that every woman, no matter how gorgeous or confident, has something she’s insecure about. I know that things like intelligence, kindness, wit, and tolerance are far more worthy goals to strive for than sex appeal. I also know that I will no doubt be working on this resolution for the rest of my life. That being said, I’m already noticing a difference.
Now, when some girl with flawless skin and kick-ass style sits next to me on the subway, instead of running the usual depressing checklist in my head of all the ways I am less cool/exotic/clean/schmexy, I instead counter that instinctive comparison with the reminder of something I have to be grateful for. Ok, I could never pull that dress off BUT I’m living in the city I’ve dreamt about since I was twelve. Sure, she somehow escaped puberty with skin like a baby cherub but I’m blessed to be among the depressingly few debt-free college graduates. I realize this all sounds very Hallmark and cliche but it really puts things into perspective. It’s a reality check that not only stops the self-deprecation in its tracks but also includes a healthy dose of gratitude, which is scientifically proven to be one of the most significant contributing factors to overall happiness.
Like I said, I realize that this resolution is more of a process than a decision and I’m aware that my seemingly permanent breakouts will no doubt always induce feelings of inadequacy but I’m determined to give this thing a shot. Things are changing for women across the globe, and in western culture in particular, the calls for realistic beauty standards are becoming ever louder and more powerful. Even the most monumental of cultural shifts start small, with individuals, and I intend to be one of them. It’s time to stop treating beauty as an objective goal and more as a subjective concept. Every person has a beauty unique to them, visual or intangible, and it makes no sense trying to rank one person’s over another’s.
So, I am officially declaring 2014 the year of no more comparisons. Hopefully by the time 2015 rolls around that knee-jerk instinct to measure myself against other people will be well on its way to extinction and my happiness and self-esteem will reflect the change.
If you made it to the end of this marathon post, I am both suitably awed and tentatively hopeful that you found it in some way compelling or interesting. I’d love to hear any thoughts other women/beauty bloggers/humans have on the subject!
P.s. I recognize that this post might seem a wee bit hypocritical on a blog dedicated to all things beauty but I personally feel that beauty products not only help boost self-confidence but are also just plain fun to play around with. It’s all about keeping a healthy perspective.