There can be a snide competition between women, where we allow other women to be beautiful …. to a point. Other women can be pretty, as long as they’re not too pretty. A woman can be beautiful, but if she’s also smart, organized, and a great mom? Forget it. We gossip about her and secretly love seeing her slip up. We alternate between wanting to be her and, well, hating her.
I remember a friend from college, a heartbreakingly beautiful girl who incited much envy from other girls. (I will be flat out honest and share how intimidated I was of her when we first met!) Her crime? She let her beauty shine: she wore make-up, curled her hair and dressed stylishly. When girls spoke about her beauty behind her back, they would whisper, “But she wears a lot of make-up,” as if that could explain away her beauty.
This competitive drive, this need to label – am I beautiful? am I pretty? how pretty? where do I fall in the beauty spectrum? – keeps us from honoring our unique beauty. It squelches our individuality. Instead of enjoying our beauty, and trying to be our best selves, we act like junior high girls who all have to dress alike, talk alike, and look alike.
If we believe that we are in a giant, cosmic beauty pageant with other women, that other women’s beauty somehow diminishes our own, or if we are addicted to being the prettiest woman in the room, we will never feel good enough. Instead of befriending other women, or celebrating their gifts, we will see them as the enemy, and do everything we can to knock them down. Instead of befriending ourselves, and our own bodies, we will see them as the enemy, and do everything we can to knock them down.
I think of how I’ve spent much of my life trying to be someone other than me. Or, a better, improved version of me. Celebrate my gifts? My unique beauty, body, personality? No.
When I was a teenager, with a boy’s body, I wanted breasts and hips and thighs like my friends. When I was a curvy new mother – with breasts and hips and thighs – I wanted to be like that young teenager. When I moved to Montana, I tried to show that, yes, I’m a part of the club: I like the outdoors and camping and clogs. I dutifully traded my skirts and make-up for jeans and a parka.
All of my efforts to be more like everybody else only left me unhappy and lost. The truth is that I don’t fit in….when I’m trying to be someone other than myself.
I read this statement in Eat, Pray, Love last night: “God dwells within you, as you.” I don’t have to change and be more like someone else to be okay. I am perfect … just as I am. I am beautiful …. just as I am. Inauthentic living – trying to be someone I’m not; trying to look like someone I’m not – and beauty are contradictory forces. I can’t be beautiful if I’m ashamed of who I am and what I like. I can’t be beautiful if I’m scrambling my energies trying to be more like my friends, my peers, or a model on a magazine. The most beautiful woman that I can be is … me.
As I free myself to be authentically, proudly me, I free other women. As I let my beauty shine, I open up a space for other women to shine. Sometimes, this means giving women permission to be drop dead beautiful – prettier than me – and to love them for it.
When we’re feeling jealous, we think someone else has something we don’t or can’t have. It can arise because we think beauty is a limited commodity – your beauty somehow takes away from my own, or vice versa. It becomes a scarce resource we fight over so we can get our “fair share.”
We can also feel jealous or criticize others when we’re living dishonestly. Instead of looking inside at how we compromise our integrity, we project these feelings onto others. Instead of feeling the regret or lack of authenticity, it’s much easier to feel jealous. It’s safe, because it can be all about someone else.
Last week, I met a friend for coffee. This is a woman with impeccable style. As long as I’ve known her, she’s looked like she stepped out of a magazine, even in her schleppiest clothes. It would be easy to envy her fantastic wardrobe, her great style, her trim body, her physical beauty. For years, I was envious – because she dressed like I wanted to dress … if I had the courage. Today, I admire her. I admire her courage to wear a skirt and knee high boots in the middle of a Montana winter – her authenticity – because it reminds me how much I love putting on a skirt and heels, and gives me the nudge forward to do so.
And yet the only way I could find that admiration was by – gulp – recognizing that the things she gave herself I didn’t allow myself to have.
Jealous feelings can arise when we’re being inauthentic – silencing our style or our beauty, or, on a greater level, the very things that bring us happiness – and we see another woman who is expressing her style and beauty. We see her confidence in being true to herself and want the same for ourselves. That woman pricks us, hooks us with envy, and brings that uncomfortable contrast to the surface. Jealousy.
Instead of using these feelings as cause to hate a pretty woman, or worse, to use them as ammunition to hate yourself for feeling jealous, I gently invite you to use that discomfort to unleash your true self. Use your envy like a pitchfork, to dig underneath whatever keeps you from being authentic and find that juicy, creative, beautiful manna that resides inside, just waiting to burst forth. Jealousy is only a signpost, to guide you to a place where you feel lacking. Think about how you can fill that lack by being authentic to who you are, to your body, to your beauty, and then sharing that with the world.
Most importantly, forgive yourself for feeling jealous. It’s quite human, an attempt to protect ourselves from pain. In writing this article, and in honestly sharing how much I’ve felt jealous, I hope to normalize this emotion and talk about the elephant in the room – how much we can feel competitive towards each other.
Hopefully, as we meet our envy with kindness, we can soften it’s hold.
This is why this practice is important to me: When we’re jealous of other women, when we’re competing with each other, we crumble the foundations of our very support. Women need each other. I’m reminded of this everyday, when a girlfriend or my mom or my aunt comes to my aid.
And, likewise, I validate and support and uphold the women in my life, I increase the courage and strength of women everywhere, every time I let a beautiful woman be beautiful, a strong woman be strong, a pretty woman be pretty; every time I let me be me.
A note to readers: Good readers, I wanted to let you know that I’m no longer accepting comments for this post and have closed the comments. This post has generated a lot of strong feelings, and discussion over the past ten years. But unfortunately, it’s a discussion that I don’t have the space to moderate in a way that feels good to me, or that monitors some of the talk that has been hurtful to folks.
As I don’t have the capacity to care for this discussion in a manner that feels right, the best solution is to close the comments.
Thank you your good hearts and understanding!
Sincerely, Karly Pitman