Dear Virgie: I Compare Myself to Other Fat Women
If we believed that each and every person was important and stand-alone valuable, we would not look to others and think, “why does she have that thing and I don’t?”
Someone I have known since childhood got married recently. Her husband is really attractive to me and she and I are about the same size. I tried really hard not to downward spiral, but I couldn’t stop myself from comparing myself to her and feeling like I come up short. Do you have advice on dealing with these feelings?
Thank you so much for being vulnerable enough to share that you went through this. I can only imagine how difficult it must have felt to have these feelings.
The key to my advice is (1) recognizing that your feelings aren’t happening in vacuum and (2) a ton of self-compassion.
1. Recognize your feelings aren’t happening in a vacuum
What is so difficult is that fat people are super marginalized, and this marginalization leads us to compare ourselves to similarly marginalized people. Let me explain: because we’re not allowed full humanity in society, we are consequently not allowed complexity and nuance. Instead, we are treated as a homogeneous group that is not differentiable.
This leads us to compare ourselves to others.
If we believed that each and every person was important and stand-alone valuable, we would not look to others and think, “why does she have that thing and I don’t?” We would recognize that every single person has both wonderful and difficult moments and experiences. Through oppression our lives are flattened. This is why you can look at another fat woman (who has a unique set of values, experiences, desires), see what you perceive to be romantic success (which is itself a flattened narrative — you are either in a relationship and have romantic success or are not and are a romantic failure, when in reality, love/romance are way more complex than that), and feel like you have somehow come up short.
It is only through the reduction of yourself and your reduction of her that you can reduce each of your respective stories to “success” or “failure.”
Because of our stigmatized status, it is hard when we see somebody who is similarly socially situated getting things that are socially valuable. And it doesn’t get much more socially valuable than romance.
Love is a really wonderful thing. And unfortunately what our society does is take this wonderful thing and transform it into this disgusting, capitalist transaction. Because our society teaches us to view and experience romance and love through a capitalist lens, it makes sense that it would create feelings of FOMO or failure or shame.
2. Self-Compassion FTW
Self-compassion is the ability to recognize when you’re having a difficult emotion and, rather than feel guilty or ashamed about that emotion, we recognize that it’s a valid feeling and give ourselves permission to hold ourselves in that difficult moment(s).
We are not taught how to have self-compassion. And so a lot of people don’t know how to do it. It is truly a skill, and each time that you interrupt an old thought (e.g. “I suck because I am having a hard feeling”) and introduce a new thought (e.g. “Whoa it’s hard to feel this, and I should be gentle with myself for as long as I’m feeling this way”) we are training our minds to react differently.
It’s really worthwhile to practice self-compassion. The inclination for many of us is to bypass the feeling or get rid of the feeling as quickly as possible. The problem is, a lot of times difficult feelings are trying to teach us things about ourselves and when we don’t leave room to witness/listen, we don’t learn new things about ourselves. Sometimes hard feelings are trying to tell us, “you need to be sad right now.” And being sad is a valuable feeling, albeit a challenging one.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help women who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.