21 June 2012

(Women) and Comparison

I've been watching this on the treadmill lately.

(BBC's Emma is charming; I highly recommend it.)

Something I've noticed this watch-around is the byplay between the delightful Emma:

And the refined, beautiful Jane Fairfax:

Emma is a high-bred, well-mannered, vivacious young woman, always worrying about appearances, who is at the height of Highbury society.

Jane Fairfax is quiet, ladylike, accomplished and modest, and she knows her mind and speaks it, regardless of social propriety at times.

It stands to reason that the two would be pitted against each other.

I've listened to Emma's rants against Jane for the last couple days: 
"She is so ultimately more refined than I am"; "I've heard nothing but her virtues sung from the housetops since I was a little girl"; "She plays infinitely better than I do"; "I've made a list of 101 books to read, that I may not seem to be so unaccomplished compared to Jane Fairfax." 
Emma dotes on Frank Churchill in the beginning because he puts Jane down whenever she is mentioned; Emma is jealous, and Frank proves that her jealousy is unfounded. 

As I watched Jane, beautiful Jane, grace her way through her new life in Highbury, putting people in their place and showing forth her ultimate talents, I felt for Emma. Emma who, with all her money and finery, her delightful personality and her blond beauty, feels so often inferior to Jane Fairfax.

I know that kind of envy. When I see a cute outfit on a body better built than mine. When I find a new blog infinitely more intelligent than mine. When I hear of others' accomplishments and travels. When the girl sitting next to me has cuter shoes on. Or bigger earrings. Or curlier hair. Or uses bigger words than I do. Or plays better, writes better, reads better, cooks better, teaches better, makes friends easier, takes better pictures, runs farther, can shop more, can eat donuts and hot dogs and not put on an ounce.

I'm not the only woman who struggles with it. Women just don't look at each other without taking appraisal and making comparisons, noting the annoying strengths in others that are their own weaknesses and trying to find something—anything—that will lower the status of that other woman in their own eyes. A wrinkle in a skirt. A faltering step in those awesome 4 1/2-inch heels. A laugh too loud. An extra pound in an area where you don't store yours.

It's a bitter, brutal habit. A meaningless defense against imaginary monsters in the lurking corners of our own self absorption and (thus) insecurity.

But then I noticed something, after I'd thought about the competition between Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax. 

The story is not about Jane. Jane, for all her threat to Emma, plays only a minor role. Emma, regardless of her insecurities and her faults, is the heroine of the story; nothing Jane is or does can supplant her from her place. It is Emma's life. Emma's story. And Emma's story is uniquely perfect and perfectly her own.

Emma is Emma is Emma. She is a woman, and hers is a story, that has delighted millions for centuries and will delight more millions for centuries to come. Despite the fact that she is not so accomplished as Jane Fairfax.

And I have a sneaking hunch that if the tables were turned and the story actually called Jane, we would find some virtues in Emma Woodhouse and resultant insecurities in Jane Fairfax that we were unaware of.

So what have I to fear? What have you? What have we, as women, to fear?

Yes, other women are amazing. But so are you. Uniquely so. Of course you don't have her gifts; she's unique too. That's not a threat. It's complementary.

Chances are, she's watching you too and wishing she could measure up. And if she's not, others are. If you knew, you'd be surprised.

Learn from the "competition." Take the best and improve yourself. Form a friendship with her. But don't change for her. No one can supplant you or me (or her) from our place as protagonist of our own story. Not the girl across the street with the convertible. Or the killer figure. Not the valedictorian. Or the mother of those three perfect children who all live so cozily together in that spotless house. Or the author whose mental stamina leaves ours in the dust. 

It's a life-story about you.

Embrace you. And when that's done, you'll be able to embrace her.

And your story will not only be uniquely yours, but you'll be the heroine everyone else (including you!) wants to be like. Happy with yourself. Generous to others. Genuine about both. And a woman who makes friends everywhere she goes as a result.


  1. Yes! Comparing oneself to others is self-destructive. Live the life only YOU can live, and be the hero(ine) of your own story.

    1. Well said, Maegan! That should be the ending to the post :)


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