Reader Request: Being a Source of Jealousy

how to deal with jealousy

Helen popped this question into the suggestion box:

I know you’ve talked about feeling jealousy and how to deal with that lately but I would love a discussion about how to deal with other people’s jealousy. Sometimes when I go out looking fabulous (and feeling it!) I can be brought down very quickly by the jealous comments and behaviors of others towards me. I really begin to question myself when that happens. Just writing that down makes me feel anxious!

Before I respond to Helen’s question, allow me a moment on the soap box.

My guess is that most people mistrust expressions of sartorial self-confidence and/or body-love because they are so rare. They are rare because the prevalence of self-focused body-snarking makes many people – especially women – who love their own bodies or feel pride in their styles reluctant to express themselves. It is far more commonplace to trash talk your own body than it is to praise it, far more acceptable to avoid the spotlight than to let it shine down upon you.

But I, for one, would love to hear more women talking about their amazing legs, fabulous shoulders, and flawless skin. I’d feel empowered and encouraged if I overheard a group of ladies lauding their superior outfit-assembling skills. I’d be thrilled to run into Helen and see her radiate pride in her own beauty and style. If such behaviors were commonplace, wouldn’t you eventually feel comfortable contributing a comment or two about your own body? Or feel more confident about expressing pride in your style? We can encourage such actions by supporting the women who praise their own amazing bodies, by responding positively when we see or interact with women who take pride in their style, and by talking openly about our own physical selves with tenderness.

In this climate of body-bashing and style “rights” and “wrongs,” expressing pride can feel dangerous and observing pride can feel odd. But remember this: A woman who has learned to love herself is a woman to be admired and emulated, not derided and mistrusted. A woman who has learned to love herself has beaten back strong, unseen forces that attempt to gnaw at her confident core … or has wisely dismissed those forces as fabricated and unworthy of her acknowledgment. A woman who has learned to love herself could provide an uplifting example to those of us who still struggle, and I’d hate to think of that example being snuffed out by fear and negativity.

OK. Thus endeth the lofty. Now let’s dig into the pragmatic.

In terms of feeling like the source of jealousy and jealous comments, here are few things to keep in mind:

You can’t control how people behave

You can only control how you respond to their behavior. If people choose to respond to you pride and confidence with jealousy, focus on how your handle that reaction instead of trying to assign it some deeper meaning. It doesn’t really matter why you’ve triggered jealousy. If you can consider it done, a simple fact, you can channel your energy toward handling the situation. And in terms of that …

Kill ’em with kindness

OK, don’t kill anyone. Jail is nasty, from what I’ve heard. But consider taking the eternally unexpected route of responding to vinegar with sugar. If someone makes a snide comment aloud and directly to you, respond with something like, “Ya know, I feel fabulous in this outfit, but I was just noticing how gorgeous YOUR hair looks. What do you use to style it?” If you see people whispering and pointing, saunter right up and offer to buy them a round of drinks. If someone passes along a secondhand jealous comment, respond by saying, “I felt great that day! How nice of So-and-so to notice. I’ll have to thank her.” I know that most of these ideas take some serious chutzpah, but honestly, nothing catches catty people off guard like being showered with kindness. The endgame isn’t necessarily to make new friends, but just to embody the concept that the sour can be met with the sweet. (And that you won’t be ruled by the jealousy of others.)

Focus on “you, too” concepts

One common way to slip jealous comments into conversation is to go the “I wish” route. As in, “I wish I were tall enough to wear that dress,” or “I wish I had the guts to wear a skirt that short.” There can be some weighty passive aggression in there, and it’s tempting to either lash out in response, or attempt to deny that you’ve got the height/guts/whatever being attributed to you. It can be tricky, but I think a good way to deal with this situation is to utilize “you, too” responses. So in the first example, say, “This dress would look stellar on you, too!” In the second example, say, “Are you kidding? You’re one of the gutsiest women I know. You could do this, too.” Try not to switch subjects and go all, “Oh, but I wish I had your hair/hips/budget.” That can quickly spiral down into a morass of comparison and subtle self-deprecation. Keep the focus on the initial concept, and redirect.

Never roll over

Even if none of these suggestions is helpful, please remember that jealousy needn’t cow you. Don’t apologize, don’t feel shame, don’t downplay your own awesomeness, don’t trash talk yourself to try to divert attention. You felt amazing until someone else decided to cut you down. NEVER give them that power.

To be clear, I don’t think that jealousy is evil or that it should (or could) be eradicated from the spectrum of human emotion. I get jealous, and I don’t beat myself up about it. But I also don’t condone using jealousy to hurt, control, or manipulate how others feel. From what Helen has said, that’s the kind of behavior she’s encountered, and I hope some of my suggestions will help her deal with it in the future.

(Parts of this post were drawn from this older post, which touches on related topics.)

Image courtesy John Perivolaris.

Next Post
Previous Post

65 Responses to “Reader Request: Being a Source of Jealousy”

  1. LK

    I’m glad you posted this. I have a lot of difficulties with other women since I’m almost 30 and still a size 2-4 plus in shape (I work at it). The looks of hate over size burn pretty badly. I no longer live in a stylish city so on top of my size I now stick out due to clothing. My size has been an issue for other women since high school and I think its about time someone say I don’t need to feel guilty because I look good.

    • l

      I’m 36 and have this same issue – along with the fact that I have really great hair. What is so strange to me about the jealousy (descending into unkindness and cruelty) I receive is that I am chronically ill with MS. None of these women would trade my life for one day, just to have my body or wardrobe. The jealousy is so irrational, and in my experience it just gets worse and worse as you age.

      • Amelie3

        I have Crohn’s Disease, have suffered with pain for most of my life, and have always been thin. I get a lot of passive-aggressive comments about my weight/size…which I can’t really control. Having Crohn’s (for me) means looking thin but being sick and feeling crappy much of the time. Like you said, if they really knew what we go through they’d run away–fast! Plus I have a pretty wicked array of scars from surgeries on my abdomen…not so sure they’d be that envious if they lived with scar tissue and adhesions. At the very least it’s shown me how much words can affect someone, so I strive to keep that in mind when critiquing or unconsciously judging someone.

        Loved this post!

        • l

          YES. I take many enzymes just to eat, and live constantly with the threat of needing a feeding tube implanted into my abdomen because my stomach function is affected by the MS, I have constant pain and infections. Oh but I look so skinny and great. I wish jealous women would think before those comments telling someone to eat a sandwich or something.

  2. Jenny

    I guess I’m confused by Helen’s original question. I wish she’d given some examples of the type of jealous comments that hurt her. Because if she just means things like, “I wish I had your legs” or “I’m so jealous of your shoes!” I don’t find those kinds of comments to be hurtful at all. They’re kind of nice. I don’t WANT other people to be jealous of me (and I doubt many are), but receiving a comment like that is no problem (though I do agree we shouldn’t respond by trading back-handed compliments/self-disparaging remarks with each other like, “Ugh, I hate my butt but yours is awesome,” or “My thighs are okay, but just look at my stomach!”). What I do with my own jealousy is more the issue for me.

    The negative comments that hurt me most don’t come out of jealousy the other person feels toward me — they come out of feelings of dislike or judgment the other person has for me or what I look like! And that hurts way more. I once had a boss who said, “You could get a great job in this business if you just dressed better.” That stuck with me, in a hurtful way. But my boss probably wasn’t jealous of my business-casual wardrobe.

    I have a friend who is so thin that many of our mutual friends are concerned for her health. They talk about it behind her back but don’t say anything to her because they don’t want to hurt her. However, if one of us were to hypothetically say, “Honey, we’re worried. You are so thin.” she could perceive that as coming from jealousy. But it doesn’t. It comes from concern for her health. I don’t think most negative comments come from concern, but I think it’s easy to decide that negative comments come from a place of jealousy if you don’t want to listen to them. I’m not at all saying we should always listen to our detractors. Or that people aren’t jealous of each other, and don’t use that jealousy to say hurtful things. But not all body snark comes from jealousy. Some people just don’t like my body. A guy in the subway who says, “Hey, get a tan!” to me (this really happened!!) isn’t jealous of my pale skin.

    The times I do get jealous comments, they are usually related to my body/weight after I had my baby. People say things like, “You lost all the baby weight already, didn’t you?” in a way that somehow seems both accusatory and annoyed. And it’s usually women who have had a baby but didn’t bounce back as quickly physically as I did, or who feel that they didn’t (but they may look even better than me, to my eyes!). And I feel compelled to say something like, “Yeah, but you should see my stretch marks,” or “I guess I got lucky, but I’m definitely a different shape!” as a way of putting myself down to ease the tension. And I’m trying to stop doing that.

    • Stacy

      I got a lot of those “you lost the baby weight” jealous type comments, too, after I had my kids. I just told them the truth. I worked out an hour a day/6 days a week for the last week of maternity leave after having my son. I also nursed my kids (burning excess calories) and made healthy meals. I was back in my regular clothes by 4 months post-baby, and it was WORK. I made sure they knew that I wasn’t “lucky”.

      • Stacy

        That was supposed to be “the last month” of maternity leave…LOL! If only it had taken a week!

    • Trudy Blue

      I don’t know about Helen, but last week I was at a lawn party and two women made these comments: 1- “Don’t you think you’re a little overdressed? You’re making the rest of us look bad;” and 2 – “I guess if I was as skinny as you, I could wear skirts, too.” I was wearing a jersey top with a knee-length skirt and flat sandals. Seemed about right to me, so I’d have to guess that those comments came out of something like jealousy. I wasn’t thinking ill of them for wearing jeans and sneakers, but it felt like they both wanted to dent my confidence or at least to unload their negative feelings on me. To #1, I said: “Oh, I think I fit in fine;” and to #2, I smiled and said: “There’s no rule against it!”
      I don’t think my second response was very good, but comments like that are so obviously about the speaker’s insecurities that I struggle to show empathy and encouragement for them without apologizing for looking good myself. It’s a tricky balance to negotiate in real time—how to move past an insult, establish solidarity, and maybe even model a positive attitude, all without getting sucked into someone else’s drama. Which is why I thought this was a worthwhile post.

      • Elbe

        I often get the comment “Why are you so dressed up” when I am not “dressed up”. I care about my appearance in public. I live in a non-stylish city where people put on their (not so) best t-shirts, sweats, etc even to go to a nice restaurant. I refuse to dress down. I think they are trying to say that I am not dressing in their norm. Comment all you want – aint gonna happen.

        • Secret Squirrel

          Believe it or not, my friends and I got comments in a spa/sauna this week. We were wearing swimsuits, I suppose fairly sporty, and I suppose other women were in bikinis, or even less. We got asked in various different ways about our swimsuits, my favourite was whether we were Olympic swimmers! Miaow. We just brushed it off and smiled.

  3. Desiree

    I remember that woman from the UK who said that she had problems with other women who were jealous of her because she was tall, blond and slim. Everybody started bashing her. Some even called her ugly. I’m sure there are others who suffer the same hatred, especially women who attract men’s attention, whether they are pretty or not . People cannot accept those who have self-confidence. I wonder why? Money is not the root of evil. Jealousy and envy are.

  4. Tatiana

    I’ve been the source of jealousy before and I’ve always tried my best just to ignore it. When I don’t ignore it, I feel I end up saying something self deprecating to make the hater more comfortable like “Oh, I just look good in this because I have no boobs” or “I’m too skinny anyway.” Not exactly the best route. :/

  5. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Well said, Sal. The 12-Step programs have a wonderful reminder: “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”

    I agree that a rejoinder tempered with grace is almost always the way to go!

  6. London

    Hi Sal! Love this post, like all your posts. I have unfortunately experienced a lot of jealous comments recently, invariably about my weight. I am a naturally thin person–that’s just how my genetics have made me. The comments I get about my being thin are sometimes “oh, since you’re so thin you can pull that off!” but also are sometimes much meaner, such as, “what would you know, you’re skinny” or “eat a sandwich” or “have more cake, you’re a skinbag.” (And guys, let me just say, I’m not like CRAZILY skinny, I’m a curvy, well-proportioned girl I think. I’m mainly just SMALL–5’0″, etc.)
    ANYWAY, here is the main reason that this kills me inside: I am disabled. Thanks to those same genetics that have made me thin, there is something wrong with the way my arms are structured. As a result, I have peripheral neuropathies in two out of three nerves in both arms, as well as tendon and ligament damage and some other problems. Two months ago, I quit my job as an attorney because I could no longer function: I couldn’t type or use a mouse. I couldn’t brush my own teeth or put on my own pants. I’m getting better with therapy but I’m still unable to work because of this. (Or write fiction, or draw, or read heavy books, or drive, or….)
    People just assume because I am skinny that gives them some kind of license to be nasty to me, as if my life is perfect and I know nothing of hardship! It’s not just strangers who don’t know about my problems who do this, but my own friends and family too. As if it would be better to be thin and disabled than less thin and able-bodied. Let me tell you, as someone with $90,000 in law school loans and no clear sense of how to pay my rent next month (or next year), it’s better to be able-bodied. Always.
    Obviously, I can’t rant about my disability to everyone who tells me to eat a sandwich–sometimes I have places to go and P.G. Wodehouse novels to read. 🙂 But I can take your advice Sal, about continuing to dress in a way that makes me feel good about myself (it helps SO MUCH with how I feel, even if it does attract more nasty comments) and maybe killin’ ’em with a little kindness.

    • M

      It sounds like some of your experiences are rooted in our skinny = good, fat = bad reductionist view of people in the U.S. these days. As someone that wears smaller-plus sized clothes, I honestly can’t recall anyone that has ever made a positive, random statement about my body shape outside of my boyfriend, but people feel little shame or reason to hold back negative comments about people with larger bodies (I have heard those comments, many times.) Body size is what matters in people’s eyes in the culture we’ve encouraged today, not how you ended up whatever size you may be, what your diet looks like, what your health looks like, what exercise you do, etc.

      People that bother to get to know me find out that I’m the one encouraging them to get outside and participate in neighborhood cleanups and bike rides, teaching people about all sorts of new veggies and what farmer’s markets are nearby and they were stunned when I hurt my knee and didn’t want to walk 2 miles during our lunch hour because I’m usually the one encouraging everyone to walk more. I do have generous curves, sometimes seemingly impossible proportions (or at least my clothing purchasing experiences lead me to this conclusion) with thick legs, but if you look at the women in my family and the past few generations, it’s not that big of a surprise as to why I look like I do – I come from a line of chunky women. More cases of you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but as a culture, we do and for body size.

  7. adventures of a mad scientist

    All your articles are so relevant to me lately, and I am glad I’m gathering up the courage to post a little more.

    I recently started working out again and decided to try P90X out as a challenge to myself. I’m on week 7/13, I’ve been eating better and the post-undergraduate “slump” (mentally and physically) I had is slowly going away. This is a huge step in my life as I have always been a somewhat shy, timid person, always mistaking self-deprecation for humility. (Bad choices, I know.)

    I know someone who tells me all the time, “What?! You don’t need to work out. You are skinny already!!” when I talk about my progress (and lately I’ve been doing so apprehensively, and probably because of what she tells me). I really try to ignore it and continue speaking about how my BF of 4 years is doing this with me and we both feel really good, because what she says isn’t conducive to what I’m trying to do for myself. I always have to think “What she thinks doesn’t matter. What I think matters, because this is MY body and MY happiness.”

    I’ve also been apprehensive posting pictures of my progress on Facebook because I don’t want people to be jealous. I most certainly do believe that everyone who tells me “Oh I wish I could do that but ____” that they really can. I do it anyway because I feel like a kid showing his mom a really cool picture that I drew.

    All I gotta say is: I never thought I’d be able to lift the weights I currently can, or that I can finally run an hour on the treadmill, but I do and I CAN! And that makes me super happy! 🙂

    • Litenarata

      Just a word of advice: unless you have a lot of friends who are really into fitness programs, talking about it all the time and worse, posting pictures of yourself, isn’t going to go over well. You may honestly be happy and feel like sharing, but it will come across as bragging and being a show off.

      • Sal

        Litenarata, this surprises me. You don’t know adventures of a mad scientist personally and don’t know her peer group, yet you’re telling her not to express her pride in her accomplishments lest she seem like a show-off. If she chose to post photos of herself receiving an award for academic excellence, would that be bragging? If she talked about a home improvement project she’d finally finished instead of a fitness program, would that be showing off? I agree that you should keep in mind your audience’s interest level before launching into long, detailed stories about your own interests, but don’t agree that talking openly about pride in a fitness regimen is automatically boasting.

        • Litenarata

          I was just offering a bit of advice based on what she said and based on what I’ve seen on Facebook. Mad Scientist specifically mentioned that s/he continues talking about her regimen to a friend despite the fact that the friend doesn’t appear to enjoy it and never responds in a way that Mad Scientist likes. Why on earth would you continue talking about a subject to someone when they don’t share your enthusiasm?

          Celebrating pride and excitement in finishing a fitness regimen is one thing, but s/he wasn’t talking about a one-time announcement, she’s talking about posting regular progress updates and photos. We can agree to disagree, but someone who does that regularly risks coming across as self-absorbed or a show-off, or just annoys their friends.

          Obviously, her friends may have no problem with it, and she probably means well as I said before, but I’ve never seen anyone on Facebook who does this who comes across in a positive way. And it’s not just me, exercise talk is the one of the top annoying things people talk about on Facebook:

          • Kylara7

            I’d rather hear about someone’s weekly exercise progress and pics of their progress than the constant barrage of other’s peoples’ kid pictures and updates! The point is that what bugs one person is very interesting and inspirational to another. My own opinion is that one’s Facebook page is theirs to decorate as they wish, with whatever strikes their fancy and if other people don’t like it, they don’t need to look. You can block people or hide their updates from appearing in your news feed, which I do regularly (mostly on political issues!) 🙂

      • Cleo

        Hum, I have a friend who does this, and she has received some passive-aggressive comments on Facebook. She looked amazing before even starting working out, and it is possible that her bikini photos of toned abs are making some people feel bad about themselves, despite her clear intentions to do something different (inspire, stay accountable, rejoice).
        I must admit that I find your phrasing a bit harsh, Litenarata, but I also hear that there is a level of deliberation that must come into the “how often” one posts (your “all the time” seems to suggest that you are targeting excessive behavior, not *all* posting about one’s success; yes). With exercise regimen however, one wants to post often, because it requires constant monitoring–it’s not like a diploma where you can post a few pictures once…
        My personal solution has been joining a fitness-oriented website for everyday posting (and I get support and advice too there, which is nice), but I wish I had the guts to post on FB when I pass a significant milestone. I don’t because I’m afraid of negative reactions, and I don’t think that’s a good thing for anyone.

        • Litenarata

          I didn’t mean to be harsh, or say that people should NEVER post about fitness accomplishments. (I did say “all the time”) It just sounded like Mad Scientist was headed into the “too frequently” category.

          I personally think posting frequent update photos of your body on Facebook is showing off. Nothing wrong with taking the photos for documentation, but why does someone care so much that everyone they know sees their new updated body every week? Someone celebrating a large weight loss, and posting an “after” photo, that’s cool. But all the time??

          Also, it would be annoying no matter what the topic is. Photos of your newly remodeled kitchen: cool! Progress photos every single day with info on how much you spent: not cool.

          There’s a hard to find, fine line between bragging and sharing progress and some people mean well, but come across negatively.

      • adventures of a mad scientist

        Hmm, I did not notice there would be replies to my own comment. But I love the discussion! I do want to clarify a few things, though.

        I have only posted two photos on Facebook so far. I have refrained from posting more and instead discuss with my BF about how I am doing because A) he is the only one working out with me and knows my progress, and B) I do realize it may come off as boasting, and I don’t ever mean to make other people feel insecure or jealous.

        Aside from my BF, my cousin has been a big motivator lately and has commented with advice and things to do, and if I hadn’t posted those two photos, I would have never gotten that advice. I believe you bring up a good point, and while the comments have been very positive so far, I do try to think about the frequency of my posting. My BF has refrained completely from posting any type of progress photos because he is of the same mindset as you and he wants a “milestone” type post.

        When I talked about my co-worker, I did not bring up the subject about eating healthier and working out voluntarily. She specifically asked me about a snack I was bringing into the lunchroom and her conversation jumped to “well you need to eat more because you don’t need to lose any more weight.” My mom told me that a lot, and then turned around several years later with a “gee you look a bit pudgy don’t you?” I have only mentioned my workouts and my eating healthier once, and the responses have been pretty positive. I try very hard to not discuss it any more than I should.

        I think you have very valid points and I appreciate your discussing it. 🙂 I didn’t think you were harsh at all!

    • Regena

      I say post away! Just not on facebook. There are too many snarky people that are friends of friends and why set yourself up for the aggravation. That being said, start a blog or add a separate page to a blog you already have that way people who really have an interest can go a take a look at your progress.
      I must admit, I am one of those that wish some people would eat a sandwich, especially when I can see their skeleton poking though. but I try and keep those things as thoughts and not actions and I let it go. A lot of people probably think I should put down the food. LOL just like a lot of skinny people who, in reality, eat a ton, some of us chunks are very mindful of what and how much goes in…and stays in. lol
      Personally, I LOVE seeing people being comfy in their own skin… makes me braver too!

      • sarah

        Actually, I’d warn against too many fb posts, but for a completely different reason. I don’t know what your future plans are, mad scientist (I see from your posts that you have recently graduated with your BA or perhaps a BS – congratulations to you!!), but depending on where you are applying for jobs, some employers can and will cull your fb page for information about you. Just a quick reminder – it may not be a problem in your field, or future plans at all, but for example (I can only speak from personal experience here), there’s a total brains/body divide in academia, and photos of fitness progress would probably be inadvisable if I want a university to hire me. *shrug* It’s a totally different topic, but seemed worth mentioning.

  8. 1000Oysters

    Great advice, Sal. It is so easy for women to view other women as adversaries rather than friends or allies. I think we are also conditioned to view negative comments from other women as jealousy- who hasn’t had a mother, sister, aunt or friend say, “Oh she/they are just jealous!” to make us feel better about something someone said about us? I also think it’s much easier to perceive negative comments as jealousy when that’s what we feel about others.

  9. JB

    As I read the soap box part, it got me thinking about two types of self love. There are people (like Sal!) who appreciate themselves independently of others (“I am looking good today!”), but I also know people who appreciate themselves in a way that is comparative of others (“I am looking better than anyone else in the room!”). Of course, the second isn’t really self-love at all, but a sort of insecurity. I think it is rare to encounter people talking positively about themselves, but I think one of the reasons we get nervous when people do is because we have all encountered that second type and are wondering if you are one of those people who are feeling good about yourself by looking down on those around you.

    So I think Sal’s advice is super good – people are often meanly jealous when they think you think you are better than them. If you make it clear that you think we are all fabulous, that my fabulousness doesn’t stem from being MORE fabulous than the people around me, that jealousy often vanishes.

  10. Helen

    I love the sentiment here, Sal. This all needed to be said, but I did kind of pause at statement, “I, for one, would love to hear more women talking about their amazing legs, fabulous shoulders, and flawless skin.” I have a good body image and I sincerely hope all my friends do too, but I admit I would find it a tad bizarre for a friend to rave on about her fantastic legs. I’m all for luxuriating in our bodies, but do we really need to boast about them, any more than we need to boast at length with friends about our amazing professional skills? I realize that the point is that we need to tip the scales back in the direction of self-love, but I really can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d publicly extol my gorgeous legs. Maybe I’d boast a little about what they’re capable of (running, etc.) but to praise our body parts… hmm. It seems a little reductive or just tonally strange.

    • Sal

      I see where you’re coming from, Helen, but I do think it’s about tipping the scales. At this point, any expression of pride or praise about one’s own body is seen as bragging or self-centeredness, even if it is said gently and humbly. I think there are ways to be confident and speak openly about body pride without crossing over into boasting. Actually have a video post coming up about a closely related topic!

      • Marsha Calhoun

        This is so thought-provoking. I was reared to understand that any kind of boastfulness was inappropriate. I was also reared to avoid making personal comments unless they were complimentary. Finally, I have learned the truth of the adage “comparisons are odious” as it applies to our physical manifestations. I feel okay acknowledging things I like about my body (and my taste in clothing), but I’m not sure about implying that you, too, could be slimmer/better if you only exercised as much as I do, or spent more time/money on clothes. I don’t really see the value of making personal remarks about myself, complimentary or otherwise – it seems to invite those odious comparisons, which is what we’re trying to avoid. (Also, I’m still having trouble with the “everyone is beautiful” concept because honestly, it isn’t true – there are parts of me that, however functional they are, will never be aesthetically beautiful because they aren’t shaped in an aesthetically pleasing way [pleasing to me or anyone else I can imagine] – and it just makes me feel inauthentic to claim otherwise.) I don’t intend to be a meanie about this, or to invalidate or discourage anyone from learning to love herself, but I think honesty must be a foundation of self-love, as well.

  11. Buckle Button Zip

    I’m so glad you’re talking about this Sal. Too often I hear women sitting around the table putting themselves down, in efforts not to point out how together they are. There’s got to be a balance between liking ourselves and being ok with expressing that, and an all out ego-party.
    x Laura

  12. Cleo

    Amazing article. I have gotten much better at giving praise, but I still find it so difficult not to deflect compliments (whether they are honest and kind, akwardly comparative, or snark-in-disguise) with a quick self-put down. Your tips would work for most of these situations, I believe, not only for ill-intended remarks.

    I’m making myself a small card with your tips, and will work on applying them!

  13. WendyB

    I don’t think I get many jealous comments! Sometimes plain mean ones, but jealous…no. Maybe there’s nothing anyone wants 😀

  14. LinB

    Yep, drowning them in sugar is the best response. They’ll either be so taken aback that you are not cowed before them that they are rendered speechless; or they’ll think you are too stupid to have understood that they were insulting you, and won’t bother you again because obviously you are incapable of understanding how superior to you they are. Throw in a couple of “bless your hearts” and they’ll back slowly away, making the sign of the cross before them.

  15. Anna

    Well, I need to lose 50 pounds and work out more, for the sake of my health and brain fitness and general fitness, but I do have a beautiful nose!

  16. LG

    I don’t get many mean/jealous comments, but I often get the once-over on the elevator, from women especially. Sometimes I wear crazy colors, sometimes I’m wearing walking sandals with my suit on my commute, and I have some sparkly jewelry and a designer bag that I love (and saved for, lol). Sometimes I feel I look pretty! Sometimes not! (I’m around size 6 too, which I feel is “normal” for me.) So I don’t know if folks are thinking “I love her earrings” or “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that pattern”. But in my mind I’m like “oh my, stop STARING already! Geesh!” I just try to choose clothes that make me feel confident, and if someone hates my “whatever”, too bad. I’m human! :0) Compliments are always welcome though!

  17. Viktoria

    I´m a pretty average size 42-44 (what´s that in American? 12-14?) and sometimes I need to control the intake of cake to stay connected to my wardrobe. This always triggers cattiness among female friends who seem very provoked about my “dieting” when they think I´m already so “thin”. I´m hardly skinny, you know, I´m just right and I want to stay just right. I find myself avoiding certain people at certain times because of this.

    All in all, we could probably all do well not worrying so much over our bodies. Which is, I think, what Already Pretty is all about, isn´t it?

    • Sal

      In part. Most of what I write here explores how style impacts body image, and how dressing well expresses self-respect and self-understanding. My primary mission is to show that body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style can foster self-love and self-respect.

      I do think that quelling some of the socially-fueled worry about bodies is important, but in my experience that’s not quite enough. We need tools to help us when those worries crop up inside, or are triggered by the actions or comments of others. Because people are curious and social by nature and will probably always express interest in the bodies of others, regardless of how healthy or helpful that may be.

  18. jcb

    I think what makes this tricky is that, while nearly all women are faced with socially-influenced insecurity about their bodies, one is often inclined to think that the sort of woman who would feel most comfortable extolling her own features is not the kind who “has learned to love herself has beaten back strong, unseen forces that attempt to gnaw at her confident core.” Rather, we often think that, when a woman sees something to praise about herself (and, I must admit, this is often the case in my experience), she chooses a feature of hers that she feels conforms most closely to normative standards of beauty (i.e., her comparatively toned legs, relatively small waist, or large eyes.) One can say that this is all well and good – it’s certainly better to find something to love about yourself, even if the source of that love is essentially an internalized standard of beauty – but it does pose certain problems in terms of how people are expected to react. First, when the self-compliment contains an implicit comparison to a normative ideal (I love my slender waist!), it brings with it the generally unhealthy practice of comparison (Is her waist really that slender, though? If she’s bothering to mention it, there are better examples out there!) Secondly, and this is a tangentially related but equally important issue, in my opinion, it can be especially difficult to give or receive a compliment on a feature that is merely a gift of genetics (e.g., shapely lips, large eyes). I do really think this is one of the main reasons that people do not give more general compliments on a appearance (You are so pretty!), outside of complimenting someone’s outfit choice (something over which they had control) or in a flirtatious context (in which it means more “You appeal to me” than “Good work on those eyes.”) It’s difficult to say “thank you” for something you didn’t create yourself, and equally hard to justify complimenting your own natural features or someone else’s. It’s hard to respond to something that may seem to be a nod to nature or to one’s own good fortune, and I think that’s important to keep in mind. (This, of course, circles back around to the idea of what “good fortune” in the looks department has been defined as by society and beauty magazines, and thus also goes back to my first point.)

    • Marsha Calhoun

      This is very much like what I was trying to say, only better expressed.

    • Sal

      I agree that compliments on what people do – as opposed to what they are – can feel better to give and to receive. But I don’t believe that compliments on physical features are inappropriate or wrong. You may not have created your physical self, but you have been the steward of your body for its entire existence. And one could argue that things like talent are genetic, too, and therefore the result of good fortune as much as cultivation. Compliments on talents don’t seem to be as problematic.

      In terms of women choosing to praise socially-sanctioned features in their own bodies, you make many good points. But what’s the alternative? Never allow ourselves to love or praise our bodies at all? Only allow ourselves to love our bodies for physical aspects that fall outside social beauty ideals? If we reject certain aesthetics to demonstrate that we don’t exist for the male gaze alone, then we are still living our lives in response to it, and it is still in control.

      I honestly don’t know what to say about implied comparison. This is a concept that comes up repeatedly whenever compliments or discussions of body love arise, and I can honestly say that I don’t get it and can’t relate. That’s not to say it isn’t real and valid, but it’s not something I experience. If someone says to me, “I’m so grateful for my gorgeous gams!” I NEVER, ever think, “Oh, she is comparing her legs to mine, or celebrity legs, or the beauty ideal.” It just doesn’t cross my mind, so I feel challenged to offer any counterpoint or response.

      • jcb

        I don’t think that any of these problems have easy solutions, of course. By the above, I was just trying to offer some reasons which, from my own perspective, seem to cause misunderstanding and jealousy. I would certainly not argue that people refrain from self-complimenting or offering compliments to others – more that being aware of what exactly is being complimented, and the ideals on which the compliments are based, can help one to understand why jealousy and ill-will can arise from them. Also, re: the implicit comparison, I didn’t mean to say that I believe people draw a conscious analogy between one person’s legs and a pair of ideal legs – rather, that sometimes our idea of what “gorgeous gams” are is, perhaps somewhat obviously, derived from an outside model that has been internalized.

        • JB

          You articulate very well what I was thinking about. Like, I am a naturally slender person, and it is certainly feels good knowing I have a socially sanctioned desirable feature. I am sort of ashamed at how good it makes me feel to be thin, because it didn’t take any self-work to feel good about it, I am told every day thin is good, and I know if I woke up tomorrow 50 lbs heavier, I wouldn’t feel as good about myself. I can’t imagine complimenting my thin figure around my friends, especially heavier friends. I don’t feel the need to be self-deprecating, but I am not going to go on about how fabulous it is to be thin, any more than I would go on about how fabulous it is to be white. I don’t need to compliment myself on things that society is complimenting me for (unfairly) every single day.

          • jcb

            “I am not going to go on about how fabulous it is to be thin, any more than I would go on about how fabulous it is to be white. I don’t need to compliment myself on things that society is complimenting me for (unfairly) every single day.”

            This is exactly what I was getting at. There is value in making yourself or someone else feel good – no question. (Whole days of my life have been made by small expressions of approval.) But I think it is equally valuable to keep in mind that you could just as easily, say, not be thin, or not have beautiful blue eyes, and to allow this to inform how you give and receive compliments. It’s a complicated issue that, I think, involves holding two somewhat contradictory thoughts in your head at once.

            • meg

              YES. The two of you have really articulated my feelings on this subject well. At a certain point, you need to recognize that, especially where body image is concerned, the things you feel great about are largely dictated by the culture. Which means society is telling someone else they’re not great for the opposite of that same arbitrary thing. Self love is great but I don’t know that vocalizing your love of your legs or hair or teeth is necessary to feel it, for one, and for two, given the culture, it seems like a vaguely unfair thing to do. This doesn’t mean you put your head down and think you’re ugly, but I agree – it should “inform how you give and receive compliments.”

              • Sal

                I appreciate this perspective, but struggle to understand its application. Which body-image-boosting compliments are helpful and valuable? How do you put this into practice? What does it mean to keep beauty norms in mind and let them “inform how you give and receive compliments”? And moreover, how do we love our physical selves in a way that is free of social influence? Is that even truly possible, since virtually everything we believe about ourselves is shaped by culture?

                I get that it’s complex, and I get that social norms influence what we perceive to be “good” and “bad” about bodies. But to simply say, “be informed when you issue compliments” feels unsatisfying to me. It doesn’t provide concrete, helpful information that can inform action, just views on why doing it a certain way is potentially harmful.

      • M

        What’s funny is that I often DO feel somewhat uncomfortable about someone purely complimenting my talents vs. something I did with them. When someone tells me I am creative, I think, well…this is the way my brain works, the result of things that happened in my life and shut me off from people and left my to cultivate my brain, just, weird things that to some degree, I feel like I had little to no control over in addition to some habits I’ve developed (although I am a “steward of my body”, there are still an amazing number of things I have and had no control over. I can’t tell you how many years I ate foods that are more food-like than foods, and I was not the one buying most of the things I ate for the first 18 years of my life. Growing up I had no control over my parents and some of the situations they put me in, and those situations were extremely formative.)

        One thing to keep in mind is that for some people, some of their best features AREN’T on the outside or they take much longer to be seen on the outside since they need more translation to physical manifestations vs. the more mental manifestations that they excel at. My brain is still part of my body, even if you can’t see it as easily as someone’s naturally slim legs or large breasts.

        For me, I feel like complimenting is a private thing. When I first got my new glasses recently, I had to wear them at home, alone for a while to get used to how I looked. I knew I would be getting comments whether or not I wanted them with glasses as colorful as the ones I selected, and I had to be secure in MY feelings about the glasses before other’s provided their input so that essentially, their input did not matter. I knew I loved how they looked and how they matched me and how I felt comfortable presenting myself before anyone else ever said anything.

        You comment about comparisons in interesting because I often think, especially when people start complaining about how many pounds and places they need to loose weight, I can’t help but to feel a little confused about whether these people are also being so hyper critical of me (in most of the cases where I’ve been in these situations, I was the largest, if not one of the largest people, in the group) or if they just save this insane amount of criticism for themselves. Either way, it kinda makes me sad. You also have to be aware of the context of the comment and how it is said, because that can tell you a lot about what someone is really saying. Like, if someone emphasized the “MY gorgeous gams” only moments after someone else was talking about being frustrated with the pain and look of spider and varicose veins in their legs, it very easily could be taken as an implied comparison.

      • Marsha Calhoun

        As always, I am grateful for the opportunity for insight your posts present! When you say you just don’t get and can’t relate to the concept of implied comparison, I have to wonder why I do get it and why it seems to be a kind of background for so much of my perception. It occurred to me that, as an only child of an older mother and father, I grew up having to depend on comparisons wherever I could find them in order to find out who I was and what I was supposed to do – if there is no other with whom to compare myself, my thoughts, my aesthetic, how do I find out what I am supposed to be, let alone establish or even distinguish my own preferences? My own tendency to compare myself with other girls my age, etc., might have become second nature as part of a process of individuation, working away from simply doing/thinking what I was told or what was modeled for me by my parents. I wonder if having siblings presents this opportunity for others, and also if it is easier to discover and appreciate one’s own individual uniqueness from within a group of peers/siblings. I am probably rambling here, but again, thanks for the springboard for thought.

  19. the original Helen

    Thanks so much for taking this on. I love what you wrote and I think it can help me as has the discussion in the comments. Since kindness comes easily to me (rather than, say, wit!) I like that suggestion very much.

    And I do think we could find a way to celebrate what we love about ourselves without boasting… even if it just starts among our friends and even if it starts with the caveat “I’m trying to learn how to express what I love about myself without boasting… want to try it too?”

    I have a bit of a dual personality in that I love to dress up and have a distinct sense of style but also have a hard time handling the attention this brings me. Yes, I have hair, nose, legs, shape, that people really respond to (still… at 49!). Mostly I want to know how to deal with my own reactions and not let other people’s reactions (when voiced) bother me. Still working on it!

    Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments.

  20. Anne

    Well, I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I have what I describe as a slightly more streamlined version of a J-Lo figure. Not bad when I describe it like that, but on bad days I just have chubby thighs. And wouldn’t the world be a perfect place if they were long and lean and cast from marble? No. the world is what it is, and the shape of my thighs do not hold any magical powers for good or bad. When I find myself comparing myself to others and envying their legs, or degrees or wardrobes or what ever, I stop myself short and start asking myself some questions. What can I learn from all this? Just what is it that you’re longing for? What is it that they have that you don’t? What is keeping you from getting it? Will your life really be better by getting it?

    Some things you have to be willing to go out and get for yourself. If you want a slammin’ body (and whose to say it’s not?) Can you improve your exercise and eating habits to move you towards a shape you can be happy with? Can you learn to play up your best features with clothing and make-up? If it is someones style that you like, break it down, are you attracted to the colors, the sillhouette? Can you ask that person for some pointers? If you envy some one’s career , what steps can you take to improve your own?
    If we feel envy for something that we feel is lacking in our own lives, our choices are to improve our own lives to whatever extent we can or just be happy for the other person. My current opinion about people who celebrate their physical charms? Enjoy it while you have it! Work it! If you have the bigness of heart to do so, let that person know that she is so much more than the sum of her parts, however lovely those parts might be.

    On the flip side, there is jealousy, envy, wistfulness, some of these are hurtful some are not. Ask yourself is this comment intended to hurt me? I think in the long, run few women intend to hurt others. I have a friend who I thought for years was criticizing my wardrobe. It turned out that she was trying to tell my, “Look, I appreciate fashion too.” She is a fabulous photographer and she takes beautiful portraits because it makes her happy. She understands that the was I dress is my form of expression and it makes me happy in the same way. When people express envy over my body, first of all I laugh! Then I tell them that WE ALL HAVE ISSUES. Their’s are not nearly as bad as they think. I am learning not to make self-deprecating remarks about myself. It’s a hard habit to break but as I’m learning, an important one

  21. hellotampon

    I have fairly big boobs, at least for my size, and I can’t count the number of times people have tried to make me feel bad about it. People will be sitting there having a discussion about my chest (a discussion that SOMEONE ELSE STARTED!) and before long it turns into a list of reasons why some other woman *totally* doesn’t want big boobs anyway “because they sag” and “most normal men aren’t attracted to them.” Well gee, thanks. These discussions used to happen a lot in my early 20s and I never did learn how to take control of the conversation. Thankfully, it seems that most of the people I associate with have matured out of this kind of malarky but I still get a lot of comments from random people and a “thanks, I grew them myself!” seems to be the perfect response.

    • pope suburban

      Oh lord. I’m in the same boat physically, where I have a pretty generous bosom for my size, but I think I’m magical because people do not notice unless I am seriously drawing attention. The result here is that people feel free to say nasty things like that in my presence like I am going to nod along with them, like it’s totally okay. And I never will, because you know what? We all age, if we’re lucky, and that shouldn’t be a source of shame. And last I checked, my parents didn’t decide to have a kid for the sole purpose of giving other people– in this case, “normal men,” as if that even means anything– something pleasant to look upon. I am not here for people to look at, I am here to live. I am also not here for people to bully because they’re hurting and insecure. When I look at it that way, I find it easy to have the gumption to speak up and say something about body-shaming.

  22. Debbi

    I have probably made some comments like,” if I were thin I would wear that”, but I did NOT mean I was jealous of the person. I truly meant just that. I think sometimes we take comments in ways they are not meant. I accept that I am plus sized and as such I cannot wear some of the things that thin women can wear and look good. It is all too easy to read into written words meanings that the writer did not intend.

  23. Claire

    Thanks for opening up on the soapbox, Sal. I approach this issue both as someone who “looks healthy” but has serious, chronic health issues (and gets those types of misguided body comments), and as someone who by nature isn’t really jealous or competitive (so rarely feel threatened or insecure around other women).

    I totally, completely agree that I’d prefer a culture where women (and men) feel comfortable verbalizing their good feelings about their bodies to what we have now. But I also totally get the other side where humility and restraint is often appropriate and better-received, and over-sharing can be annoying and seem (or actually be) obnoxious bragging or narcissistic. To me, both sides present their own set of problems for the person and others around them. As usual, I suppose balance is key.

    Personally, I have no problem expressing the things I appreciate about my body, although I don’t often feel compelled to do so spontaneously or unprompted. However, I feel extremely compelled to do so when I encounter others expressing body-shame or misconceptions (towards me, others, or themselves). I won’t deny ever having had body-critical thoughts, but I am more prone to remain silent than to verbalize such things and prefer to express affirming, body-positive thoughts. I will admit, I do find it harder to hold my tongue when people seem to be mistreating their bodies and taking their health for granted. It can nettle me when someone I observe behaving carelessly with their body then makes a comment about how with my figure I must be naturally thin, or I am too young/fit-looking/whatever to be sick, when I’m actually constantly working to manage pain and maintain healthy functioning.

    As for the source-of-jealously angle, these are great tips. For me, it feels natural to express interest and sincere compliments with friends and when meeting new people, and perhaps this helps to relieve an atmosphere of insecurity. I will absolutely grit my teeth and use the “catch more flies with honey” method to respond graciously if there is a way to do so. I’ve really tried to learn to reign in my “chutzpah” and aim for more tact and kindness, but if I am truly exasperated, offended by something blatant, or even just tired, I can be very, very direct.

    ps. Heehee, love the “bless your heart” smack-down suggestion from one of the commenters. Being from the South, I can appreciate it’s efficacy.

  24. sarah

    I’ve drawn jealousy before. Or maybe it was insecurity. YOu know, I think it’s really hard to distinguish where nasty comments are about someone else’s jealousy, or fear/insecurity about themselves. I took years of abuse from a nasty young woman who was senior to me in my doctoral program. My field is small, and can be gossipy, so I really only had one solution: keep your head down, your mouth shut, and AVOID AVOID AVOID. Someone like that, who repeatedly abuses another person, is probably not going to stop. Because you are not the cause of the abuse – the real cause lies in them; somewhere, something about you is aggravating an old hurt, an old insecurity, some old trauma. You can’t fix the hole in them that is causing them to lash out at you. So, if it’s a repeat attack, I say, get well and clear away, because the person is not healthy and because being around them is likely to make you unhealthy, too.

    Of course, this is really for extreme cases -but they happen, sadly enough. This woman was into her 30s and smart and super passionate teacher and VERY good at her job … as yet vicious as a high school mean girl. I am happy to observe her many positive traits if she comes up in conversation, but in general, my rule is – if this kind of thing is going on and the person involved is past their mid-20s, I try and create as much space between us as possible. Both to protect myself and to keep from irritating them.

  25. sarah

    PS – Sally, do you think that body-positive talk is easier with the opposite sex? As I was reading this, I was thinking about the positive body-talk conversations I’ve had, and many of them seem to be with male friends. I had an older brother and grew up with a lot of (do I need to say it? just in case! PLATONIC) male friends. These days I have more women friends than men, but still – somehow if bodies come up in conversation with my male friends, I feel like it’s almost an opportunity for us to have an honest conversation about “how does your team see me?” without having to worry about the complicated twists and turns of sexual tension (I’m also married – ah, the glorious and liberating perks of being “off the market!”).

    • Sal

      Interesting! I don’t talk about body image stuff with my guy friends much. With my husband for sure, but not friends.

      Anyone else feel like it’s easy to talk about body image with the opposite sex?

  26. Kylara7

    Thank you for this article and the tips on how to deal with jealousy. I often try the “killing with kindness” or just pretending the snark has gone right over my head as I cluelessly respond as if it were a genuine compliment. As you stated, I see it as their problem and not mine if I choose not to make it mine.

    That being said, I am proud of my fitness and the way I look/dress, and though I work hard at it, I do it because I enjoy being active, pushing my body, and participating in a variety of active hobbies. I don’t like watching TV, I have a hard time sitting still, and junk food/greasy food gives me a stomach ache, so I doing the things that make ME feel good. Others get to make their own choices but I won’t be made to feel bad about mine 🙂

  27. dustwindbun

    Everyone has long since left this thread, but I feel like I have to say something. Some of us aren’t jealous of your beautiful bodies, we’re just sick of being told how great they are, because there’s an implied BETTER THAN YOU judgement in there. Like the lady who worked hard to lose all her baby weight right away – good for you, but there’s an undercurrent of status-seeking in the way you talk about it, and even in the fact that you did it at all – you’re BETTER than those lesser mortals who didn’t have the discipline to do what you did, those fat lazy bitches.
    Pretty much everyone in this thread sounds conceited beyond belief, with the way they’re passing judgement on those that don’t do what they do or have what they have. And that’s why people didn’t like that Daily Mail lady, and that’s why we respond poorly.

    We’re not jealous. We just don’t like being judged. I’ve just judged all of you. You didn’t like it, now, did you?

    • Sal

      Who exactly is encompassed in the “we” you’re using? On whose behalf are you speaking? There are multiple perspectives in every argument, but you’re using some pretty combative language to address a variety of opinions expressed here.

      Have you considered that your response may have more to do with your own feelings about yourself than with others’ feelings about you? Might not always be the case, but you’re assuming a lot of things about a lot of people, and attributing underlying motivators when there may be none. And a declaration of self-confidence or pride is not the same thing as a statement of judgment. If they feel the same, consider why.

      • dustwindbun

        Well, people seem very judgey here in the Twin Cities to me, more so than other places I’ve lived. (Yes, I too live in the Frozen North.)

        As for “we”, I’m going by what women I’ve known have said to me in the past. Friends and family primarily. It’s been a pretty consistent theme. It could very well just be our own issues – I can’t speak for my friends and family, but I do happen to be a crazy person – but this is something I’ve heard a lot of and I wanted people to know that there is another possible perspective that could be driving the supposed “jealousy” that they’re encountering.

        “You’re just jealous of me” can be incredibly dismissive of another’s feelings, and I would hate to think that the nice people who come here to AP would be happily dismissive!

        And, well, when you’re used to hearing people express their self-confidence or pride, as you say, with a sneer in their voices, looking down their noses at you, worthless peasant that you are, it’s gonna start feeling like they’re judging you whether you’re a crazy person or not. Because they are. It’s not a competition between us all, except when it is, when people make it one, and it can be hard to describe the difference between a healthy attitude and a nasty one without sounding like the crazy one. I wish it weren’t true, but I’ve spent my whole life being told when I don’t like the way another woman is judging me that I’m just jealous. It happens, and I don’t think it’s fair to pretend it doesn’t.