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.