Dear Younger Sisters,
I have a beyond-beautiful older sister. And I'm lucky enough to call her my best friend. We weren't always close. In our tween years, there was some hair pulling over stolen clothes, annoying comments, etc. Typical sister stuff.
But over the years, especially after she went away to college, we became closer. When she left, I was a sophomore in high school and, always having been smaller than the rest of my friends, my body started changing. I was gaining curves, muscles and body parts I didn't have before, as one tends to do during those years.
Throughout high school, I was heavily involved in sports: soccer (my school was super small, so I had to play on the boys team, which meant more workouts. I loved it) cheerleading, gymnastics and tennis. I was in the best shape of my life and loved the freedom of being able to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted.
I don't remember how exactly it happened, or when, but I progressively realized my older sister was physically smaller than me.
At first, it didn't bother me. Or I didn't think it did. I knew that I was involved in muscle-building sports and I truly enjoyed seeing the muscles building. But over the next year or so, my friends started to tell me I was started to look "average" or "normal."
I don't think I realized how much pride I took in receiving the tiny labels. And I started missing them. And suddenly, I realized how much smaller my older sister was than me. My thighs suddenly started touching, not just when I walked, but when I just stood. And I found myself checking to see if hers did as well. I had developed a rounder face, but personally favored the sharp edges of my sister's jawline and high cheekbones.
I wouldn't exactly say I had a full-blown eating disorder, but I definitely developed a disordered relationship with food. I started appreciating my workouts more. I went harder with the sprints, pushed myself to go faster on the miles and stopped eating whatever I wanted when I wanted. I downloaded a calorie-counter app on my smartphone and let that control my life.
Pause in story: Let me be clear here for a second. I am a smaller girl. You may see that in these pictures and probably brush it off as another annoying skinny girl calling herself fat. No, I had a distorted vision of what I truly looked like.
No matter what I did, I was not losing the weight. And my older sister continued to become more and more perfect in my eyes. She received amazing grades in college, developed friends I wanted, was in an healthy relationship, and got into dental school. She was faultless in my eyes.
My parents knew what I was constantly comparing myself to her, and saw me pushing myself to be more and more like her. Let me be clear: They did not put pressure on me to be like my older sister. In fact, they constantly told me to stop comparing myself to her. So did my sister. I didn't listen.
In my senior year of high school, I had mastered the art of not sleeping in order to make sure all of my homework was finished or to study more. I never skipped a practice in fear of missing the workout. And it was kind of working. I was moving up the latter of my class rank and I was getting more and more fit.
When I graduated, I was third in my class. My sister was second. She had a solid friend group and I had a couple of close friends. She had been dating her current husband for a couple of years and I had just gotten out of a 2.5 year relationship. I still could not compare.
All of the pressure carried on with me to college, if not increased. I viewed it as a new start. I could be whoever I wanted to be. Essentially, I could remodel myself into a better version of me. I decided that I wanted to be the most Godly/beautiful/skinny/intelligent/Type-A/interesting/well-read person on the planet. Living in a hall constantly surrounded by women, I just had more around me to compare. I wasn't as skinny as the girl down the hall. I definitely wasn't as naturally pretty as the girl just across the hall and I wasn't as creative as a writer or a designer than both the boys and girls in my class. To top it off, Instagram was quickly becoming a thing, which allowed me to follow bloggers and creatives achieving the goals I wanted.
Because I was away from home, I had more control of my meals and of my time. The intense workouts stopped, but I continued to stay up all night to achieve perfect grades or to gain more leadership in student media. I could easily "forget" to eat meals if I was too busy. But I could also forget things like studying or mastering a new software in order to live up to the blogger I loved. More importantly, my Christian faith has always been a big part of my life, and I found myself neglecting to read my Bible studies. Larger picture: I was neglecting to let the most important aspect of my life be first in my life. Instead, I starting believing lies.
And no matter what I did, I was still not at her caliber. And before my freshman year was over, I came to terms with the fact that I was not going to be my older sister. Throughout the spring semester, I was becoming more and more exhausted — I was tired from not sleeping and I was exhausted with not reaching my idea of "perfection."
So I stopped. And no, it was not easy. Honestly, I had to rely on the Lord a lot. One night, when I had just had enough, I read Psalms 139:14, which told me I was fearfully and wonderfully made. Two words I would not have used to describe myself at the time.
Fearfully: synonyms - cautiously. There was no mistake when He created me. Wonderfully: Woof. I was wonderfully made. He viewed me as wonderful. And I was — nay, AM, wonderfully made.
Now, I know religion isn't for everyone, and I'm not saying that studying the Bible will magically relieve all of your worries. For me, however, these words really, finally sunk in. It was the final encouragement I needed to relieve me of my constant comparisons to my pretty older sister.
Joy was not something I had felt for awhile, because I was too anxious about meeting the expectations I put in myself. But now, having just graduated from college and learned more about myself how I was created to be, I can say with confidence that I'm proud of my muscular thighs and my beautifully creative mind. I love my build, because I worked hard on it. I love that I didn't get into the medical field, because blood and saliva make my dry-heave. But I love that my model sister loves those things.
All you younger siblings out there, it's easy to compare ourselves to our older siblings. We naturally look up to them. But it's also so important to understand, recognize, and I encourage to you note, the amazing traits that you do have. While you may rely on another favorite book for inspiration, I do think those messages I found in the Bible passage above are important. You are wonderful.
So, younger sisters of the world, I encourage you to stop comparing yourself. Find your own perfect passage. And above all, remember how beautiful you are.
Sincerely,A younger sister
Image: Hayli Goode