Normally the gym makes me feel pretty good. I go at lunchtime (maybe) twice a week and come back brimming with energy, refreshed after a good sweat up followed by a nice hot shower. Last week, I came back to the office annoyed and flat. As I had been running, a stunning woman caught my eye on the treadmill beside me. Resplendent in hot pink lulu lemon, she was at least a decade younger than myself, tanned, lithe and slender. Her glossy ponytail bounced along in her runner’s rhythm. And she was up to 12 kph, and I was huffing and puffing at 10kph. Shuffling along, squat body clad in kmart gear, red face and greasy hair, I felt woefully inadequate. Bugger. Why can’t I be like her, I thought? Why can’t I be slender and tanned? I normally wouldn’t give a shit, really. I am pleased I am jogging again and I thought I may have turned a corner as to how I look. But…. Grrrr! Why was I feeling so crap? Why the comparison?
I came back to my desk and opened an email from close friend. Said friend has been, unsuccessfully, trying to break into property market for some time, and started reading a book about property investment. ‘I’ve read two pages, and feel like a complete failure because I don’t own a house. Everyone says it’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others, but I do it all the time, and all day long.’
As we all know, comparisons with others, particularly in the hostile environment of the Melbourne property market, or against twenty somethings at the gym, are an extraordinarily negative thing to do. I quickly wrote back to said friend ‘stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has their own path to tread.’ But of course I am a hypocrite, as I am guilty of it too.
Everyone does it. That person has that handbag, that person has that house, that person had that holiday, that person has that job – why don’t I have those things? we think to ourselves. In this age of social media it’s more than just keeping up with the neighbours or the ladies at church, because other people’s lives and achievements are constantly in our faces. The world of visible, highly competitive happiness is everywhere, but it’s important to note that very few people present a full and realistic picture of their lives. ‘Everyone on social media manages their avatar,’ my friend P says, ‘AND it’s full of cunts humblebragging all over the place.’
Yes, we are all guilty of it. In this excellent article, psychologist Danielle Tempesta points out that ‘the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel’.
Another friend, J, comments: ‘How bad is social media though? Like if you’re single and lonely your feed will be filled with those soft focus engagement/wedding photos, and if you’ve gained a bit of weight and you’re feeling bad about it, your feed will be full people achieving goals running half marathons or on yoga retreats (no shit – I have a facebook friend at a yoga retreat in Bali this week, photos are of her actually doing a bridge in a bikini.).’
And quite apart from social media, I didn’t know the girl at the gym at all. She was young and lovely, but I didn’t know what her life was like. I could assume she was a healthy individual but that’s about all I knew about her – who was I to think she had a better life than I did. I am a healthy, successful woman in my thirties, about to get married to the love of my life. Why bother comparing myself with someone I didn’t even know?
Furthermore, it’s actually counterproductive to compare yourself unfavourably with others. Tempesta says: ‘Ruminating about how someone else is better looking, has more friends, or is more successful than you is both time-consuming and ineffective. Being hard on ourselves actually zaps motivation and decreases goal completion. If you really want to live a life that feels fulfilling you need to dedicate your time and energy to your own.’
I don’t blame my friends for comparing – it’s hard to avoid. But we need to do a lot less of it. In its most basic sense, if you compare yourself with others, you will always be losing a battle. Put your energy into yourself, because we ALL need to tread our own path.
I was at the gym at lunchtime yesterday and co-incidentally, the pink lulu girl was doing her makeup in the mirror at the same time. Now dressed and refreshed, I was feeling better about myself than I was last week. The girl caught my eye in the mirror and smiled shyly. ‘I love your scarf,’ she said, commenting on the dark blue pashmina I had hung around my neck to perk up my black corporate uniform. ‘Where did you get that?’
‘Oh, a chemist,’ I said flippantly, ‘ages ago’.
‘Oh it’s stunning‘, she said, ‘really suits you.’
‘Thanks’ I said, smiling. Marvelling at how women at the gym can bond over nothing and yet everything.
‘So jealous. I can never wear that colour.’
‘Of course you could!’ I said, not because that’s what women say, but because she could – it was an inoffensive colour.
‘No way, looks totally wrong on me’ she said, piling her hair up on her heard in a top knot. She picked up her bag and smiled again. She was really very sweet, and highly self-conscious. ‘I’ll see you later.’
‘Yeah, see ya.’ I said.
I hope she stops the comparisons. They’re not productive.