Compare & contrast

DECEPTIVE LOOKS

Compare & contrast

Ever wondered who checks out whom the most? Though easy to settle on the obvious, the real answer would, no doubt, leave you wondering for a longer time. Be it in the malls, waiting rooms, busy streets, washrooms, beaches or social functions, very often it is women who end up checking out other women.

Hairdos, bags, shoes, earrings, bangles, nails and tattoos to the pores on her face, the female eye scans it all in no time. Are they judging, evaluating, or staring for no reason? Most women constantly compare themselves with other women. Questions such as ‘Is she thinner than me?’, ‘Does she have better hair?’, ‘Is her dress better than mine?’ tend to occupy many a female mind.  

A spurt in the number of beauty salons, spas and slimming centres in every nook and corner of almost evey city, perhaps, stands testimony to the fact that we are all indeed in this race. Statistics would say, women more so than men.

Matter of evaluation

A friend of mine would often jokingly say that wearing proper footwear, getting a good pedicure, or getting the legs waxed are key for those “travelling” by lifts very often. “Why?” I asked, intrigued. All she had to say, by way of a response, was, “In the lifts most people are often looking down and not engaging in any conversations.” And good luck to you, lady, if you are stuck in the elevator with a woman whose experienced eyes are sure to notice that chipped toenail or sandals that are so last season!

“Be it at birthday parties or any social gatherings, my main concern is the women at the function...I need to be at least at par, if not way ahead of them. In fact, the stress of socialising with females is far greater than spending time with a bunch of men,” confides Deepika. 

Dr Veena Luthra, a consultant psychiatrist, believes that this common phenomenon can be best explained by Leon Festinger’s social comparison theory, which says that in order to evaluate our worth, we tend to compare ourselves with others. Further, the premium placed on physical appearance by society, too, contributes to such behaviour. “Girls are socially conditioned since an early age to believe that a huge part of success and worth in life is based on physical beauty and how beautiful we are in comparison to other women,” she explains.

Comparing ourselves to others makes us feel low or at times gives us an intoxicating high — something that encourages us to continue with our behaviour. Whether we do it consciously or not, the fact of the matter is that most women are constantly checking out other women.

For Karthika, it’s a way of updating her fashion sense. “Watching other women gives us an idea about the latest fashion, makeup and hairstyle trends,” she contends. Harmine agrees that comparisons with other women help in many ways. “It can often boost one’s self image,” she says. 

However, for some like Divya, this whole obsession with looks is rather baffling. “I happened to repeat my gold ornaments for some functions, and the women in the events just didn’t seem to have anything much to say. But once I wore my new necklace, all were keen to come and break the ice or start a conversation,” she says.

Call it a harmless habit or a deliberate pursuit, women can’t seem to take their eyes off other women. For those who don’t want to spend money on expensive, glossy magazines or consult Google for the latest in fashion trends, all they need to do is visit a fancy mall and watch the sea of humanity pass by.

Your life, your choice

At any social event, one of the most terrible mistakes one can make is to wear outdated fashion or worse still, repeat an outfit, advised my aunt once. Although I never paid heed to her counsel, often, the repercussions were felt in the form of snide remarks or not-so-kind glances.

Did it affect me? Honestly, it didn’t really matter. My professor in college would often say that people ought to know us for what we are and not for what we have. Nevertheless, many of us end up judging others for what they have. We seldom bother to find out who the person really is. But is this obsession with appearances doing us any good?

“The portrayal of women in mass media depicts a standard of beauty that is unrealistic and unattainable for a majority of women. This further contributes to body dissatisfaction by comparing oneself with underweight and exceptionally beautiful models and celebrities,” states Dr Veena. There is ample evidence backing the fact that dissatisfaction with body image is one of the main triggers for eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in severe cases — and unhealthy dieting among adolescents and young adults (mostly women).

The choice is, indeed, ours — either we soak up all the influences like a sponge and feel miserable or stand resilient like a rock, with an “I don’t care” attitude. “Even if something I wear doesn’t match in another woman’s mind, I don’t really care because I have to feel good about myself first. So, it doesn’t bother me if someone stares at what I’m wearing. I know that no matter what others think about me, it won’t change who I am,” opines Agneta.

Experimenting with style and most importantly, being joyful is what she feels is of paramount importance. “Maybe sometimes you can encourage the other woman to do the unexpected and be brave with her choices too. To play joyfully with fashion and life,” she adds.

In her book, End the Struggle and Dance with Life: How to Build Yourself Up When the World Gets You Down, Susan Jeffers defines wasting time as follows: “If you are not enjoying yourself, you are wasting time.” It’s high time we realised this and did more than just look good. Because good is what good does.

By helping young girls to develop their personality by building on positive qualities such as kindness, intellect, empathy and sense of humour, we can let them know that there are more important aspects to life. What you look like and what you wear are in no way the definition of who you are.

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