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Posted on May 26, 2011 in Dear Diary | 23 comments

The Covert Art of Comparison

Yesterday, I was supposed to run.

Well, more than that, I was supposed to go on a fun run with a small group organized by Road Runner Sports in Falls Church, and this “fun” run was supposed to be 4 miles. Obviously, I was freaking out about it. I mean, 4 miles is exactly .9 miles more than I’ve ever run in my life! And having the entire day to dwell didn’t exactly inspire my confidence.

I’ll skip ahead to the end and tell you now that no, I didn’t end up going on the run. But I swear it was not because I chickened out! It was because I had to return to the dentist to get my cavity filled after work. Boo.

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While I figured that a 2:30 appointment would mean I was good to go by the 6:30 run, I think my dentist may have tried to overcompensated for my dental fears by shooting me up with so much novocaine I was numb until 7 PM. Plus, I was numb from my chin up through my left eye socket! Fail. I take back everything I said about disliking going to the doctor more than the dentist.

Aaaaaanywho, I guess I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a modicum of relief when I had a bonafide excuse not to go on the run. All day I was freaking out about the very idea of going:

I’ve never run 4 miles before! What if I can’t finish?
What if they’re all super experienced runners?
What if they judge me for not being able to keep up?

These are just some of thoughts that were flying through my head (and out of my mouth as I whined and complained to my coworkers — sorry guys. Heh.) Clearly I had forgotten the fact that I’ve run three 5Ks, something I never would have dreamed of being able to do in the first place. By now I should have confidence in my ability to run at my own pace and know that I’m the kind of person who (mostly, hehe) finishes what she starts.

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But of course, your emotions don’t always follow what your brain knows you should feel, do they? In between freakouts, I started thinking about the comparisons we all make when it comes to health and fitness, especially as part of the healthy living blog community.

I love this community. I love how supportive it’s been in my journey to lose these 50 lbs so far. I love having been able to make so many new friends, both solely through the interwebs (isn’t technology amazing?) and in-person as well. And I love how I am continuously amazed at the strength of others in this community, other female bloggers especially, and how their example keeps me motivated to keep going to lose the rest of this weight.

But.

When you are constantly delving into the lives of such beautiful, healthy, fit, amazing women, it is almost impossible not to compare yourselves to them. I mean, c’mon. I was a teenage girl not so long ago. I think I know a thing or two about judging yourself.

Yep. That was me with my friend Colin before Prom my senior year of high school. What can I say? Teenage Gretchen was kind of a badass. (HA!)

In all seriousness though, I think that comparison issues are something that all women deal with (and I’m sure guys do too, but I have no direct experience with that perspective obviously, haha.) We are bombarded with magazines and TV shows and celebrities that are constantly feeding our insecurities, asking us to compare ourselves to them and figure out what we’re doing wrong. But I also believe that as weΒ grow out of our teenage years, we tend to feel the need to compare for self-worth a little less severely. That is, unless you are, or at one point were, overweight.

I cannot even tell you how many times a day I made comparisons to justify how I looked when I was severely overweight. It was a skill, really, to be able to compare covertly. I would walk down the street and try to compare my reflection against those of women walking past me in store windows. I would look at a woman sitting in front of me in a restaurant and try to see how much of her was spilling over the seat of her chair compared to me. I would justify my poor health by always trying to find someone bigger, someone older, someone who dressed less flatteringly, someone who was simply less attractive. All for the sole purpose of being able to think, “Well, look at that. See? I’m really not that bad.” I know that this probably makes me sound horrible but before you judge me, please take an honest look at yourself and try to tell me that at some point in your life you haven’t done the exact same thing.

Family Vacation - December 2009

Family Vacation - January 2011

I know I’m not the same person I was before I started this blog. But when I’m not busy comparing the person I am now to the person I used to be (which I feel IS okay to do), I have to admit that I continue to struggle with comparing myself to others. To the strong, beautiful, incredible women whose blogs I read daily.

She is thinner.
She is more beautiful.
She runs faster.
She can run longer.
She is more flexible.
She has better hair.
She is more fashionable.
She makes more money than me.
Her blog is more successful than mine.
She has lost more weight than me.
She has lost weight faster than me.

All of these thoughts, of course, are absolutely ridiculous when you actually stop and think about it. We all have different strengths, different voices, and different battles to fight. I mean, hello! I have no desire to run a marathon, let alone multiple ones! And I’m not quite so deluded to think that I will ever be a size 4, or have washboard abs, or be able to cook like an Iron Chef. But the temptation to line myself up beside someone else and pick out all the ways in which one or the other of us is better is still there. And I’m just trying to figure out how to feel about myself, about my accomplishments, without needing someone else to stand against.

Do you struggle with unnecessary and destructive comparison? In what ways? How do you cope? I’m hoping that acknowledgement is the first step.

23 Comments

  1. What a beautiful post, Gretchen! I love your honesty. πŸ˜€

    I think you’re right. That we all have had some feeling of not being equal to others at the same level. Whether that’s related to smarts, looks, talents, etc.

    I’ve definitely felt as if I’m not “smart enough” before. I always came up with excuses of why I was passing my chemistry exams. The teachers felt bad for me. I was a good guesser. I was just plain lucky. I still struggle with this sometimes, especially when I’m with people who seem to know a whole lot more about something than I do (especially in regards to nutrition/health, since this is my field of study.) I’ve come to the conclusion that..yes…there will always be people who are smarter than me. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not smart. That I can’t keep learning. That I’m not a hard worker and that I don’t love what I do.

    It’s a challenge, but I think backfiring all of those negative comments with strong, persuasive arguments really helps. πŸ˜€

    • I think you’re totally right. That whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing really works! If you tell yourself something enough times, you ARE going to start to believe it. I need to do this more.

  2. I find myself doing this a LOT.
    Part of it stems from the fact that I was/still am a little self conscious from the weight I put on. I’ve lost most of it, but there’s still enough to go and just this morning I found myself looking in the mirror thinking that if I don’t lose x more pounds then this person, or that person will still see me as a fatty.
    I never even focused on the 20 pounds that I’ve lost, just the 10 or 15 more that I still had to go. Luckily my fiance usually snaps me out of those funks pretty quickly by reminding what I have accomplished, and by telling me that I look amazing…but, yes. I definitely find myself walking through the mall looking at people thinking “gosh, I wish I had her legs”, or something similar. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not afraid to admit it either!

  3. I think it’s impossible to not compare yourself to others, at least sometimes. Everyone does it – even people who seem like they’re perfect or have everything together. I remember being really surprised when I realized that. It seems that everyone, no matter how together they seem, has been jealous of, or compared themselves to (in a negative way), someone else. Of course I compare myself to others (it’s especially hard in grad school when everyone is very smart, motivated, and similar), but I try to remind myself that there’s no point in doing that – everyone is just doing their own thing, and the only person you’re really competing against is yourself. I’m not going to gain anything by being jealous of or comparing myself to someone else, so why waste my time, you know?

  4. Oh and that prom photo is amaaaazing.

  5. Yes, I think most women, including myself compare ourselves to others. I’m short (4’10”) so at 135lbs I’m overweight, so I cant help but to look at other women and think, if I were as tall as her I’d look skinnier, and other things like that.

  6. I struggle with the comparison trap every.single.day. I work in two gyms which means I am constantly looking at women in tiny little outfits with rock hard bodies. As a personal trainer, I never let my insecurities show. I know what I am doing as a fitness professional and just because I weigh a little more than the other trainers does not negate that fact. But it still sucks, and I wish I didn’t struggle with insecurities. Woe is me…. haha.

    • I can’t imagine how much more exacerbated my insecurities would be if I worked at a gym, considering how I feel just when I *go* to the gym! I’m proud of you though, and you do know that you’re a freakin’ rockstar, right? πŸ™‚

  7. Every time I start to compare myself and get down on myself for not looking like the other people at my gym or on the street, I think of the Biggest Loser. I remember these morbidly obese people who get on that treadmill and run faster than me and it always motivates me and reminds me that of they can lose 200 pounds, I can certainly lose 20. But not only that, compare yourself in this way: there are millions of people who are still 400 pounds and still sitting on the couch and not doing anything about it and you are.
    Getting healthy is all about prioritizing yourself. There is always going to be someone stronger, faster, and thinner than you but that’s their deal. You are your own fabulous looking island, and you are getting healthy, and you are doing it on your own, you don’t have Jillian Michaels yelling in your ear. That makes you a beast. So every time you are comparing yourself, just remember you are doing something that it usually takes surgery, expensive trainers or a TV show for people to do.

  8. Amen sistah. I totally get where you’re coming from. It’s like you picked my brain and just wrote out the post. Way better than I ever could! πŸ™‚

  9. Oh Gretchen I constantly compare myself to others — body shape, hair, makeup, clothes, fingernails (I’m a biter!), job (knowing they probably most definitely have a higher salary than me), better relationship with their husband/family than I do, running pace (this is a big one for me!!!), etc. The list goes on and on.

    As silly as it sounds, I have a list that I keep in my purse of what I think are my good qualities/compliments that people have given me. When I’m feeling low I pull that out and read the list. It really helps me. I also try to remind myself that I have a good life and I need to be thankful/grateful for what I have.

    • I actually love that idea! I think that it’s a fantastic way of making sure you have a way to keep perspective on your awesomeness when the insecurities seem to pile up. I’m going to have to adopt this f’sho’. <3

  10. I think that everyone feels like this- but as others have said, it’s just a matter of remembering all your own awesome qualities and knowing everyone has their own personal battles and that nobody is “perfect”.

  11. Thank you for not only being completely and utterly honest but for showing me that I in fact am not crazy. I would compare myself and tell myself to stop comparing, only to do it probably 30 minutes later and I would think ‘okay, what is wrong with me that I can’t control this comparing?’ One thing that helps me is reminding myself that I’m made in God’s image and He says that I am beautiful just the way I am. That’s kind’ve become a cliche statement but if you really think about it. The Creator of the Universe believes and says that you are beautiful, who are you to think otherwise? It just makes me laugh that I think I have any right to tell Him He’s wrong πŸ™‚

  12. I think it’s actually somewhat GOOD that we have some insecurities – I think it oddly keeps us humble, which I feel is important. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to feel 110% confident about myself 24/7 but I know that’s impossible – I struggle with something every day – whether it’s my weight, my hair that day, my intelligence, my clothes, my income….

    You understand – but I think it’s completely normal. Oh, and I asked my fiance about this subject and although he rolled his eyes at me, he told me that boys get insecure, too πŸ˜‰

  13. First of all, I hate the dentist. I had my teeth cleaned on Wednesday and I was literally squirming the whole time. Hatred.

    I loved this post. I think women especially are expert comparers – I’m not sure if it’s due to self-sabotage or for self esteem boosting or both, but comparison seems to make the world go ’round for most! I try to stop myself from doing it, whenever I do (and for whatever reason) because I dislike it!

  14. I heart your honesty.

    I have to say, what is kind of sad is that the comparing doesn’t really stop–when I was pregnant and had my daughter, I entered a whole new realm of crazy-mom-comparing. That is almost crazier than the looks-comparing, let me tell you.

    I think it’s what we do with it that makes it healthy or unhealthy. I am a slow runner, but I love to read the healthy living/runner blogs because I find it inspiring, but also reassuring to read that even people who are speedier than me, thinner than me, etc. also struggle and find inspiration in others. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel like I have a goal to get to, you know?

    Re: running–seriously, just do it. It is scary and weird to join a running group, but I am SO GLAD I did. I joined the Pacers women’s program (they run out of Alexandria on Sat. AMs…email me if you want details) and it is great. There are runners of all paces and running is really such an inclusive sport. I used to get so nervous at races b/c I am slow, but now I’ve just come to embrace it and just try to improve every time.

  15. This post was awesome! It oddly reminded me of a quote I saw today – “dont focus on the negatives in life, no one goes to the dogpark and sits down for their picnic next to the one pile of dog shit” ahhahahahahaha. but anyways.

    Dude, I compare myself to people all the time, I know everyone does it. Its human nature! It would probably be weird if you didn’t, just a little bit, becuase its human nature. The question is how you react to that natural incling to do so. Let it bog you down, or look at that difference as just that – a difference – not a comparison of them being better than you. Gretch, you are AMAZING. If you are going to make a list of qualities to keep in your purse, think about that you are an amazing writer, who has started an inspirational blog and gone on a journey to change your life – that you know, I know, everyone reading this knows, not alot of people could do! You know, I bet alot of people are reading your blog, seeing pics of you and saying, “she’s losing weight faster than me, she writes better than me, she’s prettier than me, she’s smarter than me…” People look at YOU to like you look at other people, and whats magical about that, is you can always keep improving yourself – but do it for yourself, onward and upward!

    ps Im also pretty sleepy right now and I hope this made sense hahaha

  16. First of all, thank you for this post. I read a lot of myself between those lines. (Although I did not look quite so fabulous when I went to prom.)

    Second, you have beautiful legs. Just sayin’.

    And finally, the healthier my body gets, the healthier I get emotionally, too. It’s become easier to see myself as being not so different from the Beautiful People. I may never be the thinnest, or the prettiest, or the fastest … but I make progress, and that’s sayin’ something!

  17. Oh Gretchen…have you been inside my head? It’s so hard to stop that habit and I’m as guilty as anyone. Having gone through a bad breakup, I still find myself comparing myself to others especially to my ex’s new gf. Little by little, it lessens and instead I focus on me, my accomplishments and how far I’ve come since the breakup.

    You’re doing great and if you stay this honest with yourself, you’ll work out the issues that led to the weight gain and you’ll conquer them all. You rock!

  18. I didnt judge you at all, actually I do it all the time when I compare myself to other women. Its usually something bad about me “your legs are fatter than hers” etc. Its never something nice like “I love her dress” or somthing like that.

    Why are we so hard on ourselves? but would never treat our friends like that?

    By the way: your family photo comparison is amazing! you look awesome!

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