A Culture of Comparison

January 24, 2008 at 2:39 am 3 comments

This term came to me today, when talking with a woman who seems to feel the need to compare everything.  Not with malice, but compare nonetheless.

The comparison is often disguised as a compliment, and almost always lands in the other person’s favor. “Oh, your hips are so much narrower than mine.” “Your child is so much calmer than mine.”  “Your house is so much cleaner than mine.”  (Please note that most of the time these statements are clearly untrue!)

Then, that begs the horrible back and forth that my DH and I jokingly refer to as the “YSS Dance.” (“You’re so skinny! No, you’re so skinny!”)  I love to dance, but for that one I will always rather sit out.

Nobody wins in a culture of comparison.  There is no right answer to those comments.  What, do you then insult yourself or insist that you, in fact, don’t sleep or clean your house? (I’ve tried this — “Really, you should see all the crumbs under the rug!” — but, ick.  What does that accomplish? Who does it make feel better?)

It’s hard not to join the dance, and feel the need to compare myself. And it often feels that if I don’t self-degrade or compare back in return (sometimes I just answer with silence), I’m seen as snooty or rude.  It’s a no-win situation.

Really, I just want to say, my silence is in honor of you!  You’re above this!  Can’t we just be comfortable with ourselves and each other?!  

At heart, that is what I think this is really about.  Being comfortable enough with ourselves — who we are, what we have, what we look like, all that stuff — that we don’t feel the need to always debate whether we are better or worse off than others.

I know, that’s not an easy task, and I certainly haven’t achieved it fully yet. Perhaps it’s hard-wired, and a crazy notion to think we can change this. But, you know, I’ll take crazy over the “YSS Dance” any day.  Why couldn’t we change this?

What do you think would happen if everyone vowed to stop these comparison conversations?  Just each and every person stop before saying the comparing thing. Or greet the comparison with a smile and silence. What would our conversations sound like, in the dressing rooms, on the playground?  

Do you think it would be different?  Would our culture change with this adjustment?

I’d sure like to try it and see. 


Entry filed under: Communication, Friendship, Life, Women.

Four-Question Interview: Centered Ph.D. Classic Cartoon!

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melissa  |  January 24, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Eek! I hope it wasn’t me. I’m sure I say these things without meaning to. I’ll have to listen and see.

  • 2. Vanessa  |  January 25, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I don’t think all forms of comparison are intrinsically bad. Sometimes comparing your life to someone else’s leads to positive change — for example, when you visit a friend’s clean house and it motivates you to clean yours more often, or when you see someone at the store deal with a child’s tantrum calmly and remember it next time you’re tempted to swat your own kid in the checkout line. Or, when you visit a Web site that’s dedicated to “having enough,” and before you know it, you’ve stopped going to the mall and given half your junk to charity. 🙂

    But of course you’re talking about the self-deprecating kind of comparison, and I agree that it’s very pervasive among women. I think it’s all down to self-doubt on both sides of the equation: either we’re fishing for validation because we doubt ourselves (“Tell me I’m thin too so we can both feel good”) or we’re uncomfortable with being complimented because we doubt ourselves. Heck, I’m pushing 40 and I still feel awkward when I respond to compliments — just saying “Thanks” feels like saying “You’re right, I am totally awesome,” so I usually end up falling back on some form of self-deprecation. “Thanks, but it really wasn’t a big deal,” or “Oh, I wouldn’t go that far.” It’s just ingrained into me.

    Hmmm, I know I have a book somewhere at home that talks about the unspoken rules of self-deprecation among girls — I think it’s either “Queen Bees and Wannabes” or “Odd Girl Out.” Will have to look for it tonight.


    P.S. Your hips are totally narrower than mine. 🙂

  • 3. Megan  |  January 26, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Good point, V! Thanks. Yes, I agree that there are positive results from some comparisons. And I’ve read Queen Bees but not Odd Girl Out (it’s on my list); let me know, I’d love to see those rules! (And I’d hazard a bet that rules apply among women, too!)

    OK, so, you are fabulously talented and lovely and witty! Just take it. Take it. You are. 😉


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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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