A Note on Comparisons

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(If you haven’t already, you might like to see my first article on this subject – That Competitive Steak.)

Here’s a thing I find difficult to admit: I don’t believe I am particularly physically attractive. Now I’m not under delusions that I am run-away-screaming hideous or anything, but my looks are one of my great insecurities. I was bullied for them a lot as a child and teenager, and when I look in the mirror I often still see the awkward kid who got picked on for being fat and frizzy-haired and badly dressed.

Conversely, as an adult, I’ve become conscious of being seen as only my looks. I know it seems weird that these two insecurities could co-exist, but they do… and they’re rather a mind-fuck, particularly when they raise their heads at the same time! When this collision happens, it roughly translates into the concern that if I am not hot enough, my partners will leave me for somebody who is, because some delusion that I’m pretty is obviously the only reason they’re with me.

Now in principal, I’ve always been a poly person who firmly believes that making comparisons between partners is a Bad Thing. I love and care for people differently. If everyone I got involved with was exactly the same, what would be the point? I’m very conscious of trying not to compare partners to each other. All people are different, and all relationships are different. That’s part of the beauty of this life, this lovestyle.

I scared myself a week or so ago. Nomad asked me, hypothetically, what I would do if he (or any other partner) told me point-blank that somebody else was more physically attractive than me. My immediate response, blurted out without thinking, was ‘figure out what made them more attractive, then lose weight/change my hair/buy different clothes/delete as appropriate to emulate that.’ Then I thought this through more thoroughly, and my own answer – my instinctive gut reaction – somewhat horrified me. Am I that conditioned into objectifying myself so strongly, that socialised into seeing other women as competition to be fended off?

The little insecure part of me longs to hear that my partners will never find someone more physically attractive than me, and immediately jumps on anyone they’re interested in to try to assess  whether or not this is the case. I hate this about myself. I don’t want that frightened little part, the demon sitting there in my head and laughing at me, to win. I want the strong woman who I know is inside me somewhere to win – the one who knows that I’m attractive as I am, who knows I have value which extends far beyond how good of a decoration I make, who knows other women should be allies, not the enemy.

I’ve been striving to be good enough, attractive enough, for one person or another for years. This is what we’re socialised to do, as women. If we hate ourselves, we’ll always be trying to be better… and if we don’t hate ourselves, you can bet the “beauty” industry will find something to make us hate, so they can package the cure and sell it to us!

All the battles between ‘real women have curves’ and ‘stick thin is attractive,’ or ‘what men really like in women!’ isn’t really about what individual people actually prefer their partners to look like at all. We all know that people’s tastes are as unique and personal as people themselves, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that everybody is beautiful to somebody. No. It’s about people who want to control us – systems which want to keep us down, industries who want us to buy fixes for problems they convince us we have – trying to make women powerless by keeping us hating ourselves, attempting to keep us against each other, instead of united, by seeing each other as competition to be fought. But I don’t want to digress too much from my original point.

If we’re so powerfully socialised to compare ourselves unfavourably to every other woman we encounter, of course it’s going to be even more challenging in non-monogamous relationships… we don’t just have the perceived threat that our partner might someday leave us for someone ‘better,’ but also the possibility that if they’re dating others, they’ll get a new partner so shiny and wonderful that they won’t need us any more. When we believe our primary purpose is to be decorative, the idea that our partner might find someone equally or more physically attractive is a prospect beyond terrifying. Because if they did, what would they need us for, right? Don’t forget that mono-culture also tells us that if we’re really good enough, our partners wouldn’t even look at or think about anybody else. Obviously, as polyamorists we reject that notion, but sometimes there’s still the scared little voice inside begging to be acknowledged, telling us that we’re failing in some way if we don’t match up to somebody else.

So the right answer to ‘is she prettier than me?’ then, isn’t ‘no.’ Because then, someday, you won’t say no – and that will crush me, because I’ll perceive that this is the one to take my place. The answer is to realise there’s more behind the question than the question itself. To realise that when I ask that, I’m not actually asking for an objective comparison of a stranger’s physical attributes against mine. What I’m actually asking for is validation as me. To know you’re not comparing me to anybody else. To know you find me attractive, hot, desirable, as well as finding value in me beyond and greater than my looks, independent of any comparison. To know that if a supermodel threw herself at you tomorrow, you’d still want me.

When I ask you to compare me, don’t. Instead, just let me know you cherish me as me.

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21 thoughts on “A Note on Comparisons

  1. Just A Man says:

    This is equally true with men as with women. While it is generally considered inappropriate to tell a woman you are in a relationship with you find another woman attractive, women seem to feel nothing for telling a man than other men are attractive when in a relationship. It may not seem like it but it breaks our hearts as much as you say it does yours if men say it. Just saying.

    • missamaranth says:

      Interesting perspective, thank you. Though did it come across that I was saying it was inappropriate for a man to tell his female partner that another woman is attractive? That wasn’t what I was trying to say at all!

      In poly, we reject the idea that love means never even looking at anybody else. But that doesn’t mean we don’t compare ourselves to each other and feel that we must compete relentlessly to be the “best.” The rejecting of this competitiveness is what I’m really interested in.

      It doesn’t “break my heart” if my partner finds someone else attractive. What breaks my heart is if I think they’re so taken with the new shiny that I can’t possibly match up, if I think that they’re wishing I was somebody else. Which is what I was trying to get at in the last paragraph.

  2. Nomad says:

    This is a very good piece, Sweetheart. Perhaps now you can see why, whenever you ask “Is she prettier than me?”, I steadfastly refuse to answer. It’s not a fair question — not fair to me AND not fair to yourself. I like the answer you offer at the conclusion of this entry much better.

    I do indeed cherish you, my darling. Very very much. (And, for what it’s worth, I think you that are breathtakingly beautiful, too!)

    • missamaranth says:

      Thank you, Love. I’m glad you liked it! Yes, the more I think about it, the more your answer makes sense. At first I assumed it was because the answer was always “yes” and you didn’t want to say so. (Because you’re, y’know, nice, and don’t enjoy playing off my insecurities!) I guess you probably realised before I did that the question isn’t really about what it seems to be asking!

      So, yes. Keep refusing to talk to the brain-monkeys (or head-weasels, if you prefer, I quite like both terms!) and talk to me instead. Don’t analyse whether or not XYZ person is prettier, just remind me I’m loved as I am. You’re doing everything right. I love you xxx <3

  3. Dragonmamma says:

    This is a very interesting piece (as are the replies) as it raises many points. !) our insecurities and how we deal with them 2) When is it right to be “tactful” and when do we want the truth 3) what questions are we really asking and how to respond to them 4) How much are we subjected to the whims of advertising and culture pressure and lastly but no less importantly 5) is is the same for men.
    If I have learned anything in my lifetime it is that we are all insecure underneath to some extent, but how we manage the insecurity is what counts. eg my first thought when I saw the question “Is she prettier than me?” was “probably, but I may well be smarter and funnier”.
    Having grown up being unfashionably larger than the norm (let alone the perceived expectations) I learnt at an early age not to be too bothered by the “fashion police” since they just didnt make things long enough for girls of my height back then (It was the age of the mini skirt as well!!)
    And I have never thought of myself as being pretty, so i needed different bench marks to validate myself. And that has certainly helped me to resist the oppressive feeling of being “ugly” if not conforming.
    And in answer to “Just a Man”, of course it must be the same for both sexes now that the media has decided to promote “acceptable male imagery” as well as female ones.
    I was amazed to discover that there were men out there who actually liked the fact that I am “larger than life” (Duh! sometimes we can be a little slow)which gave me an enormous boost to my self confidence, but then i realised that I really like the plump pot belly of my current squeeze , who is definitely outside of the “acceptable imagery”so yeah, stereotypes suck.
    But what is really important is that we are valued for ourselves as all round complete individuals. There will always be someone who is prettier/smarter/funnier etc than we are that you might discover out there, but it is the particular combination of all our assets (and drawbacks) that makes us uniquely ourselves and uniquely attractive.
    I would have though that in polyamory this particular aspect would be more positively seen as one would value different partners for exactly that unique difference which would not be dependant on looks.

    And finally it is not wrong to appreciate physical beauty in other people just as we would appreciate beauty in flowers or animals and we would be abnormal if we didnt see it. Just dont rate it higher than it is. A mere accident of nature that is pleasing to the eye.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yes, absolutely – there’s multiple layers of stuff going on here. Very likely I will write more on the subject at some point.

      I really like what you say about using different benchmarks to validate yourself. I’ve been trying to do something similar, because I don’t want to think of my looks as being my biggest attribute, and I don’t want to objectify myself that way or give others the opportunity of doing so. Yes, of course I like knowing my partners find me attractive, but I’d be very sad if that was the only or even the main reason they were with me.

      As you said, it’s all about being accepted as we are – for everything that we are. About being seen as uniquely beautiful on a level that goes much further than skin-deep.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, you always give really good interesting perspectives on stuff, so yay! :)

      • Dragonmamma says:

        Of course the use of different benchmarks was massively helped by a father who was a giant and was hugely supportive of both Seniorsis and myself as we were growing up. I remember my dad was always telling us to stand up straight hold our heads high and be proud of being tall and well built. He encouraged the belief thet we were “worth it” long before the current ad campaign for some make up brand or other. And when you really CANT get shoes or fashionable clothes because they just dont make them in your size you can either ignore it all or go under. and I dont believe in going under.

      • missamaranth says:

        You’re awesome – I really love your outlook on life!

        *hugs*

  4. acelightning says:

    Well, when I was growing up, *everybody* was prettier than me, and I was pragmatic enough to realize that no matter how much effort I applied, there was no way I was ever going to be “pretty enough”, so I just stopped bothering. Now I have the additional complications of being old, overweight, and marked with visible scars. (I’m working on a project for dealing with that – more later, in another venue.)

    What I *have* always liked about myself is that I’m smart. It always bothered me that not only didn’t other people (especially boys/men I was interested in, even though they were smart themselves) value the fact that I was smart, most of them considered it a big turn-off! (In fact, my well-meaning female relatives kept telling me to *pretend to be stupid* in order to make males like me better!) It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I started meeting men who found intelligence sexy – and thank all the gods and goddesses of every pantheon that exists for those men!

    • missamaranth says:

      Oh gods, yes, the men who are turned off by intelligence… ughhh. One of the exs used to be really into making me feel stupid, because he couldn’t handle the fact that I was at least as smart as him. Equally I hate this idea that women should pretend to be stupid to make men like us more, and I know so many people who buy into that, and it just makes me really sad every time I see intelligent, competent women doing this just to get a guy’s attention!

      Yay for smart women and people who appreciate us!

      (I’m working on a project for dealing with that – more later, in another venue.) <– I'd be very interested in hearing more about this, if you feel like sharing at some point.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience :-)

      • acelightning says:

        I refused to pretend to be stupid, because I’m very much against any form of dishonesty, *especially* in relationships. Besides, I was no more capable of pretending to be stupid than I was of levitation, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

        Whenever I encounter a man now who tells me that intelligence turns him on, I want to say, “Where the hell were you when I was fourteen?” (The answers are usually either “Not born yet”, or “Growing up in a geographically incompatible place”.)

        (As for the project… please ask Nomad to help you get onto the Sooper Sekrit Mailing List, where all will be made clear in time…)

      • Nicolai says:

        [tl;dr: Intelligent women are a thread to traditional academic manliness.]

        Some of those things change nowadays but in my experience as man raised with an academic background intelligence plays part of the role that looks play traditionally for woman.

        You have to be intelligent.
        Being intelligent is one of the main bases (besides being tall, having full hair and deep voice) for being successful (career, wealth, having a beautiful wife, …) as a man. And with work and life becoming more and more abstract, being intelligent becomes even more and more important.
        It plays together with the view, that nothing is really considered valid, until a white old man said it.

        If you are raised as a man, you will be told, that you have to outsmart everyone. At the same time society gives you the privilege, that everyone will by default assume you are smart. And If you realize that a woman (who has the questionable »privilege« to be assumed to be stupid) is as smart as you or even smarter, you will feel threatened. Because you believe the »women are stupid«-nonsense yourself or because you know that your environment believes it.

        Intelligent women are a thread to traditional manliness.
        To love them makes it necessary for a man to question his manliness. A good but not very comfortable thing to do.

        And again of course, those without privilege have to suffer because of the weird problems and views of those with privilege.

        Please try not to play down your intelligence. It is our fault—not yours!
        I know it is much to be asked to do something you will surely be discriminated for. We (the less or different worse) men try to make ourselves and other men accepting and welcoming it.

        p.s.: I speak English as second language, please forgive any errors, and try give my bad grammar the benefit of the doubt :)

    • Dragonmamma says:

      yes, indeedy. Everything that you said here. I had hoped that being smart was no longer a bar to being sexy for todays young women but apparently (if you read Miss A’s reply) this is still not so. What a bummer. And Yay!! and double Yay!! for smart women everywhere . (Actually for smart people in general – i GET SO TIRED OF FOOLS AND STUPID PEOPLE . (the capitals were an accident , but on second thoughts…….

      • missamaranth says:

        Yep…. apparently it hasn’t changed a bit! I was actually a little surprised by Ace’s initial comment, as I guess I’d thought this ‘stupid is sexy’ was a thing of just the last few years. Clearly we just need to keep being our smart awesome selves and to hell with people who don’t like it! :)

      • acelightning says:

        I never understood why being smart was something I was supposed to *hide* if I wanted to be “popular” (or even acceptable). I wasn’t interested in boys who weren’t smart – in fact, the ones I wanted to attract were at least as bright as I was. So why did they want a stupid girl? To this day, I still don’t really understand that :-(

        I was so saddened to see the next generation of young women reverting to thinking they had to turn off their brains and do themselves up like streetwalkers in order to attract boyfriends. At least I managed to raise my son to recognize what’s really important in a person – as his wife and other lovers demonstrate! (Some of them are more or less conventionally attractive… but *all* of them are intelligent and interesting!)

  5. The underlying fear is that our beloved will find someone else some kind of ‘more’ than we are: more fun, more sexy, more intelligent, more exciting… We all have different insecurities but the fear is simply one that the other person is a threat to us. It’s one of those incredibly simple yet incredibly difficult things and I really do sympathise. My best answer so far: face up to your fears and remember that the connections they have with other people are separate to and really not a threat to their connection with you. Here’s a piece I wrote recently about my issues with fear: http://therighteousharlot.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/ur-fear.html
    x RH

    • missamaranth says:

      Exactly! Fear is at the root of all these insecurities – and it’s such a difficult thing to fight. I think your answer is a really good one. The most effective thing I’ve found, too, has been to realise that my partners value me as me, not in terms of how well I match up to somebody else. Great post, thank you for sharing! A.x

  6. Kerran says:

    A very interesting post, thank you Miss A.

    Sadly it hasn’t changed. Being a teacher I can tell you that the “stupid is cute” thing is still very much alive, although it seems to be rarer than it used to be. The “males who are intimidated by intelligent females” thing is, unfortunately, just as strong as ever.

    From a male point of view I think we have it slightly differently. We still have the niggling doubts, but instead of “you must compete” our message is “you must never admit this” because admitting it would be some kind of admission of weakness, or even worse… feeling emotions. We’re still not really supposed to have those unless it’s about football y’know….

    Poly or Mono there will always be little insecurities, and relationships are a minefield of them. They way I think of it is this, in a successful relationship you love each other for themselves, rather than attributes. Do you love Nomad because of his rippling muscles? his awesome hairdo? the length of his …. nose?

    No, you love him because he’s Nomad.

    On that scale unless you find some-one who is some how more Nomad than Nomad, it is impossible to find someone “better”. We’re each an individual scale and comparisons are meaningless unless you try and boil a person down to their physical measurements and IQ. (which obviously you shouldn’t)

    There are many other people in the world, some are similar and some are different but none of them are you, and so direct comparisons (if your partner actually cares for you) are irrelevant.

    /end rambling comment.

    • missamaranth says:

      Yep… it’s sadly still alive and well and I don’t understand it. I think the “men feeling threatened” thing is a big part of it, though… and those types of men are the ones I really don’t want to be involved with! As I said in the post, one of my exs really couldn’t deal with not being the smarter one of the two of us, and over-compensated by making me feel stupid when it came to the subjects they did know more about than I did.

      I can’t speak from a male perspective, but from what I’ve seen I completely agree with your point about “men not feeling emotions” still very much being a thing. And that’s just as damaging, albeit in a different way.

      Ooh – I like your idea of looking at the insecurities in reverse. When I think about how Nomad is unique and irreplaceable to me, that I love him because of who he is, not through any arbitrary comparison to anybody else, it becomes much easier to imagine him loving me in the same way.

      /end rambling reply :-D

  7. […] In About Intimacy I wrote about the sense of loss and confusion felt by a friend of mine at the sexual dry spell she has been experiencing and I want to reprise some related issues in this post. I was especially inspired to further consider the points by This Blog Piece […]

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