Life is not a competition; it is a personal journey which only you can shape. … Be proud of who you are…
So writes West Midlands blogger Emily over at Love Emily, in a piece published this afternoon, all about comparing ourselves to others. In it, she rightly describes how we “become wrapped up in other people’s lives”, thereby “seem[ing] to focus on the negatives in our lives, yet the positives of everyone else’s”.
Bertrand Russell touches upon this in The Conquest of Happiness (1930), in which he puts forth the opinion that “The root of the trouble springs from too much emphasis upon competitive success as the main source of happiness”, with the end result being that even those who attain ‘success’ not only end up short of enough time to actually enjoy their “charming house”, “charming wife” and “charming children”, but are furthermore “too concentrated and too anxious to be happy”.
Returning to the act of “focus[ing] on the negatives in our lives, yet the positives of everyone else’s”; Emily admits to being guilty of this herself, and I’ll straight away add myself to that list of guilty parties. I think it is worryingly – perhaps, frighteningly – easy to do so in this digitised age of social media. Too quickly do we lose sight of the fact that, as she points out, “[e]veryone has their own struggles”, and “although everything may look as though it is going oh so positively for [those around us], that may be just what they choose to show us.”
I pondered, in an exceptionally-bloviated post a little while ago (‘Some Disjointed Thoughts on Self-Confidence‘), where the concept of self-confidence originated, suggesting that the rise of the public relations industry in the decades after the First World War probably played no small part in its development. How I managed over 3000 words without mentioning social media, I don’t know; but obviously it has had a titanic impact not just on social relations and global communications but also (for those of us who are connected to the Internet) on our collective consciousness and, by extension, self-consciousness.
Why has confidence and self-esteem become something so hard to attain? Why has it become something I merely hope I’ll get one day, like an Audi or a nice house?
To me, this is such a valid and vital question (although, given the detrimental effect it has both on her – as she discusses – and endless others, I wish it was neither). Whilst the issues of body confidence and a more general ‘life progress‘ of others (for want of a better phrase) may not at once appear related, I believe that they absolutely are. For, as Emily touched on, and as Hannah explains; “The reality is … It’s about your perception…” And, to return to the conjunction that is social media: what better (read: worse) way to compound such psychological struggles than a non-stop, 24-hour, flashing, buzzing, beeping, unavoidable vortex of perceptions whose carefully-crafted choreography causes nothing but a conflagration of self-esteem and self-confidence, leaving only stigma, self-loathing and superfluous shame(?)
This brings me to another excellent piece I read today, by Hannah Delacour, whose blog I’m sorry to say I’ve only just discovered. This piece, ‘Self Confidence, Appearance and Blogging‘, although originally published back in January 2015, in my opinion speaks to all of the posts mentioned above. (All of these pieces are, for what it’s worth, courageous.) Writes Hannah (and this deserves to be quoted at length):
I’ve never been totally happy with the way I look, and I’ve never seen it as one of those things where I think I’m ugly when I’m actually not, I genuinely think that that is the case 95% of the time. I see so many people across twitter, and bloggers alike who feel exactly the same way, and I look at them like they’re crazy. How could she possibly think that she isn’t beautiful? She’s stunning. How is it that these young women, that are much more attractive than I, are hating on their slightly pointy nose or their still average, healthy weight? I’d love to look like them. Sound familiar?
It does sound familiar. Perception, again. I agree with Hannah D in her assumption that she’s not alone in feeling this; “which”, she goes on, “makes me [Hannah; and I] sad”.
It makes me sad that people, to a certain extent, base their perceptions on a person depending on the clothes they wear and how they look. It makes me sad that, now more than ever young girls and boys, alongside adult men and women, are feeling so much pressure to appear as part of this ‘perfect ideal’ that even most top models cannot live up to.
(I’m sorry, Hannah, for quoting so much of your post – I hope you don’t think I’m doing nothing more than pinching it – it’s just so on the money, pertinent and endlessly-quotable and I don’t want to leave out salient observations of yours.)
“I don’t dislike the way I look“, writes Hannah.
I dislike the way other people put others down for how they might look a little different to whatever constitutes ‘main stream’ perfection at any given time. The ideology of ‘perfection’ is so transient, its almost ridiculous to tell someone that they’re too curvy, when back in the 50’s that was seen as the most flattering shape to have.
For me, it is always a person’s opinions, interests, hobbies, humour, voice, thoughts and so much more that attract me to wanting to know them more or not – not the way they look.
Bingo. I myself have written over the last couple of days two posts (non-fiction and poem) about how much I love words and what an attractive quality in others I find their admirable application to be. For the record, I believe that the variety of such attributes and traits can (unfortunately, though perhaps not surprisingly) also be as much a source of stress and dissatisfaction as image: I personally have described how I feel that I exist in something like self-imposed exile, on account of my own interests which are in utter discord with those of my family and (most) friends.
If, at this point, you’re wondering how we’ve ended up here from where we began – you’re not alone. Casting my mind back, though, I think I can recall the link I initially perceived and (hopefully satisfactorily) connect the dots.
I want you to pick 3 positives about your own life and share them with me…
Well, I did just that; tweeting:
1. I have a lifetime’s worth of unread #books to enjoy 🙂
2. I’m going to a party on Saturday night which will be full of both old and new #friends
3. #Blogging has introduced me to wonderful people & an endless supply of positive #writing – just like yours
The final of these #threepositives actually came to me first, but I wanted to round off with it. To my mind, however, it is the overarching theme connecting Emily’s post to where we are now.
There really is so much positivity out there. The community of bloggers I have had the phenomenal fortune of coming into contact with are at once so supportive, superb writers, and demonstrate supreme courage with every post they publish. And I wanted to share some of this positivity.
Take, for example, the bloody flippin’ marvellous Laura Cloughley who, in a very recent post on anxiety, describes how she is “a shadow of [her] former self and [she] hate[s] it” – but goes on to list all of the positive alterations that have resulted from her battle with anxiety.
anxiety may have robbed me of my former self, but I will not let it rob me of who I am becoming.
I hope I can be like Laura some day.
In all your insecurity, your imperfections and your instability, you are enough.
There truly is no shortage of beautiful people out there.
I’m happy to put myself out there for the sake of others, we’re all a bit crazy in this world and it’s lovely to feel not so alone.
I know what it’s like to have you in my shadow and because of this I work every day to stop you from destroying other people’s light in the way that you did mine.
You have the power to make someone’s day better, so use it!
With this in mind, I would like to thank Emily, who has not only inspired this verbose musing,** but also encouraged me, and anyone else who reads her terrific post, to think about the positives in their lives.
What a wonderful person she is.
* TalkMH takes place on Twitter, Thursdays, 8:30pm GMT
** The verbosity is entirely my doing.
Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (London & New York: Routledge, 2010 ), pp. 30, 27, 29.