No matter the age, background, career goals, marriage status, or part of the world she lives in, every woman has filled in this blank at some point in her life: I’m not as ______ as her.
For some of us, we fill in the blank only sporadically, intuitively understanding the dangers of comparison. For some of us, however, we fill in the blank weekly, daily, or even hourly, our lives becoming a walking measure of where we stand against our self-proclaimed competition.
We fill in the blank with a variety of words about a variety of women in our lives. We fill in the the blank with “smart,” “sexy,” “sophisticated,” “athletic,” “wealthy” and all sorts of other adjectives. The “her” in the statement changes, but one thing remains the same: Our tendency to fill in the blank can become an obsession that eats away at our value, our compassion, and even our happiness.
The Dangers of Female Competition
I know many of you are thinking: What’s wrong with competition?
Competition can be healthy. Sizing ourselves up against others can drive us to be better and to improve, which isn’t a bad thing. Being aware of where we rank in certain categories can help us avoid the status quo and set new goals for ourselves.
However, it is the obsessive tendency we as women sometimes have to compare ourselves to each other that can become dangerous and demeaning. We compare ourselves with co-workers, friends, family, and even celebrities we’ve never met about every aspect of our being. These comparisons and self-imposed competitions can lead to counterproductive feelings.
Our need to constantly compete with other women can breed jealousy, which ultimately leads to contempt. Feeling less than another woman in a certain area can make us feel defensive, and our inner Regina George sometimes emerges. We gossip about the women around us, gathering supporters on our bandwagon. We needlessly tear each other down due to this arbitrary desire to be the best or to at least be perceived that way.
In the same vein, our need to compete with other women ultimately leads to feelings of inadequacy. We mourn when we feel like we can’t bridge the gap between our current position and another woman’s success.
In a world where we are all our own person, what’s the sense in comparing the shape of your lips, the size of your breasts, the time of your marathon, or the numbers on your paycheck? In many ways, we’ve lost appreciation for the fact we are all different, which is a beautiful thing. We all have strengths, and we all have weaknesses.
Making a constant mental checklist of where you rank against other women in every category will only lead to feelings of not measuring up. You will never be the woman in your gym, office, school, or neighborhood. That’s a good thing. However, constantly obsessing over your “shortcomings” compared to these women will leave you feeling unsatisfied and unable to recognize your own envy-worthy attributes.
Recognizing the Source of Our Jealousy
So where did this constant need to compete come from? Certainly, sizing yourself up against others is a human tendency. However, in recent times, it seems like every moment of being a woman is about this competitive undertone that permeates our interactions.
Social media certainly plays a role. We’ve all heard of the concept of social media envy. Everyone’s life looks perfect online because most of us make sure it looks that way. Nonetheless, our stalking of others’ surface-level portrayals of their lives often leaves us feeling behind in the race of life. We’re left wondering: Why is her life so perfect in her perfect bikini body in the Bahamas while I’m eating Ramen in sweatpants on the couch?
Social media isn’t the only factor, though. There’s this idea that we live in a point in history where women can do it all…so we feel like we have to. Certainly, the movement for equality is a great thing. However, the pressure to truly do it all leads us to feeling inadequate. We feel like we not only have to be superwoman, but we have to be the best superwoman.
Overcoming the Need To Compete
As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve come to realize that the key to happiness is this: Life is not a competition.
Another woman’s success should not diminish your self-worth or your overall happiness. Fulfillment is also not linked to superlatives. You do not have to be the most intelligent, athletic, busty, thin, motherly, sexy, or whatever else fills in your blank to be truly happy.
It is when we stop seeing our lives as competitions with the women around us that we can not only find self-fulfillment and contentment, but that we can make the world a more hospitable environment. We can finally stomp out the Regina George within us all and push aside our mean girl tendencies. We can build a supportive atmosphere for our fellow females and lift each other up instead of trying to one-up each other.
So to all of the women out there fighting these comparisons, remember that your life is yours to own. Find what makes you happy. You’re running life’s race only against yourself. There is plenty of room for everyone to find success at something and happiness at everything.
Lindsay Detwiler is a high school English teacher and contemporary romance author with Hot Tree Publishing. Learn more about her seven novels at www.lindsaydetwiler.com.