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The Conundrum of Comparison

If only we had their bodies, hair, makeup, clothes ...

Here is the deal: I hate my hair. I always have, and I am guessing that I always will. I am bi-racial (my mom is white and my dad is black), and normally bi-racial children are blessed with lovely, big, soft, ringlet-y curls. I somehow ended up with a thick, poofy untamable mess. When it’s humid, my hair grows like a Chia pet, giving my head a circumference 10 times its normal size. My brother, of course, got the beautiful hair I mentioned above — you know, so that he could shave it all off each summer. Life is just not fair, I tell you.

Anyway, life with my hair has been a series of blow dryers, relaxers, Frizz-Ease, curling irons, flat irons, gels, conditioners, combs, headbands, brushes, tears of frustration, and headscarves — usually ending up with the same, semi-flattened-don’t-move-a-muscle-or-even-think-about-humidity-or-your-hours-of-hard-work-will-be-ruined results.

This is my life. Tragic, I know.

I’ve found that much of my confidence is based not only on how my own hair is looking, but on how good my friends are looking when I’m with them. Whether that sounds really weird or not, it’s true. For example, take my friend Micah; she has beautiful hair. It is long and healthy and shiny. She can wear it straight, curly or up — it always looks cute. When I’m with her, I realize just how frizzy my hair is. I feel like hiding my head under a bag (if I can get my giant hair to fit under a bag).

But if I’m having a day where I think my hair looks OK, I feel prettier. Silly as it seems, my hair has the ability to make me feel bad or good about myself.

It is weird that, as a woman who has been a Christian so long and who knows all the things God says about her, I am still so self-conscious about looks. I constantly compare myself to my friends and the women on TV. If only I were skinnier or could buy as many cool clothes as Victoria Beckham. If only my skin were clearer or my eyes a prettier color. If only …

In It Together

Although I feel silly writing all of this down, I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues. I recently asked a few friends to give me suggestions about some of the things we girls need to discuss, and all of them said they have a consistent problem with comparing themselves to other women. All of us have things we don’t like about ourselves. I could go on for hours about my hair and how I wish for the locks of my friends. And one of those same friends could go on for hours about her own flaws and wish she had one of my features. So we’re not unique in our struggle — we all wish for something we don’t have. Umm … at least we’re in this together … ?

Same Old Story

To an extent, this topic is fairly trite, simply because we know all of the correct answers. We all know that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to one another. We know that we should find our significance in God’s opinion of us. We all know that most of the images we see on TV have been tucked, trimmed or lipo-ed. We are well aware that the girls on magazine covers have been airbrushed and stretched and tweaked.

So we’re aware of what’s going on. But why doesn’t it help? Why do we still compare ourselves to our friends and wish for the fake bodies on television? Why aren’t we content with who we are?

There are probably a few reasons. Most of us don’t actually practice being content — we memorize our Bible verses (“He has made everything beautiful in its time”Ecclesiastes 3:11 and “The king is enthralled by your beauty”Psalm 45:11) but don’t put the truth behind them into practice.

Media are a big part of this as well. Most of us see tons of ads every single day — on billboards, television, the Internet, and so on. We’re probably not even aware of most of them — but all of them are telling us what we should buy, what we should look like, who’s beautiful and who’s not. We know we don’t look like the women in the ads, but we sure do try our best to get there through any means possible.

We are also well aware that the men around us see the magazines and women on TV, and it makes us worry about their expectations. If they’re constantly seeing supermodels then what’s to attract them to us — women with blemishes and jeans bigger than a size zero?

Maybe we could all benefit — women and men — from a reduction in our media consumption.

And some of us probably unconsciously compare ourselves to others to make ourselves feel better. The more we complain about our noses, the more our thoughtful friends will tell us that we’re wrong and point out good things about us — “Your nose is beautiful,” your girlfriend will gush. “I just wish that I could get my stomach as flat as yours!”

There are myriads of reasons we go around comparing and condemning. And honestly, some of us just plain old have bad hair.

But beyond the complaining, I think there’s a type of egotism involved in our comparisons. When we are always thinking of how we don’t make the grade or aren’t beautiful enough, it just allows us to constantly dwell on ourselves — one of the favorite pastimes of those who could be doing so much more.

Me, Myself and I

The problem with obsessing about ourselves is that it distracts us from our true goal as Christian women — loving others. Whether we think too highly of ourselves (I’m hot ’cause I’m fly, after all), or whether we’re inwardly moaning about how our looks or personality are lacking, we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. I’m included in this just as much as any of you; I probably spend about 99 percent of my waking hours thinking about something related to me. How ridiculous — I’m really not that interesting, so I have no clue why I’m so fascinated with myself.

This is where we need to make an effort to think and act correctly. We are to recognize that God has called us to a high standard as women. As Proverbs 31 talks about, He has asked us to be women who fear Him above all else — all the rest is fleeting.A woman who fears the Lord; she ain’t playin’. We have been created in the image of God, and that’s beautiful any way you look at it. When we allow ourselves to reside in the midst of a poor self image, we are denying the truth of God’s Word, and, honestly, we’re being just as selfish as someone who thinks too highly of themselves. When we dwell on what we aren’t or where we lack, we’re still thinking about ourselves — it’s the same old sin of self-absorption, just packaged a little differently than we usually see it.

It’s Not About Me

In the end, we just need to remember that Jesus has asked us over and over again to expend our efforts on obeying His commands to love God and our neighbor. If we’re consistently doing these things, we honestly won’t have that much time to be jealous of our friend’s extensive wardrobe or slim waistline.

We already know these truths; we just need to begin putting them into practice. When you notice yourself comparing or complaining or wishing, make yourself stop. Focus on serving someone around you instead of your own self-interest. It’s a basic and simple concept, but oh-so-difficult to do. But no worries, we’ll practice together.

Copyright 2009 Denise Morris. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Denise Morris Snyder

Denise Morris Snyder is a mom, wife and part-time discipleship pastor at CrossRoads Church in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. She previously worked as an editor for Focus on the Family and a writer for David C Cook. She has her Master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary.

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