Believe it or not, that quote came from Rob Lowe. I was in college when About Last Night came out, and I have trouble seeing him as anything other than a hot 20-something dating a very young Demi Moore (who coincidentally shares my birthday, which basically makes us twins).
Anyway, Rob is all grown up now and just sent his kids off to college. As he was saying goodbye, he gave his son a perfect piece of advice: Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.
I remember the first time I learned this lesson. I was just out of graduate school, and weighed 212 pounds. I hated myself at that weight. I was miserable, and I knew that if I could just lose 70 pounds, my life would be perfect.
So I joined a local weight loss support group called TOPS (this was before Weight Watchers was on every corner) and started counting calories. Everyone in the group was in roughly the same boat as me, carrying quite a bit of extra weight and desperate to lose it. We knew each others’ struggles and felt safe sharing our deepest concerns within the group.
Then one day, someone broke the unspoken agreement and brought a friend to join the group that only wanted to lose 10 pounds. Seriously? You’re bringing someone in who is clearly an ‘after’ before she even starts? Are you freaking kidding me?
I was SO PISSED. It was clear to me that this woman did not belong, and that our safe little tribe was ruined. I leaned over to the woman next to me and said ‘What is SHE doing here? She doesn’t need to lose anything at all!”
I wish I could take back that moment. What was supposed to be a private comment was overheard by the very person I was talking about, and although she put on a brave face during the meeting, she cried about it privately. On the outside she looked like she had it all together – she was thin, for Pete’s sake, what could she possibly have to worry about?
But on the inside, she had a raving Inner Mean Girl calling her fat, ugly and unworthy. My offhand criticism in what she expected to be a safe space basically echoed everything her own IMG was whispering in her ear. She was devastated, and rightfully so.
I felt threatened when this poor woman walked in the door, because she already had what I wanted – a thin body. I thought that was the key to everything I didn’t have: happiness, a boyfriend, a good job. It seemed like my extra weight was the reason I didn’t have those things, and anyone that was thin was the enemy. So instead of welcoming in a new member I pushed her away because I felt crappy about myself.
Eventually it got around to me that I’d really hurt this woman’s feelings, and I apologized to her, from the heart. And I never, ever forgot the lesson. What someone looks like on the outside has nothing to do with what’s going on inside. Sure, a thin person doesn’t have to worry about whether they’ll fit into an airplane seat, or if there will be a race shirt that fits them after they just ran their first half marathon. I totally get it, and those things frustrate me too.
But THIN DOES NOT EQUAL HAPPY. Seriously. That is a fact.
Happy comes from within, and has absolutely nothing to do with the size of your jeans.
Think about it this way. You save up your hard-earned money and buy a new car. It’s your dream car, and you love it. But this car won’t make you happy. While it might make your drive to work more fun, it really only gives you pleasure when you’re in it. The rest of the time it’s sitting in the garage and you’re thinking about other stuff. And if you’ve always had a nice car, well, buying a new one doesn’t even give you all that much happiness, because it’s just another nice car. No big deal.
Same thing with a thin body. If you’ve never been thin, and you work really hard to get there, you might be pretty psyched about it. But unless you’re actually looking in the mirror and thinking nice thoughts about how proud you are, a thin body doesn’t make you happy. If you’re someone who has always been thin, it’s definitely not something that makes you happy – because it’s just the way things are. No big deal.
Unless you’re a model and you make big bucks because you have a super-thin body and gorgeous face, because we all know that money can buy happiness, right?
The truth is, our thoughts are what make us feel good, and that’s something you have control over regardless of what you look like. This is awesome news for you.
It’s not always easy to change your thoughts, but it can be done. It starts with paying attention to those moments when you’re pitting your inner life against someone else’s outer life. That’s like comparing apples to oranges and you’re always going to come off feeling worse.
Next time you notice this happening, stop, take a deep breath and tell yourself at least one amazing quality that you have. Your beautiful brown eyes. Your hilarious sense of humor. Your freakish ability to do big math in your head. Your strong, powerful legs that have completed three half marathons.
Turn the attention back to yourself, appreciate the uniqueness and beauty that is you.
Then go for a run!