How do I stop comparing myself to others?
January 3, 2014 2:42 PM   Subscribe

When looking at other women, particularly strangers out in public, I often objectify them. I know I haven't always done this and I want it to stop.

Comparisons are often physically based i.e. she has better calves than me, her hair is healthier than mine, her jeans look brand new and often evoke negative feelings about myself i.e. I need to go to the gym, I need better winter boots, I need to wax my eyebrows.

I know I didn't used to do this. I believe it started about 2 years ago when I turned 30. I'm looking for strategies to avoid it. I hate it. I want to be able to go out in public without mentally assaulting myself and insulting the female race.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have an inner-voice that can be very mean sometimes--I do this a lot too and something that sort of helps is when I catch myself criticizing or comparing myself to others I make a point to stop, imagine someone ELSE saying that to me, and respond in my head appropriately, e.g. "Ew, that was RUDE to say--your hair looks fine, stop worrying." That, or in the case of the examples you give, I might ask myself, "What would I have to do to be that woman's 'equal'? Am I willing to spend hours in the gym to work on my calves? Take the time every day to style my hair? Spend my hard-earned money on expensive jeans that most people probably will NOT notice?" The answer is almost always "no", and for some reason that makes me feel better.
posted by lovableiago at 2:50 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might help to remind yourself that you would never say this sort of stuff (nor even think it, probably!) to another woman, so why is it acceptable to behave that way towards yourself?

It's also true that many (most?) western women have extremely distorted views of their own bodies.

Finally, my mom told me once that everyone gets old. Everyone. If you look to physical beauty to make yourself happy, you will lose. What's important are our friends and loved ones, work that challenges and rewards, and so on.

Good luck!
posted by kavasa at 3:02 PM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

What about making the same observations, but mindfully extracting the judgment/self-comparison part? So instead of "she had better calves than I do" (which leads to "ugh, I need to go to the gym") you turn it into "she has pretty calves." Think of it as the equivalent of seeing something pretty in the world that has nothing to do with you personally. You would never think "the sky is a better shade of blue than my eyes are," you just think "the sky is so blue today."

The trick is to become aware of the mental chain of events that goes from observation --> value judgment --> self-recrimination. It takes some time and practice, but if you work at it, you can learn just to stay present in the observation stage. If you're interested in mindfulness practice more generally, Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck is great for this sort of thing.
posted by scody at 3:06 PM on January 3, 2014 [14 favorites]

A friend was recently objectified. The exchange went:
woman 1: look at her big butt. That is a really big butt.
Woman 2: I have a big butt, too!
Woman 1: She has a really big butt. I wish I had a big butt.
My friend: I love my fat ass!

So, perhaps you should stop objectifying privately. Instead, approach those you objectify and seek their advice/support for your own aspirations. It will take time to admit to yourself there are things about you that need changing or just want to make less frustrating. Courage will grow as your circle of former objects turns into a circle of change agents/friends who will help your development & hopefully turn you into a better person.
posted by parmanparman at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2014

Google picture of celebrities without makeup.

Google picture of young / old celebrities (eg Elizabeth Taylor then & now).

No one is perfect and beauty does not solve any problems. Everyone loses their looks. Remember that even beautiful celebrities have poor relationships and get divorced. It sounds like you think beauty will make you feel good in this world but if you investigate with wisdom you will find this is not the case.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two things that really helped me were:

Stop Thougtlessly Consuming Harmful Media - I'm not saying you have to stop watching your favorite show, but don't read Cosmopolitan in your dentist's office. Don't watch reality television. Download or stream movies and shows you like, without all the commercials that are designed to make you feel inadequate.

Paying Strangers Compliments Instead of Dissing Them - I described my process for doing this in another thread. An excerpt:

When I have a really negative outlook, it fucks up my social interactions and makes me judge myself more harshly. When I notice this is happening, I'll sit somewhere, say, on a bench in Chicago's Merchandise Mart, and people watch and try to come up with one positive comment/compliment about total strangers. It can be really hard, if you're used to snarking on people.

"I bet that person has a bunch of crazy stories. Those shorts are a really awesome shade of pink. I like that hat. Aww, those children made sure to hold hands as they crossed the street. That toddler is very energetic. He's a fast walker. Those shoes are cute. Dressing in that style must be very deliberate and thoughtful. That is a lot of neck tattoos, that requires dedication. Holy shit, she can really walk in crazy high heels. That panhandler has a very clear voice. That is probably the suit I would wear if a was a business dude. She's pretty. Aww, he looks really tired and I hope he gets a nap soon. Her hair is bouncy. She looks kind."

posted by Juliet Banana at 3:21 PM on January 3, 2014 [59 favorites]

The effect that you're noticing in your thinking isn't your fault. It's a perfectly natural, probably inevitable response to the constant assault of objectifying, demeaning, dehumanizing depictions of women that saturate most advertising and "entertainment" media. The best you can do is to try to limit your exposure. It's difficult and damned inconvenient, but rigorously avoiding those toxic messages any time you have the choice can have a very beneficial effect on your mental health. Don't consume any more of that brain-poison than absolutely necessary.
posted by Corvid at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

A little off point, but just a tweak to the concept about aging and "losing looks," from a dweller in the land of the unyoung and alternatively beautiful:

There is no such thing as losing your looks. Your looks change. There are all kinds of beauty, and an aged face possesses its own, venerable kind.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:58 PM on January 3, 2014 [27 favorites]

I live in an area where there are frequent movie/photo shoots, so I see professionally pretty women all the time. What helps me is something I learned from a past job in the beaty industry: anyone can look good with enough time and money. So I think of my messy ponytail and poorly fitting jeans as a resource allocation decision, not a personal failing.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2014 [15 favorites]

Try this mantra: "Her looks are not judging mine."

I love what @thinkpiece said. Yes, "there are all kinds of beauty." Indeed.
posted by hush at 5:15 PM on January 3, 2014

Oh, my goodness. Insulting the female race? No, but you're being terribly hard on yourself!! Just how you're phrasing this -- that your thoughts are harmful to other people is breaking my heart. You're not being mean to them by thinking this, but you're being so cruel to yourself!

What do you think of yourself without a comparison to another person? What's your self-esteem when you're sitting alone in the living room? Fixing your self-esteem and taking good, good care of yourself (and I don't mean working out and eating right, I mean being kind to your heart and believing in yourself as a capable human being) will dissolve these comparative thoughts. "I need better boots" will turn into, "Where'd she get those boots?! Super cute."

I mean, don't ask me how to do it necessarily -- my self-esteem is frequently in the dumps. Videos like this Dove (grr, advertisement) touch on it. We are so hard on ourselves. We don't see what other people see -- and I heard the very apt metaphor once that we're comparing our cutting floor rejects with everyone else's opening night.

Maybe pay it forward. Instead of mentally insulting yourself, tap the woman on the shoulder and say, "Cute boots! Where did you find those?" or "Excuse me, but you just have such beautiful hair. Have a nice day!" Chances are 99.9% that the women you're comparing yourself to are looking in the mirror, hating what they see and hating all their stupid clothes. A compliment from a random stranger is going to make everybody feel better.
posted by mibo at 6:49 PM on January 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

There's a relevant book about this you'd be interested in reading.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:19 PM on January 3, 2014

How involved do you feel in your own life? Doing things puts you at the centre of them.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:24 PM on January 3, 2014

I love Juliet Banana's comments. When I catch myself thinking like this about random strangers, I find it helps me to make up random stories about them, stories that contradict the original stereotype I am most likely responding to. The "validly beautiful" woman becomes an off-duty paramedic who just received a spa day as a gift from a grateful family. The "snotty businessman" is a minister wearing a suit for the first time in years, on his way to counsel a dying senior partner in a law firm who does not want his colleagues to see him meet with someone unusual. Silly as it is, it helps me see them as people.
posted by rpfields at 12:30 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It helped me to realise that physical attributes only constitute a fraction of attraction.
posted by michelle lightning at 4:41 AM on January 4, 2014

Yeah, you're not insulting women with these thoughts, you're insulting you. So where you want to start is by being kinder to you. It's possible what you're noticing is not the boots but the confidence with which she's wearing them, and that's what you're envying.

I started randomly complimenting people on the street some years ago as a self-imposed assertiveness exercise, and it's now one of my favorite things to do. What starts out as "She looks so stylish, I would look ridiculous in a hat like that" ends up making someone else's day when I say to the person "great hat, you look so festive!" I wouldn't tell a stranger she's got great calves, but I would say "love those boots, where did you get them?"

It *always* surprises them in a good way and the response has *always* been positive. And often there's a story - saved up for the boots, just got the haircut & wasn't sure about it yet, thrift store scarf. The encounter may take 8 seconds but I walk away with new perspective (she's no longer a reminder of me looking silly in hats) and she carries the warm-fuzzy of a compliment around all day.

Try it a few times. It's awkward at first but so rewarding. Right now the woman you're giving the stink-eye as you self-flagellate thinks you're being critical (and may be thinking "she's staring at my jeans, I knew I was too old for this style...."). Turn both of your days around by simply asking her where she got them. Its a kindness to yourself as much as it is to her.
posted by headnsouth at 5:44 AM on January 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

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