Far Too Jealous
April 23, 2011 11:28 PM   Subscribe

Please help me understand and manage what I think is an unhealthy and debilitating jealousy.

A little background: I'm currently a young adult (19) and the youngest of a large family. In my childhood I was teased and bullied a lot (perhaps much more than the average child), by both girls and boys (primarily girls) about my looks or personality quirks. Everything from the usual how ugly, fat, useless, dull, nerdy, or gross I was to even somewhat crueler things like hitting or shoving me around. This all continued more or less 6 years throughout my grade and upper school career. In the beginning I'd never really believed anything of the things that were said, but eventually (about age 12) my self esteem and confidence were absolutely shattered. When I'd realized most of the bullying really focused on my unattractiveness and I felt indescribably inadequate compared to the girl bullies and other girls around. I was terrified to leave my house because I didn't want anyone to see me. Over the years I did all I could to transform myself but I was certainly traumatized by those experiences and I think I may have never recovered.
Subsequently, I've since always felt threatened or suspicious of other women I consider to be attractive. I've had extensive therapy since and while I found it incredibly helpful with some of my other issues, it gave me little resolve for this.

Current issue: As an adult I sort of morphed into a reasonably attractive young lady compared to my awkward earlier phases. Others consider me to be attractive and (to my knowledge) have not since been ridiculed me for my looks. Since becoming aware of my appearance early on I've always since been very conscious about my looks. That awareness causes me to be very sensitive to regard not only my attractiveness, but also that of other women in a very negative way. For example, if a friend said something like, "Have you seen whomever?! She has the most amazing body!" I may smile and agree wholeheartedly but it's completely disingenuous. I sit there and brood over what my own body must look like and what my friend must think of mine. That alone could ruin my mood for hours. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.
If my SO ever mentioned anything in passing about an ex or any particular women he'd seen, it drives me off the wall insanely jealous. It's a composed kind of jealousy, I never go visibly nuts but on the inside I have a million racing thoughts. What those women must look like, how perfect, flawless, and sexy they must have been, and also how I'm perhaps a mediocre substitute. I then suddenly feel detective like and I want to know absolutely everything about them to see if they're any threat to my relationship or my partner's opinion of my appearance. I put a lot of thought and research into becoming more attractive and alluring so I wonder, who could have possibly gotten it any more right than me.Though there are times that very critical and insensitive things are said about my image, I would like to be able to shrug it off, laugh, and disagree.
It's very difficult for me to sit through stories with friends or colleagues about how luminous, beautiful, intelligent or gorgeous some of their other friends are. I feel as if they just bashed me and it puts me in a dark place until something redeeming can be said about me. It is the most consuming and miserable feeling to describe, and it hurts.
Whenever I'm out and I just see an attractive woman I think of how much more attractive she must believe she is than me. To compensate for feeling inadequate I think of awful (terribly) awful things about how incredibly loose she must be or how moronic she is. I even think about how much I hate her, or would hate her if I ever came to know her. I think less of women whom I don't feel put in the same effort or consideration to be beautiful as I do.
I've become mean spirited towards complete strangers who could be just as vulnerable as I am, all because I'm insecure. I rarely give other women compliments. I hate being this way but I struggle feeling any other way about this. I once noticed a good looking girl staring at me and I decided to do things differently, so I started a friendly conversation. The entire time I felt that I could read every malicious thought across her face and haven't bothered since. I felt as if I was talking to someone who didn't like me (which even if she didn't I shouldn't have cared.)

But I long to have close girlfriends and even deeper bonds with my older sisters whom I was told were prettier than me as a child. I would love to have a conversation with my SO without fishing for a compliment, or putting beautiful (perhaps inside as well as out) strangers down to feel desirable myself. I understand that almost everyone is teased or bullied somehow and it's just a matter of overcoming the past, however I think affects some more than others. I also know that there is infinitely much more to life than being considered good looking by anyone. I'm a very loving and good natured person; no one that knew me personally would ever describe me as a jealous, narcissistic, egotistical misanthrope. In fact, no one really realizes how much I struggle with my self esteem. I feel that I am a well integrated person with many talents, character, and perceptions well beyond physical facades. I have many interests and obligations but these negative thoughts and feelings are never far from my attention. I feel that I have an obstacle with this jealousy that's unfortunately leaking into my personality. I think that my motives for being attractive were negatively sought therefore I can only discern a negative payoff, so I certainly need a new point of view. Any useful insight, advice, or anecdotes anyone could offer is highly appreciated.
posted by xbeautychicx to Human Relations (31 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You are what you are. You can do amazing things regardless of what "good-looking girls" choose to do with their lives.

Does it matter whether anyone "realizes how much you struggle with your self-esteem?" Nope. Trust me, the world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world cares whether it will be better for you having been born into it. Is it?
posted by deep thought sunstar at 11:43 PM on April 23, 2011

Are you still with the same man who "suggested" how great you'd look if you got your breasts done? If yes, then this is a big part of the problem. A very BIG part.
posted by DeltaForce at 11:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

Firstly you're not the only one, most people your age look so cool and together on the outside but are a raging mass of insecurity inside. Secondly, stop hating yourself and start liking others. Happiness comes from doing things for other people, rather than obsessing about your own feelings, so try that. You're 19, have fun, you'll regret wasting all this time on useless maudlin introspection when you're older. There'll always be someone prettier than you, but what counts is being a good person and that's what will attract other people to you. Nobody cares about your inner mental turmoil because they're too busy obsessing about their own so let it go, live outside yourself. It's much easier to change your mental attitude than it is your physical nature. Lastly, count the number of times you wrote "I" in this post. That's your problem. Think about others and put them first.
posted by joannemullen at 11:53 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

joannemullen: I'm an adamant philanthropist. I'm certainly not selfish.
posted by xbeautychicx at 11:58 PM on April 23, 2011

It sounds like you are trying to protect yourself with all of this. What are you protecting yourself from? What do you think the consequences would be to you if you didn't protect yourself like this? Maybe start by asking yourself those questions. When you have answers, then maybe you can find other, more real, more effective ways to deal with those issues, rather that dealing with them by trying to be the most beautiful, which given the amount of pain you seem to be in, I think you know isn't working.

Are you protecting yourself from being teased and mocked by other people for your appearance? Few people could handle that well as a child, but you are older now and have ways you can deal with that if it happens (ironically, it's less likely to happen to anyone as an adult). For example, you can now remove people who would do something like that from your life. For another example, you can do what I did and post a question about it.

Are you protecting yourself from people thinking you're not interesting and there's no reason to like you or want to be around you? (Even if you, yourself are aware of all your other good traits?). I think it would help to spend as much time as you can around people who esteem and value you, maybe even NEED you, for something that has nothing at all to do with your looks.

Are you protecting yourself from having your SO leave you? No matter how beautiful you are, you can't do that. The best way to protect yourself there is to be with someone very dependable and trustworthy who is loyal to you and loves you for who you are. I don't know whether your SO is like that or not, so I don't know that applies in your situation.

I think that if you think about these things, figure out what the issues are that you actually have deep down, you'll be able to come up with better ways to solve them.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:15 AM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

xbeautychicx, I don't think joannemullen was accusing you of being selfish; I think she was noting your egocentric tendencies.

It's nothing to be ashamed or defensive about. In fact, I want to commend you for having the guts to open up and share this issue. The fact that you're worried about this speaks volumes about your character. What you're feeling is rather common among women...among all people really. Everyone has some degree of insecurity.

I'm now in my mid twenties, but when I was your age, I struggled with very similar issues, as I had a very similar 'ugly-duckling' upbringing. I can't speak for you, but I know that for me, the reason I was so insecure is because I had a chip on my shoulder. Even though I, like you, put effort into becoming a more physically attractive person, I still heard those cruel taunting messages in the back of my mind. I still could see that ugly duckling in the mirror, hiding behind the makeup. It infuriated me and I hated myself, but even more I hated other women who seemed so perfect. It caused me unnecessary grief until I realized that *everyone* feels that way. Even the most beautiful women in the world have some sort of flaw, some thing that they wish they could change. No one is perfect. You are not expected to be flawless. You have to accept yourself and love yourself, warts and all.

Here's something I tried when I was in college that was really helpful: For Lent, I gave up beauty and embraced humility. For 40 days, I didn't wear makeup, I wore relatively plain, modest clothes, and I wore a scarf over my hair (which I considered one of my most beautiful/striking physical feature). It was a huge deal and at first, I hated it. I felt ugly and insecure, but eventually, I forgot about it entirely. Willingly denouncing my attractiveness all together allowed me to transcend its power over me. When I stopped focusing on what I looked like, I also stopped focusing on what others looked like and comparing myself to them.

Another bit of advice: when you feel these jealous/angry emotions rise up, give yourself some perspective. Ask yourself, "Why does this matter?" "Why do I care that this woman is more attractive than me?" In the long run, it doesn't matter at all. There will always be people more attractive than you and your life will go on. Acknowledge your jealousy, confront it, and dismiss it.

It will take time and effort. It is a process. You are still young and you are still learning. It's perfectly okay not to be a fully-formed, perfectly rational human being right now. This is something I'm learning to accept myself.
posted by chara at 12:26 AM on April 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

Jesus. This is the most common effect in the world. Everyone looks more together on the outside then they do on the inside.

In fact, no one really realizes how much I struggle with my self esteem.

Of course they don't. Because when they look at you, they see a young, smart, attractive woman. Now you just need to understand that when you look at other confident and attractive people, they're actually bundles of raging neuroses on the inside too! We're all crazy! And it's ok! Because what you're anxious about is same stuff the everyone is anxious about, especially in their late teens/early twenties -- or, you know, forever!

As for what to do about it? It seems pretty obvious from your question that pretty much your entire self-worth is tied up in how other people perceive you; principally your looks, but also making sure people know that you're an "adamant philanthropist"*, etc. Fuck that shit. Own your flaws. Make friends with some people who don't care much about how they look. Join a beginner intramural team for a sport you've never played before and learn how to suck at something gracefully. Give up wearing makeup for a semester. Do something selfish that has nothing to do with anyone else.

And for the love of all that is holy, try being single for a while so that you can learn to love yourself for who you are.

*joannemullen isn't accusing you of being selfish, she's implying that you're acting narcissistic by not affording the benefit of the doubt to others that you expect them to afford to you.
posted by auto-correct at 12:30 AM on April 24, 2011 [10 favorites]

Maybe it would help to try not to think of compliments, admiration, etc. as a zero-sum game. As a dear friend of mine likes to say, "there's enough to go around." There is room, in fact, for infinite beauty in the world. A compliment about someone else's attractiveness does not actually deduct from your own attractiveness bank (as it were). Just as the existence of a garden doesn't detract from a sunset (sorry, I know that sounds all Hallmark card-y), what makes you attractive and what makes someone else attractive are not actually in competition with each other; your qualities and their qualities coexist without cancelling each other out.

The sense of competition you've internalized is a construct of the impossible beauty standards of our culture, and (as mentioned above) quite possibly from an unhealthy relationship in which you've apparently been judged as lacking and explicitly compared to other women in a competitive manner. And when I say impossible beauty standards, I mean it literally -- hell, supermodels and actresses (supposedly the most beautiful women on the planet) are routinely airbrushed on the covers of magazines because of such supposed flaws as a single crease in their skin or a smattering of freckles or (the horror! the horror!) normal sized-arms or hips or thighs. In this framework, NO ONE is pretty enough, ever. You know how you win this game? You walk away.

Listen, I was a self-described ugly duckling for a good chunk of my life. I was so self-conscious of my looks I let it keep me from pursuing comedy or music or theater because I was so scared of people's judgment of my appearance. When I got my teeth and jaw fixed in my 30s (the source of much of my self-consciousness), I started looking people in the eye... started smiling to people on the street... started thinking of myself as good enough. And what I realized was this: everyone who was actually a decent person in my life thought I was good enough all along... and they were right. And I also realized how much time and energy and creative potential I'd squandered by feeling bad and the fear of not measuring up, beauty-wise.

Don't waste the years and the potential that I wasted. Jealousy and pettiness come from self-loathing, and self-loathing is a poison that shrinks your heart and your world. So since you don't like the jealousy and pettiness you're finding in yourself, make a conscious attempt to cultivate the opposite qualities. What would it feel like to celebrate and even rejoice in other people's good qualities (physical as well as personal)? What would it feel like to celebrate and rejoice in yourself exactly as you are, right now?

If the negative feedback loop in your head starts throwing all sorts of obstacles in your way to even imagine such a thing, gently tell it to be quiet. You can choose, and choose, and choose again how you see yourself and the world around you. Read Marcus Aurelius. Practice self-compassion. Cultivate healthy relationships. People like to say "life's too short." But really, life's too long to spend it locked into our own suffering when there's actually happiness at hand.
posted by scody at 12:38 AM on April 24, 2011 [40 favorites]

Oh, and I meant to say that this...

I've become mean spirited towards complete strangers who could be just as vulnerable as I am, all because I'm insecure.

...is really insightful and is perhaps the heart of your way out of this maze. If you start giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that they, too, are just as vulnerable as you, then the playing field starts to feel more level, and kindness and compassion toward yourself and others can start to become a habit (thus making less room for jealousy).
posted by scody at 12:56 AM on April 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

On preview, what scody said. It's not a competition. Those other people? Let them be beautiful. That does not diminish your beauty. Feel confident enough that you can admire others without it reflecting, at all, on yourself. Despite your childhood experiences, most people aren't judging you. And the ones that are? They're likely massively insecure, themselves. Screw 'em.

One of my best friends and I have diametrically-opposed body types. She is tall and naturally runway thin. I am short, with boobs and a butt. And you know what? We both want what the other person has. Even so, most of the time, we look good, each in our own way. (The rest of the time, you can tell from our crackheaded outfits that we both put off laundry for way longer than we should.)

Having confidence in your own looks, to the extent that you don't care if other people are "hotter" or whatnot, is not easy. It is particularly hard for women, and especially for young women. But dear god, I wish I had figured it out sooner. If, at the age of 19, I had spent a little less time worrying about being thinner, and realized that curvy bodies have their own cachet, I could have gotten away with murder.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:26 AM on April 24, 2011

When you were a kid, and people were telling you that you were unattractive, I can pretty much guarantee that you weren't. Kids called me ugly in school and I believed it, but it wasn't because I was ugly. Hell, I was a cute little bespectacled ten-year-old. It's because they were being dicks for the sake of being dicks. You can't take the opinions of the worst people you've ever met as the truth. I haven't gotten more attractive as I've gotten older, I've just started spending my time with nicer people. I still have a big nose and spots, but nobody's pointed it out to me in the last five years. Except my mother.

The problem with the whole "beauty relies on effort" thing is that there's no universal standard of beauty. You can be the blondest boobiest skinniest person in the world, but if the person you want to be with is only into amputees then you're pretty much stuck.

Also: you're only nineteen. You should totally be out having fun, but even if you aren't it's okay. You have years and years to work on feeling better about yourself, and look: you have a headstart!
posted by teraspawn at 2:13 AM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think maybe your biggest problem is that your efforts to not feel jealous are actually reinforcing the jealousy. You've 'done all you can to transform yourself.' You pay disingenuous compliments. You get angry at strangers. All of these behaviors seem like efforts to avoid feeling jealous, but they only make sense in a world where you actually are inferior. The jealousy is irrational, but you're reacting to it as if it were totally rational. You're feeding your inner troll.

Maybe try this - when you feel a wave of jealousy coming on, let it come. Don't let it spur you into action. Don't head for the gym or the makeup counter. Don't lie about it. Don't snark about it. Just feel it. Let it wash over you, and then watch it retreat back into the sea. Then move on with your day.
posted by jon1270 at 3:47 AM on April 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

You wrote, "I long to have close girlfriends and even deeper bonds with my older sisters whom I was told were prettier than me as a child. I would love to have a conversation with my SO without fishing for a compliment, or putting beautiful (perhaps inside as well as out) strangers down to feel desirable myself."

I'm really touched by this part of your post, and I think in it lies the seed of your solution:

As someone who's in her early thirties now, my only regret is that I didn't enjoy my life more when I was younger. I had so many hang-ups from my own upbringing, that I couldn't take pleasure in being myself -- I couldn't see my own youthful attractiveness and recognize the qualities that made me special. And because of that, I was too myopic to look at other people and really see them as people. Instead of being jealous and watchful, it would have been so much better for me to forget myself for a second and just look closely at the people around me and attempt to understand them better.

It's odd-- now that I have a comfortable life and have to terms with who I am, I actually take pleasure in the sight of other women-- beautiful and otherwise. I like looking at strangers and noticing the ways in which they are unconventionally beautiful -- or better yet, interesting. I love noticing a woman who is overweight but has exceptional hair or eyes and doesn't seem the least bit troubled by the fact that she's not measuring up to my standard of body size. She clearly has another standard, and she doesn't give a damn about mine. And she's having so much more fun than I am.

That's the thing-- beauty is not static, and all women are not on some linear spectrum of ugly/beautiful. Beauty is something you learn, I think, by gradually embracing the world around you, by being decadent enough to realize that this is the only life you have and you've got to enjoy it, and by figuring out your own personal sense of style--choosing clothes not because they mask your flaws but because you love them and think they are fantastic.

The thing that really helped me was time. The passage of years saw me figuring things out about what I love and believe in, what I want to do with my waking hours, and what I want out of a relationship. So try to be patient; growing older will help. But since you can't make time pass any faster toward some golden hour when you'll truly accept yourself (and besides, it's not that easy; you'll always struggle with nagging doubts, and that's okay!), try this: visualize your future self. Picture someone whose happiness is not wholly dependent on the external measures of other people. Picture a version of yourself who is truly happy-- not because your body is finally perfect. Sorry, you are who you are and you probably will not become much more attractive as you grow older, objectively-speaking, but there's STILL a very good chance the passing years will bring greater contentment. How the heck is that possible? Try to visualize it: picture what you're doing with your life, what your friendships and romantic relationships look like.

Another thing: when you find your thoughts sinking into an envious/jealous place, don't feel guilty. Instead, notice what you're doing and then redirect yourself. Since you want great relationships (getting back to your awesome comment, quoted above), start working on those relationships -- even if your heart's not in it. Start again internally. Take a breath and spend some time thinking positive thoughts about the person who you feel threatened by. Embrace her mentally as a full human being; forgive what needs forgiving and try to love the person as much as you possibly can-- if only in your thoughts. Extend this to acquaintances and strangers: for a full day try notice something beautiful or admirable (whether physical or spiritual) about everyone you encounter.

Another thing: make something. What do you do that makes you feel happy and creative? Spend more time with this activity. Document it enthusiastically in a blog or in a private journal. One of the problems with being excessively focused on appearance is that you become dreadfully boring. There's nothing less interesting than someone who stands on the sidelines eying the players and never taking part in the game. Right now you're suffering from an internal emptiness that depends on other people to do the filling-- and they never will. You'll never get the kind of complete, full confirmation you want from other people to fill that void. You have to do it yourself by keeping busy, working and taking pride in your work (creative and/or professional) and trying to love other people even when it feels fake.
posted by cymru_j at 3:50 AM on April 24, 2011 [13 favorites]

How much feminist thinking have you read about the subject of appearance? Because you are really incredibly focussed on something so trivial and fleeting that only exists in such a punishing, paradoxical and powerful way for women. Men are judged too, but not the same way. So I'd get out and read some feminist theory and I would try and stop myself every time I started in on another woman's appearance. It's hard, really really hard, but if you catch yourself starting in the the judgmental bullshit, call yourself on it. Recognize it. You aren't psychic, you aren't magical, you don't know shit about most of the women you're judging and being awful to, the thoughts are yours. Own them. The sexualised judgement points to a pretty comprehensive dislike of your own gender and that will impede relationships with other women far more that appearance, self esteem or jealousy.

One of the things I started doing a few years back was if I looked in the mirror and said something negative, I walked away from the mirror. No matter what I was doing, I walked away. It might only be for a moment, it might be for the day, but I refused to spend any more time in front of a mirror talking shit. It is so counterproductive that I cannot believe I ever spent any time doing it. But I did, under the guise of beautifying myself. I'd rather go out with crazy hair than spend time looking in the mirror, doing my hair and beating myself up for the weird colour/fuzz/cut.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:50 AM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

IANAD, but you may have body dysmorphic disorder.

Symptom criteria required for a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder include:

Being extremely preoccupied with an imagined defect or a minor flaw in your appearance

Being so preoccupied with appearance that it causes you significant distress or problems in your social, work, school or other areas of functioning

posted by Carol Anne at 5:27 AM on April 24, 2011

If you are still with that guy you talked about in your previous asks, he is what's wrong. He is having a poisonous effect on your development. He wants you to feel this way.

Other than having him removed, every time you feel envy towards someone you should pause, breathe, and then think of a really nice thing to say about the thing you envy. Then you should say it to or about them. Being nice to a person makes us like them more, just like being mean to them makes us hate them more. A synonym for envy is "unhappy admiration". Try to create some happy admiration, even if you have to fake it till you make it. Also, by saying something pretty, you are creating more prettiness in the world. The more you add to it, the more you will learn that there's plenty for everyone.

You are lucky that your friends talk about the beauty and talent of other people they know. These are good things to talk about. It's good that you're not surrounded by people who tear others down. Just think, they're probably talking about how beautiful and talented you are when you're not around. Do the same for them.

Finally, good for you for facing up to this. Many people live their entire lives driven by envy. It's a toxic green slime that you don't want anywhere around you. You can be free of it.
posted by tel3path at 6:27 AM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

xbeautychicx, you haven't yet answered DeltaForce's question. Is the SO in question this guy?

I mean, I have all the advice in the world on learning to let go of jealousy and be happy in your own skin, but as long as this guy's in the picture it's not going to stick. How can you learn to love yourself unconditionally when even your chosen life partner loves you conditionally?
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:29 AM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

You seem to be quite aware of the intricacies of your thought-process on this subject, but despite trying to keep perspective (which you have clearly given a lot of thought to) your thoughts seem to just run away from you when you are in the moment. I think it is going to require systematic work on your part, rather than quick pieces of advice from us I suggest meditation (maybe mindfulness mediation). If you can get a handle on slowing down your thoughts and being in a wider moment than just the dominating jealousy moment, you may be able to change your thinking. I think you already know the flaws in your response, as you've described them very clearly, but I would seek actual methods that you can reach for in the moments and get back to your center (which knows that all the negativity is not an intrinsic part of you.) Personally, I do my own kind of very minimalist meditation and it has totally changed my life in the months I've been doing it, which is why I recommend it. But people here talk about mindfulness meditation a lot, and it sounds helpful for this.
posted by wombat stork at 7:07 AM on April 24, 2011

Bullies pick on people who are easy to pick on, period. Physical characteristics like being fat or skinny, or smart or not, aren't factors. Everybody has some distinguishing characteristics that bullies can zero in on if they decide to target them. Actual risk factors seem to be pretty much anything that can increase emotional vulnerability (and physical size for boys because more of the bullying they get is physical).

I think it helps to realize that there isn't any reason for bullying. There's nothing about you and nothing you did that made you deserve it. Understanding that there isn't any reason for it, won't completely make your sensitivity about whatever you were bullied about go away, but it will give you some perspective on it.

When I was in college I read Dan Olweus. He's a Swedish social psychologist who devoted a lot of his career to studying bullying. I think reading Olweus talk about bullying and it's effects in a detached and thoroughly researched way did a lot more to help me gain some perspective on what happened to me and how it effected me than talk therapy did. (I realize I'm recommending something that's out of print. However you can get it if you have access to university library. There wasn't much research available back then. There's been a lot more now.)
posted by nangar at 7:08 AM on April 24, 2011

A few more things:

1) Yoga can also be very helpful for viewing your body and self differently, especially in classes which focus on proper alignment in the poses. You may begin to see your body as something which is capable of doing special things, and which can change your energy levels and what you choose to focus on. If you do some online yoga (Yoga Today, etc.) you don't even have to throw yourself into a volatile social situation where you are judging others. It's just an idea, but you may find it has the potential to increase compassion and give you bodily challenges that have nothing to do with a typical sense of 'beauty'.

2) Others have mentioned how destructive it is to have a partner who is going in a different direction than you are with regard to big changes which you want to make in your approach to things. The thing is, a real partner can be a significant support when making difficult changes. But a partner who acts in a way that triggers your insecurities on the this subject which is dominating your life, will always end up derailing your progress and possibly poisoning the potential efficacy of approaches that others have noted. Often, the biggest changes can be made when we are alone and can focus on things in honesty, and without the drain of performing for others or balancing their desires.

Good luck.
posted by wombat stork at 7:24 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are so many possible ways to address your question, but try this: stop having conversations with other people about your own attractiveness and the attractiveness of other people. Just don't talk about it. Don't make comments that assess or judge the external attractiveness of other people. Don't say, "Wow, she has a great figure" or "God, her hair looks terrible today". Just stop talking about it. If you do have a thought about someone's appearance, don't verbalise it. If someone you're talking to comments on a third party's appearance, find a way to reply that refocuses the conversation, either by making a comment about the non-physical aspects of the person, or by changing the subject altogether. And stop talking about your own physical appearance with other people. Just stop talking about it. Don't ask other people for their opinions, constructive criticism, or reassurance. You will still have thoughts about your appearance, but their importance will diminish. Conversation is an amplifier for these sorts of ideas. Stop participating in the wider societal conversation about physical appearance and you will find your focus eventually shifts elsewhere.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:33 AM on April 24, 2011 [10 favorites]

DeltaForce- Yes I'm with the same person but fortunately we've both worked through many of our issues and he's made a big improvement. Our relationship has made a change for the better and I'm very happy. He's since been very supportive but I understand all of your concerns.
posted by xbeautychicx at 8:30 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's very difficult for me to sit through stories with friends or colleagues about how luminous, beautiful, intelligent or gorgeous some of their other friends are. I feel as if they just bashed me and it puts me in a dark place until something redeeming can be said about me. It is the most consuming and miserable feeling to describe, and it hurts.

If you suffered a debilitating accident or health problem, so that your physical self was radically transformed--how would you go on? Have you other attributes to offer the world, other than physical ones? Would your friends and/or SO stay with you through chemotherapy, loss of a limb, severe scarring?

Basing your self-regard on your physical self is like building a mansion on sand. Your value in the world and to the world is better based on your actions--how you treat others, how your actions reflect your values, and so on.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2011

As usual, Scody is spot on - the only way to win the Beauty Game is to refuse to play. But I'll add that you need to have other accomplishments to feel good about, and at nineteen nobody has done much of anything with their life yet. Which leaves most young women primarily concerned with their appearance, and the misery continues until they finally get out there and do something.

Believe me, it feels so good to be able to point to real achievements to bolster your self-esteem. A bad hair day doesn't feel as awful when you have earned a Ph.D./done a stint in the Peace Corps/mastered a musical instrument/whatever. So go do something that you'll be proud of long after your looks fade and your body starts to sag. At 19 you have lots of options although maybe not many of the prerequisites (e.g., gotta finish college before you start graduate school). But take the long view and plan to do something hard and challenging and worthwhile with your life.

Anecdote: I went to a conference where one of the speakers was a professor of biomedical engineering at a top-ranked medical school. There was a video system that projected the speakers' faces on enormous screens, so you could see every detail. Now, this woman was definitely ugly by conventional standards: bulbous nose, lumpy lips, big ears that stuck way out. But two things made her seem striking and handsome (although still definitely not pretty): she had a great haircut and fashion sense, and her work was fascinating and she spoke about it with great animation and conviction.

I'd bet my bottom dollar she was teased mercilessly about her looks as a kid, yet she went on to do something amazing with her life and turned into a grownup who is highly respected in a challenging field. No pitiful middle-aged-fading-beauty-queen existential panic for her. (In fact, I'd trade my better looks and lesser career for hers, in a heartbeat.)

Your appearance will change throughout your life, but your accomplishments are a solid legacy.
posted by Quietgal at 10:02 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Quietgal--I think you're right, but by 19, a person has had many opportunities for scrupulous actions, moral achievements, and mindfulness. Someone who pays attention to the small, everyday consequences of her actions will most likely do the same in the bigger arenas. Young women and men are more than just pretty facades or muscular frames.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:35 AM on April 24, 2011

Everyone here is right - including YOU.

I also commend you on your insightful post. Just want to add...

- Yep. The older you get, the less you will care about what other people think and vice versa. Promise.

- Be mindful of who you keep close. Charming but mean-spirited folks can undermine you until you become truly centered in yourself. The negative effect will happen by degrees when you fall in with one of these types, and often you will misinterpret these people, miss their worse intentions towards you and others, and you may keep them around for too long until you learn to listen to yourself.

ProTip: Even if you believe you like (love?) someone, yet they often leave you feeling like shit about yourself - RUN. You're not the failure there, it's just a bad fit.

- Read up on concepts that feature becoming independent of either the good OR bad opinion of others! This is really important. Basically, the only opinion that counts is yours. The only person who knows you or is fit to judge you is you.

That last one sounds pretty theoretical, but when you can (finally) put it into practice - WOW. Your whole life will change for the better. Life experience helps you do it, just keep the concept in mind as you go. It'll happen.

Your post and the issues you discuss tells me you are already on your way.
posted by jbenben at 11:18 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing you might want to look into is an all-female therapy group. If you're in college, this might be a resource that your counseling center offers. What you'll get out of this is an opportunity to sit down once a week with other women, listen to their hopes, fears, and difficulties, and talk about yours. You can get your ideas about beauty and female competition out in the open, and you'll have someone (the therapist or therapists that lead the group) who is skilled, compassionate, and trained, who can help you work through those feelings. You'll learn things you'd never learn about other women even if they were your best friend, and it can lead to an enormous amount of compassion for the people in the world around you. People can express thoughts and fears in therapy that they'd never want to admit to someone in "real life" in case that person would hold it against them. But in therapy, you and the rest of the group agree that you're creating a safe space, where you're allowed to discuss and question each others ideas, but not belittle or mock anyone for having them. It can be a really amazing experience, and is something I think everyone should participate in at least once if they can.

Another idea that's a little out of left field is to go and spend the day at a Korean spa, or other all-female nude spa environment. I'm not sure where you're located, but big cities like DC should have one. Basically, there's a room with all kinds of hot tubs and massaging jets, and everyone from kids to grandmothers is in the same room, buck naked, but not focused on their nakedness at all. Everyone is there to relax, de-stress, and enjoy themselves. Something about seeing all those different types of bodies, from big to small to double-amputee to black to white to hairy to smooth, lets you relax about your own body. You see everything, but, in seeing it, realize that you're not seeing anything about the person, you're just seeing the muscle and skin they're clothed in.
posted by MsMolly at 3:00 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am scody's friend who says "there is enough to go around"

And in a world that operates from the principal that "there is not enough to go around", there is an investment in your pain, jealousy etc. to keep the world of false scarcity that way. It's bullshit. No one deserves that. You don't deserve that

Consider jealousy to be something that has been shaped and formed over time and through experience. It is an energy that has taken shape. The energy is good and an intrinsic part of you. Consider the shape it has taken to be distorted.

Please don't think about removing it. It just needs to be transformed. While talking, analyzing, therapy, etc is good to a point, it's still talking.

I believe in yoga as a practical tool. I am biased. I am a teacher. And I have used it to deal with the issues you are dealing with.

1) It makes you feel good.
2) It makes you feel comfortable in you're own body.

Period. End stop.

For me, take away all the Indian/spiritual overlays/iconography/fancy talk/fashion/hyper flexible models on the cover of Yoga Journal/gurus/kirtan's/connection to God stuff and that's it in a nutshell.

When I began after major head injuries, brain traumas and meds to prevent seizure, I would wake in the morning, feel like shit, do a practice and feel good. Next day same thing. Day after same thing. I soon realized, "Why don't I do this every day"

It also helped me to model nude for art classes. There is something special in that focus that each individual artist places on you. Then after each pose you get to see how each artist has a different perspective of your own beauty.

Lastly, this is a poem I wrote some years back.....


The seed of a woman’s beauty
Lies not in her body
But how she lives
In the presence of her own nakedness.
posted by goalyeehah at 3:19 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you should take up an aggressive sport (boxing? martial arts? maybe roller derby?) and set physical goals for yourself (punch the bag 200 times in x seconds. Break a board with your pinky finger. Etc.) When you "work out" at the gym for general fitness, you see your body as an ornament. When you break things, you start to see your body as a tool. If you start to value your body for what it DOES, not how pretty it is, your worldview will switch.

After a hard, asskicking workout where your tough, strong body BROKE things, you won't be concerned with how glamourous you are-- you'll be swaggering around, high on endorphins because of what a badass you are.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:41 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hi xbeautychix,

I am noticing all the answers you highlighted as "best answers" and the overall sense I get from the answers that helped you the most is some kind of sense that the problem is a spiritual problem -- as jealousy always is. I think jealousy is about not seeing that everybody has equal value, that there is no way to compare one human to another, that loss is an inevitable part of life, that there is no perfection in anyone, and that we do not live to be admired by other people, or to admire ourselves. That is not what a human is for.

I relate to your jealousy, to some of your insecurities and fears. I'm female -- and the best change to happen in my life was to grow close to other women, as I began to do in my mid-twenties. I used to only be friends with men, but becoming friends with women was really good for my heart and my brain, and shifted my perspective on the world in so many ways, and made me truly value women as individuals, and helped me better value and understand myself.

You sound like a very sane and compassionate person. Good luck! Also, here are two books that might be helpful... Thoughts and Feelings can give you exercises to deal with "intrusive thoughts," and The Beauty Myth is useful for a political or cultural shaking-up; it's not just a problem with you (this focus on female beauty) it's everywhere, all around us, and we can't help but be expressions of the culture we are in.

I encourage you to try to become friends with women! This seems like the most important thing. Try even to connect to your mother on a human (not mother-daughter) level.
posted by PersonAndSalt at 7:10 AM on April 25, 2011

One more thought....

Work on inoculating yourself from messages in the media.

This doesn't have to be an exercise in negativity. It is what it is. Still, it is significant that every single image and piece of information we are now (literally) force fed is designed to tell us we are lacking in some area (looks, status) and the solution is to buy buy buy.

I was reading a great passage in a book yesterday about how Vogue magazine first used the word "cellulite" back in the late 60's or early 70's - and almost overnight a now billion dollar a year industry was born.

Practice noticing and then disregarding or debunking those types of messages throughout your day, every day.

Bonus: Developing your Critical Thinking Skills will make you a smarter person in general.
posted by jbenben at 8:51 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

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