Comparison in a woman’s life… let’s face it, it’s everywhere, and it’s universal. I think we can all agree it’s very difficult to admire and respect other women without jealousy or looking at them and thinking of all the things they have that you lack. We pulled a few ladies together, Jillian Volkmar, Addison McKissack, and Tina Esnaashari, to open up about the comparison monster.
WHAT ARE THE WAYS YOU COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS?
JV: I compare everything about myself to others. Every facet of my life is a way to compare it to someone else's, which is super frustrating. One thing for me that I really struggled with at the beginning of college was comparing my spiritual side of myself to others. On Instagram everyone shows a picture of their bible and granola and I’m like, “Well, I ate a poptart and didn't think about Jesus once”.
AM: I think for me, especially growing up with two sisters where I was constantly compared to them, it kinda becomes a gut reaction. It’s not a conscious choice but it happens. I’m giving less of a shit about what people say about me, which is good, but it's a long way coming.
JV: I’m much more confident in affirming myself as a person or a brain. More of my comparison comes from a physical thing because I’m not “skinny” as society would say.
AM: Instagram makes me feel like I’m not being a woman in the right way. Because what you see is all bright white furniture and “I went on a hike” and going to the movies with friends. I get anxiety attacks in the movies, I don’t go to movies. My furniture is all hand-me-downs because I’m the third child. Social media only hinders me from developing into the person I want to be.
JV: I feel like a lot of women try to use social media for good but you end up comparing yourself. It’s not just why don’t I look like Kim Kardashian, it’s why aren’t I as strong of a leader as Addison? I tried to start doing this thing where after I say something to myself I ask if I would say that to 10 year old me. If I wouldn’t say that to little Jillian, I’m not going to say that to myself.
WHEN DID YOU NOTICE YOU STARTED COMPARING YOURSELF AND WHERE DO YOU THINK IT CAME FROM?
AM: I’m the youngest of three girls. When I hit high school my body developed differently from my sisters. We are all the same height but they’re stick thin and I have curves. That comparison became so unhealthy that two eating disorders came from them. I think body image especially is a big thing in my comparisons.
JV: Comparison runs deep with sisters. With my older sister it’s been us constantly comparing our whole lives. We are very different people. She is a genius. But I do better in school than she did just because school isn’t about intelligence it’s about standardized tests. That's something she struggles with and when she’s like “well I’m stupid” I’m like, “You’re way smarter than me”. Then I get insecure because she is way smarter so it’s a constant back and forth. We love each other and we are each other’s best friends but we are always comparing each other.
TE: I felt like I was in a different world growing up because of being first generation. My mom always used comparison as a primary method of discipline. I’m certain her intent was not negative but I think things are passed on generationally that aren’t genetic. Growing up in a middle eastern household you go to college and you do something that makes you a lot of money and you do it because your parents have been through hell. My mom has been through two revolutions. So, first of all, I can’t even complain. Second of all, it’s like, “I know you love to sing but be a doctor and make six figures”. At some point I have to be like, “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and I’m proud of my heritage but that’s not what I want”.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS SUCH THING AS GOOD COMPARISON?
AM: When I’m reading about or following other hardcore feminists I’m comparing my feminism to theirs and I’m learning. I think comparison in the way of education and bettering yourself is good. But bettering yourself on your own terms and not doing something because everyone else is. It’s such a fine line between positivity and horrible negativity.
JV: Instead of comparison it needs to be shifted more into admiration. It’s “I admire your leadership skills. I want to grow into a better leader”. It’s not “Why am I not a better leader right now?” It’s “I want to grow into these skills and become a better leader like you are”. It’s so easy to say and so hard to do. You have to train yourself to flip it in your mind. Something I struggle with more than comparing myself to others is comparing myself to my ideal self. My ideal self is a lot more mentally stable and 70lbs lighter and she knows what she’s going to do after she graduates and she is unattainable from where I am standing right now. But the comparison is so easy and so engrained.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SAYING, “COMPARISON IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY”?
JV: Do I feel flattered if a friend compares themselves to me? No, I get freaked out because people are observing me, so there’s no good side to it.
AM: What you said earlier, you complimented me and I got very anxious because I prefer to be on the outside and no one looking at me. Even when it’s coming from of a place of love and admiration.
TE: I wonder if comparison is birthed from people’s general uncomfortability with things not being labeled. Even people in our generation they just want everything to fit into neat boxes. Comparison is a way for things to make sense in our heads.
HOW CAN WE ADMIRE SOMEONE WITHOUT COMPARING?
AM: It comes from the reason why you’re admiring them and your intention behind it. If I’m looking at someone I admire am I looking at her because I want to be like her or I really enjoy her and am grateful she is this way.
ARD: To admire any woman is to first admire yourself
JV: I called myself stupid the other day and my mom flipped out. If I criticize my intellect she will flip out. And she told me I had to say seven good things about myself or she was going to stop the car.
TE: It’s funny your mom got so mad at you for saying anything unkind about yourself. When I am spiraling my mom has witnessed it and gets angry when I talk about myself negatively.
JV: My mom got angry when I called myself stupid but we are all still learning. If I were in the car and called myself fat she would tell me to do something about it and ask me what I had for breakfast. We’ve made strides in some places but still working in other places.
WHAT ABOUT DIFFERENT WAYS OF COMPARING, LIKE FINANCIALLY?
AM: Money was so different back then. My dad was like, “I just worked two summer jobs and school was paid off”.
ARD: I was talking to my parents about money the other day. Sometimes I feel like I’m not suffering as much as my parents did. I feel guilty because I’m so privileged.
JV: Money has been a form of comparison my entire life. Now I’m in a sorority and everyone has nice things and goes on vacations. Some people pay their way but I’m comparing myself to the girls who have everything.
TE: Do you think sometimes we blanket comparison as a way or means to keep us humble? Or we use comparison to keep ourselves “grounded” because it’s an internal instinct for us to do?
AM: I occasionally have very narcissistic bouts of confidence and it gets to a point where it's too much and I need a reality check. I’ll go through feelings of shit and then I’m on the upswing and then I’m back down. When people aren’t doing well I think I need to tone it down. I don’t want to come off as unlikeable because I am feeling a certain way.
JV: When you are feeling confident it’s hard to find the balance between “Am I hindering someone else’s success because I’m being bananas about mine or am I being confident?” Can I just be comfortable in my confidence right now?
AM: Making ourselves smaller is such a female thing. With women we have been taught we need to be receptive of people’s feelings and how they look at us.
AM: Women aren’t allowed to own their power in a way that makes you feel empowered because it threatens others.
JV: I’ve been told my whole life I’m too much. Inside I’ve always felt so small and shrink myself to what other people want from me. One day I made this graphic that said, “stop shrinking yourself, you’re enough” and I wrote a blog post. It finally clicked and I realized it was the truth. What about me needs to change for me to accept myself?