Afterwards, we were asked to line up in rows while the panellists weaved among us, deciding which of us would be the chosen few.
That’s when it happened.
They got to my row. One of them looked me up and down, and said three words to his companions, before moving onto the next girl: Thighs too big.
It had been said in a stage whisper, that maybe — if I’m being very charitable — I can believe he didn’t mean for the whole room to hear.
But they did.
Every horrifying word.
I was devastated.
I’d like to say that this was an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. As performers, our bodies were picked apart on a daily basis. And after having casting directors compare every inch of my body to other girls, day after day, this behaviour became deeply ingrained in me. I started doing it myself — comparing myself viciously to everyone around me, non stop, at basically all hours of the day.
At the time, I didn’t realise that what I was suffering from had a name: ‘comparisonitis’ — the compulsion to compare oneself to another to determine relative importance.
As soon as I had a name for it, I realised I’d suffered from it for a long time — at least as early as 6 years old, when I realised that my ballet teacher liked Katie T. better than me, and gave her all the good parts. Even at that tender age, I would watch Katie like a hawk, wishing desperately that I could be and dance more like her.
From there, it only increased throughout my teenage years and into adulthood, becoming steadily more destructive.
From the women I’ve chatted to, this seems like a pretty normal trajectory. Some horrifying moment in childhood makes us believe that our body’s worth is determined by how it measures up to those around us. (One friend recounts the horror of finding out that the boys in her Grade 9 class had secretly nicknamed her ‘Flatty’ — for having ‘the flattest chest in the class’.)
And from there, we take matters into our own hands. We no longer wait for other people to compare our body to others: we do the job for them.
The problem is exacerbated because toxic comparison usually doesn’t stop with negative self-talk.
For so many of us — me included — we turn that talk into punishment. We starve our body or overfeed it. We thrash it for hours at the gym. We hide it under layers of clothing in embarrassment. We fill it with substances to numb the pain — whether it’s an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s, a glass (or five) of wine, or a handful of pills.
Whatever action we take, it’s rooted in deep shame, and it all stems from toxic comparison.
It took me the longest time to overcome my own comparisonitis. In fact, I had to fully hit rock bottom before I recognised I had a problem. I ended up in hospital with (among other things) an eating disorder, anxiety, severe panic attacks and depression, and the worst case of the cold sore virus the doctors had ever seen, all due to the way I was thrashing my body both on the outside and inside to make it conform to what I believed was ‘acceptable’ and ‘perfect’.
From my hospital bed, seeing the devastation I’d wrought on myself, I knew something had to change. And thus began my journey to overcome comparisonitis and change the way I relate to my body.
It’s been a long road — one I’m still on. But BOY have I come a long way.
The things I’ve learned about accepting myself and falling deeply in love with myself and my body could fill a book. (And they have — my latest book Comparisonitis: How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others and Be Genuinely Happy is out now.)
So, there are many things I can tell you, if you relate to this experience of endlessly comparing yourself, beating yourself up, and hating on your body.
But let’s start with just two things that you can do right now, to start climbing out of the comparison trap.
Retrain your brain
When you look in the mirror, what ‘problem area’ are your eyes instantly drawn to? Maybe you first check your stomach to see how bloated you are, then lean in to examine your crow’s-feet, before homing in on your nose.
So many of us have unconscious ‘loops’ just like this, which we cycle through every time we look in the mirror.
To break this pattern, the next time you see your reflection, train yourself to look for something you like or love about yourself, then give thanks for it, and say something nice to yourself — out aloud, if you can. (Even just a simple ‘You’re doing great’ can do wonders to repair your body confidence.)
Nourish your body
If you’ve spent years (even decades) treating your body like something to be punished, it can be transformative to flip this attitude on its head and look for ways to nourish your body.
Care for your body the way you’d care for a beloved small child — give it rest; give it delicious, healthy foods; make sure it’s well hydrated; let it play, dance, have fun.
Most importantly of all, do these actions not because you’re seeking a certain outcome, but for the pure joy of caring for yourself.
These exercises can feel odd at first, because most of us are used to beating ourselves up, not raising ourselves up. But the more you do them, the easier they will become. And before you know it, you’ll realise just how incomparable you truly are.