How can we stop playing the comparison game?
Last week, a cover appeared on Time magazine that rocked the parenting world, the body image blogosphere, and my Facebook feed (I am a breastfeeding mother with many parents in my social circle). The cover featured a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son next to the provocative caption “Are you mom enough?”
Inspiring responses abounded—my favorite, by Lisa Belkin of the Huffington Post, proclaimed, “I am not Mom enough to take the bait. To accept Time‘s deliberate provocation and either get mad at this woman for what I think I know about her from this photo, or to feel inferior, or superior, or defensive, or guilty — or anything at all, if it means I am comparing myself to other mothers.” Hooray!
But how do we stop comparing when we see images similar to this one (Photoshopped, sexualized, objectified women like the one in the Victoria’s Secret ad pictured below, usually minus the kid on the boob, with copy asking us if we are ____________ enough)? How do we stop asking ourselves if we are good enough? And how do we stop getting frustrated with ourselves for playing the comparison game when we know better and want better for ourselves and our communities?
As a therapist working with women with body image struggles, I get asked by my clients on a daily basis, “Why is my body image so bad? I keep working on it, and I still feel like I should be thin and perfect… even if I am a feminist… even if I am an intelligent, strong, confident woman in every other way?” These questions are another form of the “enough” question—Are you feminist enough?—and add insult to injury: Not only are we focused on what the media tells us is wrong with us, but now we feel that we have failed as strong women.
We need to tell ourselves that it is normal to have comparisons float through our minds and words because we live in a world where the Time cover is the norm.
What we can do is separate these thoughts from ourselves. We can remind ourselves that images and questions like the ones on the cover of Time are simply tactics the media uses to get us to buy things or get attention. By reminding ourselves over and over that the words, “Are you _________ enough?” (Mom enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, good enough), are not our truth, we begin to resist the messages without fighting ourselves. We then question, dissect, and reject the media’s messages, replacing them with the knowledge that we are already “enough.”