Comparisons are odious. Cervantes, Christopher Marlowe and John Donne have all used the insightful phrase. Shakespeare modified the saying with his own witty spin when he wrote: comparisons are odorous. And now, centuries later, I would like to update the much-used sentiment by saying: comparisons are ostupidus. You might not find that word in the dictionary, so I will provide my own definition here:
ostupidus [oh-stoopid-uhs] (1.) of or pertaining to a complete and total waste of time (2.) seriously, a total time suck (3.) a sad distraction from what is good and lovely and unique about oneself (4.) a dumb lie perpetrated by the idiot inner critic
See also: just plain dumb
I was sure I would win my first Oscar by 23. Never mind that I moved to Hollywood after my 23rd birthday…I figured nine months was plenty of time to be discovered. After all, Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar for her first starring role in the movie for ROMAN HOLIDAY at the age of 23. Of course that arbitrary dream blew away as I blew the candles on my 24th birthday cake. It crushed me until I realized that my heart was much more drawn to writing than acting – so I amended my ambitions. I would win my first Oscar by 27 like Matt and Ben. And so began the maddening game of placing my worth on the progress of other people’s paths instead of my own, feeling like I’d somehow failed as the arbitrary deadline passed every time. I didn’t get my Oscar by 27 or a Pulitzer by 30 or a baby by 32, which was the age my mother was when she had her last child. But it wasn’t just the progress of my career or my ovaries I compared with others – I can remember being 7 years old and getting my first perm (remember those?) because I wanted to be like “bad” Sandy in the end of the movie GREASE. When I was signed by a modeling agency at 13 because they believed my big feet were an indication of how tall I’d be, I held on to the hope that if I could just grown to be 5’6 like Kate Moss, the shortest supermodel, I would make it. Unfortunately I stalled at 5’3 and the agency sent me (and my lying big feet) packing by 17. And once again, instead of embracing my own unique path and destiny, I went around feeling “less than” all of those people I was comparing myself to. I can tell you it took me a long time before I would leave the house without my 4-inch high heels.
I know I’m not the only one suffering from comparisonitis. In fact, I’d say it is almost an epidemic, especially between women. It seems every time I look over photographs with my friends of some lovely time we had together, all we do is complain, “I wish my arms were more like yours” or sigh and say, “why can’t I get my hair to do that?” And more often than not, the very trait we covet in someone else is usually the thing they wish they could change about themselves. It’s the curling iron/flat iron phenomenon – people with curly hair wish it were straight while those of us saddled with straight hair spend hours trying to make it curl (only to have it fall three minutes later). The crazy thing is, the more beautiful a person may be, the more she seems to only see her flaws. I once had a meeting set with a famous actress who was undeniably gorgeous and talented. The day before the meeting, my agent called to make sure I knew not to wear any make-up or high heels to my meeting explaining this beautiful star needed to be the prettiest person in the room because her manager made it clear she would not be able to work with someone who made her feel “threatened”. At another meeting, a different stunning actress carried 5 pairs of sunglasses in her purse at all times so she would never be caught by the paparazzi wearing the same shades as someone else at an event, lest they win the dreaded “who wore it better” nonsense in some trashy magazine. Even worse, when I first came to Los Angeles, I worked as an actress on a show where the lovely 15-year-old star pulled me aside during my wardrobe fitting and asked quite sincerely, “Why haven’t you had breast implants – isn’t it hard making it in this business with such small boobs?” She felt immense pressure to look a certain way and wished she had my “courage” (ha!) to be flat, but a year later she had gone under the knife, convinced it would launch her to superstardom. Sadly, she hasn’t worked since 2005.
Here’s why comparison are so odious, odorous and ostupidus – they are the birthplace of insecurity, and they make perfectly wonderful people feel, well, less than wonderful. Somewhere along the line, that young girl had seen an actress with bigger boobs getting more jobs and reasoned that her small chest was the reason for her non-celebrity status, when it probably had nothing to do with anything. There are stars of all boob size and shape (if you don’t believe me, just ask Seth McFarlane). The truth is, the people who make it, the ones don’t merely survive but thrive, are the ones who take advantage of their strengths, not the ones who obsess over their perceived shortcomings. The rest end up in rehab, or as answers to obscure questions during trivia bingo at gay bars.
Of course it’s not just a Hollywood problem, it is a universal problem – teens compare themselves to models in magazines, men compare themselves to classmates who have gone on to greater success, people buy bigger cars, more expensive purses, higher heels in the hopes of being more like the person that they perceive as having it all. But the secret no one seems to realize is that more often than not, that person that we spend money and time trying to be more like, is actively wishing they could be someone else. Oh stupid us. We never seem to notice that no one is paying attention to our shortcomings because they are solely focused on their own issues. Which is completely counter productive, because as much as we may wish and hope and pray to be like someone else, the scary, but ultimately freeing truth is: we will never be anyone but ourselves.
I have had writers who are just starting out ask me urgently, “How did you get an agent? How did you get your script read? How can I get to where you are in your career?” To which I give them a little practical advice followed by the admonition, “But no two paths are ever the same.” I recognize that there is a difference between aspiration and comparison. We can be inspired by others, and I have many people that I look up to, but those people make me want to be the best version of me I can be, not some knock off version of them. So I believe that instead of wasting our time and energy feeding our insecurities with comparisons, we should strive to make the most of what we already have, and who we already are. Because the wonderful truth is, there is only one you in the world, and you have already made a difference just by being here – the rest is frosting. So go ahead and treat yourself to a bite... Chris Martin is already taken, so there’s really no point in killing yourself to get Gwyneth’s abs. As for me, I’m going to subscribe to the Jessica Tandy Oscar timeline…and if I never get one, well my goal is to look back on my life and know that I sure had fun trying.