Comparing Yourself to Your Friends During the Holidays — And How That Affects Your Body Image
I love going home for the holidays and running into people from my past, but sometimes it can feel like things turn into a weird, unspoken competition between friends. The conversations always starts with, "Soooo what have you been up to?" And before I know it I'm listening to every awesome thing people have done since the last time I saw them. Don't get me wrong; I want my friends to do well... But then I think about everything I haven't done yet, and I'm like, "Wait." I'm dating someone, but I'm not engaged or married. I finally moved into a New York City apartment by myself, but I don't own it. I love my job, but I'm not a doctor or a lawyer or anything like that.
Sometimes my laundry list of my accomplishments feels a little short in comparison to everyone buying houses, purchasing engagement rings, getting engagement rings and landing awesome jobs.
Even the things I'm super proud of seem to be less awesome than I thought they were, in the context of the holiday-catch-up conversation. Like when I found out that a girl I grew up with had lost 100 pounds after having two kids, the 55 pounds that I'd lost seemed kind of... meh. I mean, there's simply not much I can say after a mom of two loses 100 pounds, is there?
I spent a good portion of my younger years comparing my body to those of the girls I grew up with. I was a plus-size kid who was also super tall, and it was futile to hold my body up against the petite little girls in my class. But I did that constantly and it wasn't healthy. Impossible standards of beauty don't only exist in magazines. I did a good job creating impossible standards of beauty by comparing myself to the people around me. Looking back, using a 4'3" tiny blonde girl as my barometer of beauty when I was a 5'9", solidly round black girl, was a total waste of time. I was never going to be petite or waif-like, so why set that as my goal? Doing as much completely invalidated the fact that I was a pretty awesome kid. As I look back, I can totally see that simple fact, so maybe I should apply those same lessons now.
My 55 pounds were a lot of hard work for me; losing them involved a lot of sacrifice and change. And when I think of what I've done, I know that it's a huge accomplishment. Someone else losing 100 pounds doesn't make my 55 pound loss less impactful on my life.
They say that comparison is the thief of joy, and in most areas of my life I can avoid comparing myself to other people. In my everyday life, I'm totally content with where I am. But for some reason when I get around people who I only see once a year there is an intense pressure to have "arrived" at my success.
But are any of us ever 100 percent successful? What does that even mean?
The truth is, finding a fulfilling career and the right life partner to build a future with aren't the easiest of feats. Some of us are lucky in love, but have trouble finding a job that doesn't drain us emotionally or physically. Some of us are on an awesome career path, but struggle to find someone to share our lives with. When it comes to me, I have a little bit of everything, which can be frustrating in its own way.
I have a little bit of a relationship (OK, maybe a lot of one). There was a time when I went to weddings alone and had never gone on vacation with a guy before. Now I've got a guy in my life who supports me, takes trips with me and twirls me around on the dancefloor at weddings. Are we engaged? No; but he's giving me what I need right now, and I'm happy with that.
I have a little bit of a career as of late, too. There was a time not too long ago when I was serving coffee and crying in the break room every day because I was miserable. Now I've really committed to making a living doing things that I'm passionate about. I've got a fun YouTube channel and a website where I connect with thousands of people constantly. And I've worked hard to get where I am. I still have lots of more hard work ahead, but it's way better than doing a job that sucks the life out of me, right?
Even though I feel like I'm in an awkward "almost" phase of my life, I can look back and be happy about how far I've come. I can even get excited about how much farther I have to go! I welcome this awkward "almost stage" over having the total career, the total marriage, the total house, but feeling totally unhappy (something I unfortunately notice at times in others).
I made the decision a while ago to follow the path that makes me truly happy and fulfilled, even if that means I can't tick everything off of my "grown-up checklist" as quickly as everyone else seems to be doing. I will totally admit that I pout a bit when I think of the husband and kids I don't [yet] have. But the most important thing is that I'm doing the right thing for me.
When I met up with friends this year, they all had a glimpse into my life via my blogging and writing, and before I could get over the anxiety of impressing them, they told me they were happy for me. As my childhood friends hugged me and gushed at how awesome my life seems, I realized that the pressure I had been feeling to be successful was completely self-imposed.
I'm always happy for my friends, no matter what they're doing. It seems silly that I didn't expect the same from them when it came to me. Someone once told me that they felt like graduating from high school is the, "On your marks! Get set! Go," moment on the race toward success. I guess I'm wondering if that's what I need to remind myself of; there is really no need to race or compete for life accomplishments, because in the end we're all going to get thrown curve balls that propel us forward or set us back. I also need to remind myself that success looks different for everyone — there are no rules. And if that's the case, I'm a lot more successful than I give myself credit for.
My friends don't care how much I make, or whether or not I'm married, but they care about seeing me happy. The most important thing for me is to stop pressuring myself to live someone else's life. Because no matter what we're doing, being content with what we've got going on is the best look.
Images: Author; Giphy