A Stream of Consciousness About Comparisons, Culture and Feminism

I wrote this post a few weeks ago when I was in a brooding/depressed mood. I was coming down with a cold, my friend’s mother had just been tragically murdered by an abusive boyfriend, and the weather was gray and cold and damp. I barely got up off the couch all day. The world felt heavy.

I say these things to give you an idea of the frame of mind I was in when I wrote this post. I was processing sad feelings all around. Since I’ve written the post, I haven’t felt like actually posting it, because the mood had passed and writing all of this out helped me process it to the point where I didn’t feel the need to share it. 

I’m posting it today. The reason why is too boring to write about, but I hope some of you enjoy or can relate to this!

I am a daydreamer, and here is something that’s been on my mind lately (and in particular, this morning as I lie in bed this morning before anyone else in my house is awake).

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt

“One reason we struggle with insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steven Furtick (I think).

In mothers groups, on mommy blogs, and in social media, women constantly speak of the pressure they feel to measure up to other women. They feel pressure to make the perfect Pinterest holiday crafts. Or something like that. I wouldn’t exactly know. See, I personally don’t struggle with comparing myself to other moms when it comes to being Pinterest fucking perfect. I know I suck at crafts, and I currently feel pretty damn good about myself as a mother anyway. In the beginning, I did feel pressure, but I felt more concerned about others judgments of me than about my actual mothering skills.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not comparing myself to anyone. This is a little embarrassing, but lately I’ve been comparing myself to a (male) former classmate.

In elementary school, I was a “really smart kid,” and I liked that identity. I was also shamed about my appearance, which I of course didn’t like.

In the sixth grade, my classmates and I moved up to middle school, where we joined students from two other elementary schools. And in my class….there was another “really smart kid.” I think we both felt like our identities were threatened. A recent perusal of my high school yearbook during a KonMari session indicates that there may have been trash talk about a spelling bee, but that we eventually made peace and became friends.

By the next year, I became less interested in maintaining my identity as a “really smart kid” and more interested in forming a new identity. I got into wearing make-up and trying to look pretty. I got into music, where I also got the recognition I craved. I didn’t “need” to be a “really smart kid” anymore; my musical achievements earned me recognition at school, and most of all, at home.

Now, I never particularly identified as a feminist until I started my body positive journey and started seeing connections with body positivity and feminism everywhere. This quote in particular is tossed around a lot:

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf

 

While in my 20s, I spent most of my free time, energy, and income in the pursuit of “fixing” my body and my appearance. Consciously, I believed that counted more than outward appearance. Subconsciously, I grew more and more desperate and frantic, because I had made the mistake of conflating body size and health. I had made the mistake of believing that I was not a complete person, but rather, a potential thin person, and until I managed to unleash that mythical thin person within, nothing else in my life should take priority. While these are my personal mistakes, I definitely had our entire culture on my side in making them. And maybe because of the cultural climate towards female beauty, I honestly didn’t realize I had any other option.

Meanwhile, according to to my classmate’s social media highlight reel….well, he spent his 20s rising in his field, and starting a company which was acquired. The highlight reel was definitely the picture of success as defined by our culture.

Now, I’m definitely NOT saying that those things were just “given” to him because he is male, and “withheld” from me because I am female. Having known him personally and seen his drive, passion, and ambition, I have zero doubt in my mind that he worked his ass off for everything he has accomplished. I’m simply…..wondering whether he felt supported in working on something outside of himself (or even felt expected to do so), whereas I felt supported in….something else. I’m starting to realize that what feminists are talking about may apply to me, too. Even though I never particularly identified as a feminist….I’m beginning to do so.

Sometimes I wonder “what if I hadn’t internalized the message that my appearance is more important to social approval than what my brain can do? What if I didn’t feel so shamed for my appearance at home and at school that I wasn’t so starved for approval in the first place?”

And there I go, comparing myself, and feeling sad for missed opportunities. I keep thinking about how similar we once were, and how we took our lives in completely different directions. I think about my own choices, and how I made those choices not based on curiosity, or love of learning….but based on the social pressure I felt as a female. I wonder – were my male classmates’ paths so completely influenced by social pressure they felt? Or did they feel social pressure, but just on the periphery? Was it just a whisper in the background, unlike the desperate cries for attention that it was for me (and undoubtedly for some of my female classmates)?

Logically, I know the outcomes wouldn’t have been the same. We did not love the same subjects in school, so it’s highly unlikely that my calling would have been in the same area. But I wonder….what COULD I have done? Certainly SOMETHING amazing would have been a better use of my time than growing desperate about my health (which was fine the whole time).

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” -JK Rowling.

Very wise indeed. I’ve been thinking about all of this this a lot lately.

“Mama? Shall we go find Daddy?”

I snap back to the present as I hear my son’s voice. He is, as he has always been, the one that brings me outside of myself, snaps me out of self-pity, gets my head out of my ass, and forces me to take a look around.

The JK Rowling quote just as easily applies to the past. It does not do to dwell on the past and forget to live. So my son and I get up and start our day. I take out the puzzle I promised him last night. And in the present, everything is as it should be.

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