Psst, in order to read this article in Romanian, get the June issue of Glamour Romania ❤️
Unlike the issues of self-esteem I faced during my teenage years, I cannot specifically identify the moments when I had been “taught” to behave as if there was a continuous competition between me and the rest of the women. Although, if we stop to think about it, since childhood, we have dozens of examples of women who are always fighting, more or less physically, other women – from where we learn that we must always watch our backs.
What does the rivalry between women say about us?
The most common example would be our beloved fairytales, in which, most of the time, the negative character is a woman. I guess one of the saddest is the story of Snow White, whose stepmother wants to kill her because she is more beautiful than her. Children do not see these things in-depth, but when I think about telling a little girl such a story now, as an adult, it gives me the chills. Do you see it? She is killed by her own mother (stepmother, but still), because she is more beautiful – how fucked up is that? – and whether we want it or not, a link is created in our minds. In the story of Aurora, the witch curses her out of jealousy, and the Little Mermaid is robbed of her strongest feature, her voice. Cinderella is oppressed by her stepmother and two sisters, again because she is more beautiful than they are.
The first female models that we have, as little girls, are in a continuous competition and the most striking part is that, most of the time, they hate each other for reasons as frivolous as being the most beautiful.
But in our day-to-day life, most of the time, we do not poison each other – not directly, at least. Instead, I think the passive-aggressive attitudes we have so often are just as toxic.
There are several theories explaining this rivalry between women, how it appears and what it means. First of all, women (generally) do not manifest their aggressiveness physically, but passively.
Evolutionary psychology – the one based on natural selection in order to answer questions about modern behaviour – claims that women have an instinct to protect their reproductive system. Indirect aggression protects us from alleged direct aggression from other women. Feminism argues that this rivalry is triggered by the mentalities that have been imposed on us by the patriarchy, namely that the value of a woman is based on how desired she is by a man, so instinctively she feels the need to fight with other women for this “prize “.
I chose to create the visuals for this article together with my friend, Ioana Grama, a successful fashion blogger from Cluj. Why? Because she is exactly the kind of woman people would suspect someone like me envies, or downright hates. She’s tall and slim, I’m short and fat. She’s gorgeous, funny and on top of it all, we work in the same industry. You’d tend to believe that someone like me could never be friends with someone like her, but that’s where you’re wrong.
The most common strategy when it comes to “destroying” a rival is usually made up of two steps, which I am absolutely sure you know. One – “personal promotion” when we build a better image than the one of our unfortunate opponent and Two – “defamation of the rival” when we destroy hers.
For years and for as long as I can remember, the first thing I did when I entered a room was to compare myself with the girls around me – my number one obsession was to see if I was the fattest girl in the room. I admit that even now, two years after I forced myself to change that way of thinking, I still catch myself scanning the room. Now, I do not envy slim women, but look at another aspect that makes me feel a little insecure – I’m looking for women who have less hair than I do. I managed to start recovering from my bulimia only when I got scared that I was going to be hairless. I suffered from an eating disorder that left deep wounds, but one of the most noticeable one was that it completely destroyed my hair. When I would shower, my hair would fall in fistfulls for months, until I was left with a tiny, tiny ponytail. I would cry for months on end as the time to wash my hair would come, because I really thought I was going to be left without any (my scalp was already visible in the front) and my hair was one of the few things I actually liked about myself when I used to hate my body. It’s been a nightmare and if I’m being honest, it’s a complex I’m still working on overcoming.
And that brings me to my last point – what I think actually the rivalry between women is and what does it say about us. I believe that the rivalry and this exhausting competition don’t have as much to do with other women as they do with us – and our own insecurities. What we see in other women are the things or traits that we want, or we already have, but they look bigger, better, fancier on others. I think this competition says a lot about how we actually see ourselves. We always look at the things that make us feel insecure through a magnifying glass, but when it comes to other women, we choose focus it on their best features. When we look at another woman, we do not see her – but we see a better, more beautiful, smarter, richer version of ours.