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I posted a photo of myself on my instagram feed a few days ago and shared that I used to hate my hair. Growing up I spent hours trying to tame it, manage the frizz and basically let it not be so…big.
When I look back now I can see that the main reason I hated my hair was due to the fact that it was different. All my girlfriends had straight hair that they could do up with cute barrettes, braids or even crimping (yep, I’m a child of the 80’s). By constantly comparing my hair to my compadres, I took from myself the ability to be grateful or even enjoy what I had that made me unique and, well, ME.
I’m happy to report now, that at 30 years old I actually love my hair. It’s taken awhile, and learning that the first rule of curly hair is that you do not brush it was a big step, but that didn’t come with my operating manual. While I’ve given up comparing my hair to the shiny, tame, neat and tidy looks on my social media feeds, there are still about one hundred other areas that have me falling into the comparison trap from time to time.
Today we’re going to talk about something we all do. We compare. We see how we stack up against the next girl, the person we work along side with, or the latest pic that pops up on our instagram feed. I’m sure we come by this habit innocently, perhaps it even stems back to when we needed to assess if we could take on a predator, say 1000 years ago. There is even a fair amount of scientific support for social comparison theory. But comparison isn’t always motivating. It doesn’t warm our hearts or help us lift others up, and it’s a lonely, judgemental road.
So let’s dig a little deeper. Why do we do this? And what is our end game when it comes to comparison?
When I think back to the times I’ve compared myself to other women on the topic of body composition or business prowess, I don’t remember feeling empowered or excited. If I was somehow doing better or seemed fitter than the person I was comparing myself against, I didn’t get a jolt of positive energy. I felt lonely, like I was judging someone for exactly what I didn’t want others judging me about. Even winning the comparison game doesn’t feel great, does it?
There is a lesson here about judgement in general. When we fear the judgement of others, we need to know that is a reflection of ourselves. We likely fear judgement when we are judgemental ourselves.
And then there is the other side of the coin. When we compare ourselves to someone else and deem that we are ‘less than’ or ‘not as fit as’ so and so. How does that feel? Hah – not motivating, that’s for sure, and therefore ‘losing’ the comparison game feels really crappy too.
So what is the point of this incessant comparing? Perhaps I see it more often as a professional in the fitness industry. There are half-naked photos of women advertising the latest fitness craze all over the place. Even I post photos of myself showing skin and I know that comparison happens.
As women, I think this comparison game keeps us separate rather than unified. Even when we bring up the topic of comparison between each other, we are more likely to downplay a compliment than accept it. We are less likely to say ‘thanks! I think I have dynamite legs too’ and more apt to say ‘well my stomach is covered with stretch marks and yours isn’t’.
The first way to change this reality of constant comparison is to alter our thought process when we go about falling into the comparison trap in the first place. We call ourselves on it and choose to think about each other differently. It doesn’t always have to be about comparison.
This is only one of the reasons why I choose to write about more than just exercise plans and the caloric content in a certain food. WE ARE MORE THAN THAT. Plus, when we only talk about calories and exercises to tone our arms, we lose engagement and motivation because that is just the tip of the iceberg.
We start standing for something more than comparing ourselves on the level of body composition and aesthetic values when we start talking, buying and supporting brands and leaders that preach about our unique beauty and our physical differences. For me, this looks like not buying trashy magazines or following ‘tear down’ social media that blasts negativity about women’s bodies.
As a trainer this has been a journey for me. I entered the fitness industry because I loved movement and learning about the human body. Over the years I learned that talking about body composition got attention (and sometimes body change is what I want to talk about!) but I would be lying if I said it is the be all, end all. And this brought me back to my roots, that fitness is about mind, body and soul, not just the physical side of things.
Not going to lie, I like feeling strong and putting on a dress to see my back muscles ripple or my glutes fill out my favourite jeans BUT those things don’t get me to the gym. They are nice to have, but not need to have things in my life. And this took practice.
When I worked at facilities that focused on aesthetics I focused more on aesthetics. When I talked more about aesthetics, I attracted more people that were all about the look. I am glad I went through this phase because it is still part of how I train and coach people.
Now, one of my favourite parts of training women is when their goals start to shift from training solely for body composition changes to moving towards empowerment, self care and belief. Remember it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I told you I love feeling strong and seeing my arm muscles when I do a push-up, but I also know I have kept moving so much over the years because this is how I take care of myself and the best way I have to inspire others.
Because here’s the thing, when you see someone else being unapologetically themselves, when they aren’t trying to follow the crowd and compare their legs and hair and business and closet to the next girl, isn’t THAT inspiring? It sure is to me. Just like the famous Marianne Williamson quote, ‘as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same’.
I want women to look at my instagram posts and think, if she can do this, so can I. If she can get out of bed, get a short, intense strength training workout in and let that be good enough, so can I. If she can work to love all parts of herself and be grateful, so can I. If she can write a blog post about her beliefs and goals and dreams, so can I.
The bottom line is this: Strong women don’t tear each other down. They build each other up.
So get out there, accept some compliments and start shining that light of yours,
Catch you next time,