The ‘c’ word

Image

I’ve just written a pretty tough chapter in the book. It’s all about the ‘c’ word – comparison.

To be honest, I hadn’t expected it to be so close to the bone. Sure, blah-di-blah-di-blah, we know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. But I have had to confess. I am constantly doing it. Constantly. I suffer from obsessive comparison disorder.

Brene Brown explains in The Gift of Imperfection that we often feel the need to compare ourselves with people similar to us or people in situations similar to our own.

She writes:

“Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of ‘alike things’. We may compare things like how we parent with parents who have totally different values or traditions than us, but the comparisons that get us really riled up are the ones we make with the folks living next door, or on our child’s soccer team, or at our school. We don’t compare our houses to the mansions across town; we compare our yard to the yards on our block. When we compare, we want to be the best or have the best of our group.The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of ‘fit in and stand out!’ It’s not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better.”

That’s why if you’re a friend of mine, and a woman, I’ve probably compared myself to you. Because we are “alike things”.

I think you’d be surprised at the constant internal monologue that’s going on inside my head. Is she cleverer than me? Does she have a boyfriend? How many books has she written? How many Twitter followers does she have? Does she have a bigger flat? Does she have children? Has she got a better job? Is she busier than me? Does she write better than me? Is she kinder? Is she a better cook? Is she more beautiful?

This constant wittering, this comparison paranoia, is draining and hurtful. Because when I look around at other people, I more often than not come up lacking, which makes me feel pretty bad about myself.

But it’s not just bad for me. When I feel bad about myself because I compare myself to others and find I am not as good, or have not achieved what my friends have, then I can’t be a good friend to them. I can’t cheer for them and spur them on in whatever good things are happening in their lives.

Because comparison’s allies are jealousy and competition and neither make for a peaceful life.

Being forced to confront my thoughts about other people – my friends – I’m totally ashamed. My friend Hannah recently challenged a group of women at our church. She asked us whether we would be as happy for someone else succeeding – getting married, winning an award, writing a book, losing weight, getting a great job – as we would be if it were us succeeding. And, bang, it hit me. I realised the extent of my problem.

Christ challenges us to love our neighbours as ourselves. But I’m not sure I have really done this, even for my friends. I would say I love my friends, but I really want to get to a place where I love them in that radical way that Jesus calls us to love. Completely, honestly and fully. I want to love them so much that I am genuinely their biggest fan; cheering them on for every success, every good thing in their lives, as if it were mine. Loving them so much that there is no room for jealousy, no ugly need to better their success, no tiresome drive to outdo them or to belittle the good things in their life.

I want to really love them; to tell them that in every area of their life they really are good, of worth, loved, valuable and beautiful.

Am I the only one who compares myself to others? Would love some company… 

Advertisements

Hey beautiful, yes you

This 1,000 faces project is amazing. It’s Karen Walrond’s attempt to show us that we are all – every single one of us – ‘uncommonly beautiful’. A woman after my own heart.

The faces she photographed might not all be ‘perfect’. None of them are airbrushed. None look the same as the ones that come before them. Each of them is beautiful, but none of them make you feel yuck about yourself.

Read more about it on the project’s website: www.chookooloonks.com

The pressure of being the beautiful bride

It’s my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary today. And I’m looking again at the wedding photo that has been up on the walls of the homes I’ve lived in all my life. It’s one of my favourites.

Because when I look at it, I see my mum looking absolutely breathtaking. To me, there has been no more beautiful bride than her in that photo, on that day, in that moment.

Gwen Stefani once said: “I remember when I was in school, they would ask, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ and then you’d have to draw a picture of it. I drew a picture of myself as a bride.”

Every little girl’s dream, right?

Well, today it’s got me thinking about the pressure of being a beautiful bride on your wedding day. When I did a survey earlier this year, I asked women to tell me when they had felt most beautiful.

The vast majority of married women said their wedding day. And most of those that weren’t married said they had felt most beautiful at another person’s wedding, as a bridesmaid.

What is it about weddings?

In 2012, the average wedding cost £20,248. No joke.

The average bride spent around £1,500 on her dress and about £190 on hair and beauty.

If you’ve watched any of the plethora of wedding shows on our TV screens (Don’t Tell the Bride, Four Weddings, Bridezillas) you’ll know that looking her best, achieving standards of beauty the likes of which she has never achieved, is many-a-bride’s main aim when getting married.

For many, looking their best means looking their skinniest. It’s why the term ‘bridorexia’ was coined and mentioned in reference to 5’10” Kate Middleton who is thought to have dropped to eight stone before the Royal Wedding last year.

A study by Cornell University into weddings and weight found that around a quarter of brides resorted to ‘extreme behaviours’ in bids to lose weight, including smoking, skipping meals and taking diet pills.

Around 14 per cent of brides are reported to buy a wedding dress that’s too small for them, because they intend to lose weight before their nuptials.

Has it all gone a little too far, or do you think it’s important for a bride to be beautiful?

Do you think society pressures brides into looking ‘perfect’ on their wedding days?

Did you do anything extreme ahead of your wedding to make sure you looked ‘right’?

Did you feel the most beautiful you’ve ever felt on your wedding day?

Or were you disappointed with how you looked? 

The admiration of men

I’m thinking a lot at the moment about how women’s views of themselves can be affected- both positively and negatively – by the men in their lives, or the men in society as a whole.

And I’ve thought back to the nice things that have been said by men to me, but I also feel the pain of the not-so-nice words; ones that have stuck with me even since childhood.

I have formed a new habit of watching men watch beautiful women on the tube. They just can’t seem to help themselves! And I wonder how having all eyes on her affects the Beautiful Woman. But I also wonder what effect it has on the women who are painfully aware that they are not being looked at.

Women care what men think about them. And men play an important part in how we feel about ourselves.

There’s been a lot of talk in popular psychology about the effect that fathers have on their daughters’ self-esteem. There’s a really touching blog post from US pastor Sammy Adebiyi about feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness about his young daughter’s view of herself.

He prays:

“Please God. Spare my daughter from the battle against insecurity.
I never want her to not feel pretty/good/beautiful/smart enough.”

Good fathers feel the responsibility of ensuring their daughters feel good about themselves.

I did a survey earlier this year to find out what women feel about their own bodies. And I was struck by the fact that a large proportion of married women, or those in long-term relationships, felt good about themselves because their husbands often told them they were beautiful.

I am single; and I unconsciously fall into the trap of believing that I have to look the best I possibly can in order to attract a husband. So I was really intrigued to realise that the beauty issue continues even when you’ve ‘bagged a man’.

I’m reading Rachel Held Evans’ brilliant book A Year of Biblical Womanhood at the moment, in which she critiques controversial US pastor Mark Driscoll’s view (for which he has since apologised) that women need to stay as hot as possible to keep their husbands’ attention.

He wrote, following revelations that US evangelist Ted Haggard had admitted “sexual immorality”  in 2006:

“It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”

I love Rachel’s dismissal of the sentiment. She writes:

“Both husbands and wives bear the sweet responsibility of seeking beauty in one another at all stages of life. No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweatpants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer. Any pastor who claims the Bible says otherwise is lying. End of story.”
So, married women and women in relationships: do you feel a responsibility to be both holy and hot for your husband or boyfriend?
Do you find that you seek his approval?
Do you long for him to tell you you’re beautiful more often?
Or do you long for him to shut up about how beautiful you are?!
All other women: do you seek the admiration of men?
Why do you think that is?
How have the men in your life affected how you see yourself?
Over to you…

The journey

Every day, every woman, everywhere, is bombarded with images of what she should look like. And the beauty myth is even creeping its way into our churches, leaving many Christian women feeling like they just don’t measure up.

Our story really needs to be better than this.

So I’m writing a book. Am I Beautiful? is really a journey; an attempt to address what it is that makes so many women feel inadequate, to share our stories, to find some truths and some solutions. But it’s not just so we can sit around and say how pretty we feel. It’s so that we can be free… to do whatever we’re supposed to do.

I’d love you to come with me on this journey. I’d love this blog to be a place where we share stories, thoughts, encouragement and challenges.

So from time to time I’ll ask questions and post some thoughts, which it would be great if you could respond to.

I hope the book will tell our story.