Inferiority Complex: A Response

Leonie Poshai writes a response to our first anonymous monologue about inferiority complexes.

I feel it necessary before I begin to express that in giving a response to your article, I am by no means trying to pretend to understand the everyday struggles you face, nor am I trying to give you an answer or cure to what seems sometimes a debilitating condition. My aim rather is merely to suggest an alternative way of looking at life. I wouldn’t say I have ever suffered from an inferiority complex, but rather feelings of insecurity that I think most young women, and indeed young people as a whole, suffer from. It is this aspect of an inferiority complex that I hope to be able to help with.

Theodore Roosevelt famously remarked that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, a quote some of us are familiar with, but probably unaware of the manner in which our lives would change were we to do as it implies, and stop comparing ourselves to others. Whether it be beauty or intellect, there will always be someone who we, and others, view as superior, and honestly, in some cases they are. Perhaps they are “objectively” better looking, and do consistently perform better academically. I say objectively in the sense that for the person that said ‘Really? But she’s so hot’ to you regarding your relative, to him she was. This is, of course, subjective, and somewhere is someone who would say otherwise. What is important to understand in not comparing yourself is that beauty and intellect, to use just two examples, are not zero-end games. That is, your beauty is not relative to another person.

If you walked out in the morning thinking you looked pretty great, you still look great irrespective of how someone else looks. It is impossible to look better than someone else simply because you are not that person.  The only standard of beauty you have to live by is your own, because any other is quite simply unattainable. If I label Kylie Jenner as “goals”, which to my dismay many young girls are, I have damned myself to a life of inferiority. Indeed if Kylie Jenner were to measure herself against the standard that has been placed upon her, then even she would consistently fall short. This is why articles in magazines are often dedicated to exposé pieces showing just how “ugly” some women look naturally.

This is, of course, yet another fallacy in which celebrities are portrayed as pushing us towards some unattainable standard of beauty, yet in actuality we consistently choose to measure ourselves against those standards which we know to be unrealistic. At the end of the day the Instagram pages of these women are adverts of a brand, the brand being themselves. I have my own views regarding the corporatisation and ultimately the sexualisation of girls – because as we often forget Kylie Jenner is only seventeen – but those are not relevant in this discussion. What is important is understanding that the selfies labelled “goals”, are not, nor are they meant to be, genuine representations of those women. Rather they serve an often monetary purpose through sponsorship or product placement. So, in the same way that we would not realistically expect our double cheese burger to look, or even slightly resemble the actual product, so too should this reasoning be applied to the images of women we see on social media.

While I realise that the revolutionary thought of not comparing yourself to others is often remarked as easier said than done, I have in my journey often found that the process is just as easy as telling yourself not to. It starts with a conscious awareness of your own mind. It’s difficult to explain this without sounding somewhat odd, but bear with me. It’s like having two voices in your head… One which is your state of thought and offers commentary on your surroundings, and the other which monitors your thoughts about yourself and how you inwardly comment on the people around you, such as whether or not you compare yourself to them. In applying this, you can begin to discipline your own mind to think more positively about yourself and the people around you.

This idea of thinking more positively about the people around you is also significant in not comparing yourself. Bitchy comments about other women are often a way in which we are able to raise our own levels of self-esteem on the basis of identifying inferiority in others. Comments like ‘she’s so fat’ or ‘too skinny’ can serve as assurances to ourselves that it could be worse and thus we should be content with our own appearances. We therefore build a false sense of contentment that relies primarily on the perceived shortcomings of others. This is of course dangerous because it is in no way a robust defence against hateful or rude comments about you from others. For example, being content because Lucy is fatter than you is not a defence for when someone calls you fat. It’s a false sense of security. What is important in building a heathy self-esteem is absolute self-acceptance. That is if I can look in the mirror and rationally judge that I’m fat, then I can either accept the fact, because maybe I’m genuinely happy with the way my body looks, which is perfectly fine, or I can make an informed decision to start losing weight. But, in order for you to not be vulnerable to outside comments that leave you feeling inferior, it is absolutely imperative that you accept yourself for exactly who you are in this exact moment. It has to be to such an extent where an intended insult becomes a mere fact, or a lie. So a response to the comment ‘you’re fat’ is either: ‘yes, and..?’ or ‘no, I’m not’, if you have judged yourself not to be.

The first of these responses is arguably the more challenging one, mainly because society deems it impossible to actually be content with being fat or too skinny. To this my answer is very simple; as a woman, as an individual, you do not owe society some tightly wrapped, coy standard of beauty, perfectly punctuated with rosy cheeks. You owe society nothing but yourself, your own standard, your own ideal of how you want to look. Let your standard be loud, arrogant, vulgar or dismissive, if that’s what pleases you. And with the same emphasis let it be playful, coy or elegant, but only if it pleases you. Not because since before you even knew what womanhood was, you were told to smile, and wear pink, because it’s quiet and delicate and so forth.

I walked into a lecture a few weeks ago and a friend, whose position in my life is constantly under consideration, told me I looked like ‘a lesbian who’s given up on love’. I laughed because my thoughts to his comments surprised me. I remember thinking: ‘so it bothers you that the way I’m dressed is not easily digestible by men’. It’s unsettling that I have chosen to dress in a long shirt that gives no hints to the shape of my body, because apparently we dress for the attention of men and not say, as an expression of ourselves. And this idea that I have given up on love, as if the only reason I exist is in search for love. As if I’m not there to learn and further other ambitions that do not concern my biological sex.

You don’t owe society a standard of beauty except your own. You don’t owe men your sexuality or femininity. You don’t owe anyone anything but you.