The other day I received a crafty birthday party invitation for my son that was made by a friend of mine. It was perfect; it was darling. It had a cute little bow and tags and fancy handwriting; it had layers and glitter and pizazz. It had a fun theme and perfect execution.
Instinctively, I thought of my own invites—most often a text or a scribbled note with dry markers on scratch paper. I felt an overwhelming urge to assert my worth as a woman and create cutesie invitations, which if I’m honest, would fail, leaving behind a trail of glitter and tattered self-worth. I thought of the friend who had sent the invitation, and was stabbed with a prick of envy and bitterness that she had the foresight, time, desire, and creativity to make such beautiful things. Naturally I concluded that my son probably thought I was a horrible mom because I lacked such invitation-making skills, which then led me to catalogue all of my other failures as a mother. In the beginning, I failed by binging on Twinkies during my pregnancy; then I failed because he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2; later, I failed because he wasn’t potty-trained at 18 months; and eventually, I failed because I never did remember to dress him up as an elf on “Dress Like an Elf” day at school. This then led me to think about how I was failing at everything else in my life. I ended the session in a haze of self-loathing, and every time I saw that blastedly cute invitation the process started all over again.
I was at a beach on vacation last year, and there was a mother frolicking around with her children. Her body was a living version of Barbie. It was perky. It bounced in all the right places. It was smooth and taut and tanned. Instead of basking in the sun and seaside beauty, I spent my time resenting her and shamefully covering my own pasty and definitely not perky self with a towel.
This got me thinking….what percentage of our day do we spend looking at, thinking about, envying, and yes, even hating, other women’s good points? Oh, that gal is skinnier than I am—look at my flab. My friend is amazing at playing with her children—I’m such a lame mom. Her house is so clean—mine is a step away from being declared a public safety hazard. Her hair/butt/eyes/make-up/outfits are perfect, which of course means I am a frumpled disaster. She has a perfect singing voice—I sound like a dying cat. She makes the best desserts—I am a walking Pinterest fail. She is so well-spoken—I am like a broken record. Her children are always so well-dressed and clean—my kids look like they smeared on marshmallow goo and then rolled in dirt. Oh, look at her social media feed and all the cute things she did for her kids on St. Patrick’s Day—not only did I not feed my kids green pancakes and milk, but I didn’t even dress them in green (due to our dirty laundry build-up) which subjected them to an entire day of pinching. She is, she is, she is, and I am not, I am not, I am not.
Think of the last compliment you gave to another woman. Let me guess—did it sound something like this? “Wow, you are so (fill in the blank with whatever it is you are supposedly complimenting them on)! I could never (fill in the blank with a long list of your failures in that department)!” My brand of this equation was, “Your invitation was so amazing! I could never do that! I am such a loser at that stuff.” Just take a step back and look at that twisted “compliment”. Then, think of the last time you were talking about another woman with your girl friends and something awesome that woman had done came up. What followed? Yep. The onslaught of comparisons, with each of you listing off how you have not met up to that perfect standard of that woman.
Ladies, we have a problem. A serious problem.
We can be a bit like Dementors from Harry Potter, who float around sucking people’s souls and happiness out of them to feed their own dark existence. We might as well start each day with thinking, “Today, just to make myself miserable, I am going to focus on all of the joy and beauty of every woman I meet, compare it to the worst within myself, and use it to feed my own feelings of unworthiness.” Yes, that is demented. What a way to live life! What a sad way to see things! Why do we do this to ourselves?
Why? Because we are finding our worth in all the wrong places. The way I see it, we’ve got it wrong in two ways.
First off, we are often measuring our worth by things that don't matter. Who the flip cares about perky body parts or the size of a waistline? What difference does it make if my healthy and thriving child walks at 10 months or 18 months?
How is having a perfect body or a trend-setting toddler, or any other point of comparison we obsess over, going to make me or those around me happier? How is gauging my success by the often shallow and transitory standards set by society going to help me become someone that will not only radiate and live in joy, but who will share that joy with others? Using such measures of worth is like measuring the worth of a pearl by its oyster shell.
Secondly, we are measuring our worth through other women. We are programmed to feel that the success of another means our own failure. That’s where we get it wrong.
Let me ask this: If we think another woman is awesome in some way, does that take some irretrievable slice of awesomeness away from our own pie chart? If my friend’s house is cleaner than mine, does that automatically add more dust particles to the layer of dust in my house? If another mom plays so well with her children, does that automatically negate how well I read to mine?
The beauty of life is that joy, talents, goodness, the ability to uplift yourself and others, and yes, even the worth of individuals—are limitless. These are not scarce commodities that are tied to other people or things; they are abundant, and come from within ourselves.
Additionally, our beauty comes because of our differences, not in spite of them. We are each an imperfect, yet vibrantly colored thread; we are indeed beautiful on our own, but when woven together with different threads, we become part of a wonderful work of art. When threaded against other colors, our own color is not dulled; rather, its beauty is only magnified and enhanced, also becoming something much more strong than when it was alone.
And consider this: we aren’t the only ones affected when we play this comparison game. Endlessly comparing not only breeds hatred of self, it also breeds hatred of others. Instead of being happy that our friends are wonderful, we nurse dark seeds of envy and resentment. Is that a true friendship? And hating random strangers for their perceived awesomeness—talk about one of the most belittling and mean-spirited exercises of human character!
When I think about the people who I love to be around, who I really and truly want to be like, who I seek out when I need a boost—it is not because of their perfect body or perfect children, or perfect anything, really. These are the friends who care about me, not about comparing themselves to me. They realize that their value is not determined by anyone else, but upon their innate worth and their ability to help others recognize their worth. They radiate light and joy from their ability to be confident and happy with themselves, despite the successes they see in others that they may not have. Or better said, they radiate this joy, in part, because of the good things they see in others. They rejoice in me, they rejoice in others, they rejoice in themselves, they rejoice in life.
So, yes, ladies, we have a problem. But the good news is that we have the total and complete power to solve it. It’s in our hands, and begins with changing the way we look at ourselves and others. I’ll start. I’m going to tell my friend, “The invitation that you gave me was so adorable! You're incredible!” And that’s it. No addendum of self-insult. No self-hazing. No qualifier about my own invitation failures. Instead, I’ll rejoice in her being her, and in me being me.