CULTURE OF COMPARISON
Given the work I do it’s not surprising I find myself hearing stories of people struggling with not feeling good enough. I continually hear, " I feel like such a failure." My privileged position of power in the room can lead individuals to perceive I experience no such struggle mistakenly.
I, however, like everyone else live in a culture of comparison where the phenomenon of personal failure has grown exponentially over recent decades. The sense of being a failure is available to everyone and never before has it been so willingly dispensed.
What’s going on? Why is this happening? If you turn to French historian Michel Foucault research on systems of thought, you can find an answer. Foucault drew attention to the development of modern versions of power that exist outside of traditional operations of power. He describes it as, "a power that recruits people's active participation in the fashioning of their own lives, their relationships, and their identities, according to the constructed norms of culture- we are both a consequence of this power and a vehicle for it."
This kind of power actively encourages us to participate in the judgment of our own and others lives according to socially constructed norms. We become active participants in policing our ability to maintain these norms. With advancements in technology and our ever-present opportunities to measure up, our lives have become dominated by judgment, and it's helpful companion comparison.
What I find both upsetting and hopeful in Foucault's work is his notion, "the success of this modern power is the ability to enlist people to remain disciplined at shaping their identities according to these norms." What I mean by hopeful is best explained by the work of Michael White and Narrative Therapy. White believes, “our personal failures can be acknowledged as sites of opposition or refusal to be enlisted into what others dictate as socially acceptable norms." Embracing this view gives us a direction we can move; a future away from failure toward agency.
When someone comes to me with a story of failure, I think of Michael’s words and listen for an alternative narrative. What I have found is that along with the inability to measure up we often uncover a story of someone fighting for what they stand for and a resistance to taking on someone else’s version of who they ought to be. We stay right there and build that story, enrich that narrative.
Woman’s bodies continue to be a site for massive comparison by dominant norms. Comparison runs rampant, and our ability to measure up is a daily struggle. Finding those acts of resistance and building upon them is essential to regaining ones preferred voice. Sadly, given the world we live in, looking for those acts has to become a daily practice.
Recruitment into comparison and measuring up will never go away, but we can continually determine our preferred voice, look for our acts of resistance and work toward thickening our preferred story. When we have the chance to stand in a place of strength and power, it becomes easier (not easy) to see what action we want to take in our lives. For this reason, when I’m in struggle and find myself recruited into comparison with regards to my body or anything else for that matter I remind myself,
The struggle isn’t
about NOT having
a bad body image day,
week, month, or more…
It is about HOW we respond
and with what we
see in the mirror.
Given the world we live in, we will continually be vulnerable to comparison. We will continue to have days where we wake up and struggle with our body image or any other image of ourselves. But we can and must notice when we are being recruited into another's voice and step back and re-remember who we are and want to be and respond to the injustice of these voices in the manner we see fit.