“The lies still come. Sometimes they are a whisper when I am walking onto a stage, sometimes they are a quick cut when I see a picture of myself, and other times, they scream. They scream in a way I cannot describe – they are constant and vulgar and violently unkind.
And when the lies get loud like that in my head — the ones that say I am painfully ugly, ruined, unsalvagable, disappointing, and so forth — the first step, I have learned, is to invite truth in. So I stand there, or sit there, or lie there, and I say the true things.”
—Annie F. Downs, 100 Days to Brave
In an interesting, divinely orchestrated story for another time, I’ll outline just how I ended up making myself at home in a roomful of women once a week. But for now, here I am with them, reading through and studying a book on comparison. Believe it or not, the topic wasn’t my choice. But I’m learning that some things find their way to you when you need them the most.
I keep looking at an illustration in the first pages – a horizontal line with five intersections, slanted lines from upper right to lower left. At the far left, a title: BORN. The hovering instructions suggest taking a few minutes to plot out your comparison journey.
My timeline is still blank, but I considered my earliest memory of comparison. The most obvious to me was in 3rd grade. But earlier? Second grade: I had lunch every day with my skinny friend, Leah. I don’t remember much about her other than her dad was a pilot, she lived in my neighborhood, and her mom sent her to school with butter sandwiches.
Leah & I traded lunches because I had a thing for the outlawed-from-our-kitchen white bread… and who doesn’t love butter? It was at lunchtime one day when someone pointed out that my eyes don’t look like everyone else’s. My classmates gathered around and deemed my eyes weird. I still think about this when I look closely in the mirror.
And earlier? Kindergarten / First grade: I lived in another state then and had a best friend so close I referred to her parents as Aunt and Uncle. She, of course, was “Cuz.” We were inseparable until my family relocated. She was short with dimples and long, blonde hair. I was… not.
For Halloween, we dressed up like animals on Noah’s Ark. “Cuz” was an adorable gray mouse. I was a (hot) pink elephant. Let that sink in a moment. But not before I tell you that we had to keep cramming my elephant trunk with polyester stuffing so it would remain raised in the air and not flopped over in my face. NOW… let that sink in.
I’m rapidly approaching 39 with a newly heightened awareness to all of this. So, yeah. I’m gonna need a bigger chart.
Before we bent the spine in this book, we tossed around some questions: “If there’s one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?” “Does this desired change come from healthy motivation or is it driven by comparison?” “How have you personally experienced the negative consequences of comparison?”
I listened as careers came up. Marriage, babies, even finances came up. I kept waiting for it and when it wasn’t mentioned, I finally threw down the body image card; the (hot pink) elephant in the room.
Conversation erupted. As I listened to stories from everyone (EVERYONE!) a couple of things came to mind:
- In a cheer of solidarity, I am not alone here!
- With heartbreaking realization, I am not alone here.
I love buying books. When I was younger, I heard someone say that people who read regularly are more intelligent and have a broader vocabulary. And so it was, that the shallow motivation to appear more intelligent became the start of my Amazon shopping habit.
This year, I resolved to take a brief hiatus from downloading books to my Kindle and instead read the ones collecting dust on my shelf. Keeping with that theme, I’m nearing the end of one that deals with finding peace while chasing your dreams.
“I don’t know how many of you share my attitude toward using GPS apps, but I get really impatient when I’m trying to follow them. All the GPS will do is give me the next turn I need to make, but that’s not good enough for me… I want to see the whole route, laid out for my approval or disapproval, but what I get is the next turn I need to make, the distance to the next checkpoint.”
—Pete Wilson, What Keeps You Up at Night?
Guilty. I would love to see how all this plays out or at least have a heads up on what to expect.
…But would I really, though? How might it felt if I looked ahead to see grief on the menu with a bullet point underneath that said eating disorder? What would I have missed by playing it safe to avoid the future pain I knew was lurking on the horizon?
There’s hidden beauty in breakdowns. Our stories are unique, but the themes in challenges we face are not. We’ve walked in the footsteps of others and people to come will walk in ours.
This is why I share my story. One by one, our stories build bridges connecting us to one another and reminding us that we’re not alone here.