Outfit Post: Anorexia, competition, and the quest for blogger win

As a card-carrying perfectionist, I have often viewed life as a competition. There is The Best, and there is everyone else. My lifelong goal has been to be The Best at whatever it was - not out of a healthy sense of competition, but more because I viewed myself as a failure if I wasn't The Best. My constant striving was fueled by a desire to finally feel like I could measure up to everyone else.

As a teenager, my quest towards being The Best was challenged daily by the extremely competitive environment I lived in - that of honors classes and music conservatory. I was a concert flutist, and attended a prestigious music conservatory while enrolled in a performing arts high school. Not only did I need to achieve perfect grades (which I nearly conquered, if not for my dammed music theory classes), but also achieve first chair status in orchestra, small wind ensemble and concert band. I was absolutely ruthless during those years. Actually, I had forgotten how awful I was until curiosity led me to flip through my high school yearbook. Most of the messages from my friends include some mention of how I "pushed them to work harder", "drove them crazy", and "made their life a living hell." Ouch. The process towards becoming The Best usually included alienating myself from my close friends, all of whom were flutists and strove towards the same goal as mine. It made for some tenuous, stressful times. As far as I was concerned, losing friends was just part of being The Best, and I accepted it as a mater of fact. The most important thing - indeed, the only important thing - was to win.

My anorexia only amplified this thinking process. Losing weight, conquering my need for food, sleep, and affection, was the way I found to "win" the competition. Anorexia made me feel special. It was my trump card. Giving up my eating disorder meant giving up this one way I had of feeling special, of being The Best. As long as I ate less, and weighed less, then at least I could be The Best at that. Right? Too bad this contest is so tremendously self-destructive.

Although I've learned in the past few years that this is a very distorted and disordered way of thinking - a way of thinking that preceded the eating disorder - it's still very much there and very much present. Now, reading my high school's alumni magazine is an exercise in self-loathing. The accomplishments of my classmates make me almost feel ill when I look at my life. My therapist calls this "compare and despair." I have similar feelings when checking out the stats of some blogs I follow. I spend entirely too much time and energy trying to figure out what makes some so successful, how they have so many followers and sponsors and lead such gorgeous glamorous lives. Now, I can't even say "Well, at least I'm eating less then they are!" Because I'm in recovery, and almost certainly not.

Now, it seems I am hungry all the time. Like, ALL the time. I'm assuming it's due to the fact that I'm actually paying attention to hunger cues (which I used to do my best to ignore.) Giving in to my hunger would mean, in my head, that I'd be eating more than most women. I defined being The Best for so long as eating the least. Because of this, now, I seem to be The Worst, which is pretty much a living hell for someone who has perfectionism.

I don't always want to feel I need to participate in the contest but don't yet quite know how else to feel okay with myself without these concrete measures. I always have this profound sense of inadequacy, and this was mediated, temporarily, by the eating disorder. It quelled the anxieties of not measuring up, of not being good enough.

I know that I need to stop defining myself in relation to others. And not just any "others," but those who have achieved more and done more and make me feel like utter crap when I think about what my life is and what it has done. I know I need to compare me to, well, ME and to hell with everyone else.

Have you ever struggled with competition? Do you have trouble with perfectionism? How do you avoid the compare and despair trap that so many bloggers struggle with? Do you get caught up in comparing your stats with more successful bloggers?

Forever 21 silk top; thrifted Escada lace skirt; Jessica Simpson pumps; Frye clutch; Forever 21 rhinestone spike necklace; Forever 21 rhinestone bracelets; Target rhinestone drop earrings







37 comments:

  1. Hey lady! I found your blog via Twitter and have been following you on there since then. Today, I "officially" started following your blog (I have no idea why I didn't do this immediately). I just want to say that what I love the most about your blog is that you actually write substantial posts. I like to read as well as look at pictures and your posts make for some good reading. As a brand new blogger I am inspired. This comment is getting much longer than I had planned. Anyway, I think you have a fabulous sense of style and I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts! You are doing a fantastic job!

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  2. I have struggled with perfectionism always - it can be a very destructive force, but also a source of misplaced pride. By denying yourself, pushing yourself, etc, you feel 'special,' as you said, and somehow superior for not 'giving in' to things that are actually normal. I've had problems with disordered eating and compulsive exercise for those reasons. Even now I feel guilty for eating - it's almost like I've forgotten food is fuel and necessary for living, so that eating anything at all seems like 'indulgence.'

    Thank you so much for your honesty.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Elissa. Self-loathing perfectionism, "compare and despair", and distorted body image are common denominators for most women. I struggle with them constantly. I honestly don't know how to fix it, but I think awareness is a good first step. Then you can at least try to self-correct. Of course, this could lead to one trying to be the best at not trying to be the best anymore. Life--the double edged sword.

    You look beautiful in that outfit!

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  4. I knew that soemthing was off when I told myself "well self, you suck at being a perfectionist, because if you were good at it, you would be much better and more perfect than you currently are"
    Sigh. I try very hard not to compare, and haven't been much for competition, but perfectionism is something that I struggle with daily. Lovely post, as always :)

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. It warms my heart when bloggers that I read open up to their community about their struggles. Creating a supporting and caring community online is essential to a great blog- it gives you the freedom to really be yourself. I have struggled with "compare and despair"- I have a tendency to compare my insides to other people's outsides and beat myself up for nothing being as "perfect" as they seem. The truth is (as I tell myself every day) we are all flawed and messy, and that's what makes us wonderful and unique. Thanks again for sharing!

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  6. Allow me to be completely shallow for a second. THAT SKIRT Gives me chills! It is so perfect in so many ways! I can totally see me rocking it with a jean jacket and grey tee with the collar popped and leopard shoes.

    Okay...back to the program. First of all, I adore bloggers who are transparent with their real life struggles, in blogging and out of blogging.

    I can't say I compare myself to other bloggers but I do wonder "what" makes them more noticeable than other bloggers in terms of opportunities and sponsorships.

    I don't let that change my style of blogging. I don't really look at my own numbers to be honest with you. Well, I do look at them but I'm not obsessive about them. I think for me, I feel like if I pay way too much attention to stats then I'll be compromising who I am to fit a formula. Does that make sense?

    I think when I blog/write/style and it's coming from a pure and honest place, the people will come so to speak. I don't really calculate anything though. I find when I'm genuine in who I am and continue to do it for the fun, I get results (If I were into measuring.)

    I think it's natural to wonder but not at the expense of compromising what your unique voice is in blogging. To be honest it took a while to find my rhythm(I can never spell that word right!) in blogging. Now I just stick to what works.

    I do also wonder about the "glamorous" bloggers though. Like did they have to call and get an extension on their light bill before they posted... because that's real life for me!

    Love you to pieces!

    Back to the skirt...can you wear it as a dress? With a jean jacket with the cuff and collar popped? I am having visions of it now...

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  7. Thank you so much for this post, Elissa. I definitely identify with how you feel too and the "compare and despair" is actually quite an accurate description. I think also that as I've grown older the only person I can really compare myself with is myself. It's definitely a learning process for me as well. And I have to admit, I LOVE your blog content!!

    cute & little

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  8. Funny, I played flute from 4th grade through college and had a similar experience. Always 1st chair, honor band, etc... but dang was I a big bitch! I always thought that I was a very uncompetitive person but one day as an adult I realized I'm actually really competitive but I don't want anyone else to be. I try not to let myself get into that mind state anymore but it is really hard sometimes.

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  9. Just totally got busted reading this at work (and about to comment!) and I'm freelance... what's worse is they're considering me for a full-time position and the HR Director just came to introduce himself to me as I was getting ready to comment?! UGH. I figure I may as well continue.

    I struggle with the same issues as you, only difference is, I never truly succeeded. I was never quite good enough even though I felt I tried to be perfect, to win, to be the best. I am certain I didn't try as hard as you did (your high school self reminds me of Ione Skye's character, Diane Court, in Say Anything). I do remember when I finally got my eating under control. I was about 18. SUCCESS. It felt so good to control the hunger pangs — and trust me it was hard to control back then, to this day, I still get hungry about every 2 hours.

    I totally had it under wraps and I worked out like crazy... I looked like a hungry, 12-year-old boy. It was terrible, but it made me feel good. I never ate more than 3 grams of fat/day and worked out at least an hour/day. Thankfully, I can barely remember what that was like. Today, I eat whatever I want, whenever I want and my pants are really feeling the brunt of that (hello dresses!).

    I still struggle with feeling "less than"... wondering why I can't be more successful — at work, at home, in my relationships, in my possessions. It's a bitter trap and one that's hard for me to avoid, but at the end of the day I have to look at all that I have and know that it's not a matter of being good ENOUGH. It's a matter of being good: I've tried new things, moved around the country, have amazing friends and attempt (as often as I can) to be the best me I can be. I hope that's enough.

    Your posts are really moving, for me and I'm certain for countless other women... and that's AMAZING. I'm not sure if your ultimate goal is sponsorship or becoming a full-time pro blogger, but it's safe to say what you give us is incredibly powerful. That's pretty priceless in my book.

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  10. First, I love your skirt! Second, COMPARISONS WILL KILL YOU EVERY TIME! Learn to rejoice and be confident of who you are, right where you are and do not worry about anything else!! We are all created for a purpose and unique individuals...your message is powerful and your POV unique...and obviously, by the comments above, you are making a difference!!

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  11. <3 You know what? You are totally the BEST at being you. No one else even comes close or ever will.

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  12. My husband always reminds me that "Perfection is the enemy of the good." Like when I can't start a project because I feel it won't be perfect.

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  13. Your skirt is beautiful! This post was so touching. You will laugh but we discussed comparison in our premarital classes, lol! You can compare yourself to anyone and anything; it is really a losing battle! If you just take a second and stop. Look around you. You will see all the blessings that surround you. Be yourself and embrace it. Plus I love what you have going on! lol :) Love ya!



    IvonneStacy.blogspot.com

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  14. You and I have discussed this in person, so I think you know my thoughts. It's intriguing to see how other people are doing and to postulate as to why, but it's not a competition. You are an awesome friend, an awesome blogger, an awesome writer, and I wouldn't compare you to anyone else b/c no one else could be YOU.

    Great post!

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  15. Ok Miss Elissa. Do you know how brave you are? Do you know what kind of difference you are making to the world by being you and by talking about real, hard things? LOTS and LOTS. I always think of these kinds of things as private problems that most people have but no one talks about it. And if you feel that you are alone, that overwhelming need to be the best takes over and squishes out all the light that you are naturally given and share. By talking about it and allowing others to see you and allowing them to talk about it and be seen, you're slowly taking the power away. It's like Rumplestiltskin. He only has power until they are able to name him and drag him out of the dark and into the light.
    Thank you for being brave and real, and reminding the rest of us that it's ok.

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  16. I just want blogging to be FUN.
    No competing necessary.
    Cause once it's not FUN, I ain't composing or reading it.

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  17. This one really struck a familiar note with me. I think you're on a great path towards recovery, your views on life and the world are now much 'heathier' and never forget: being a mother, a wife and taking care of your family demands a lot more skill, time and energy than we get credit for!

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  18. I so very much appreciate you sharing this with us. I know others can relate. Growing up, I always strived to be the best [and my parents pushed for that as well] and it always hurt when I wasn't. It's a hard pill to swallow but good lessons were learned.

    As I've gotten older, I'm learning to do what's good/right/best for me and try not to compare myself to others. In the blog world it's so hard not to compare my blog to others' but I know that I just want to write what I like, post what I feel, etc. We all just need to take our on paths.

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  19. I always feel the competition... if it's something I don't care about than I am fine falling behind (baking, music, clean house... sounds stupid and these are the things that motivate a lot of my friends and I just don't care) but if I do want to be involved, I want to be the best. be the best landscaper, be the most sarcastic, wear the craziest shit... it is a daily battle to stay humble over stats and also to not go crazy other days over stats. Does that make sense? one day, I feel like the best and the next day I wanna be as good as ....insert blog name. frustrating...
    Also... my Escada skirt is different. Ha. And kinda tight... you shall see it this summer when I am working outside again and getting more excercise...:)

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  20. i absolutely relate to this, elissa. i think it will be a struggle of my lifetime to quell the unnecessary and destructive sense of competition that flares up naturally. some things come easy to some people, some things come hard. you know what's the craziest, though? that so many people feel this way, but no one really thinks that anyone else feels this way. does that even make sense?
    one thing i do know, in my short stint as a blogger and in reading your blog: you have a fabulous, humorous, and insightful outlook and ability to express that outlook that is completely unique and absolutely endearing. because it's yours. and you. you live in your brain, so you might not recognize the awesomeness that is your individuality. but, as an outsider? i totally see it.
    anyway. you're one of my favorites. for the 2 cents that THAT little tidbit is worth... :)
    -brittney
    http://adayinlifetoo.blogspot.com

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  21. It's really not that often that I read every single word of a post (let's face it, we have a lot of blogs to read) AND every single word of the comments section. You've got a good thing going on over here, lady, so don't fret about that. I think what Yen said struck a chord with me too, because when I actually care about something, that's when it gets competitive for me. That, and a combination of having NO PATIENCE and the ability to make super-fast decisions. I found out about style blogs the same day I started my own. I care about it. I can't help but compare, but I am also able to have some perspective. And some days I don't care at all and AM more worried about paying the mortgage. Some things in life are fun to escape from, but I feel most connected to people when I am discussing things that are real. And this is I guess the long way back to saying that you are a great writer and have the ability to resonate with people on many different levels and that's why you should chill the eff out now and watch TV! xoxoxo

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  22. Like the other commenters here, Elissa, I am a big fan of your blog.

    I think it’s important to point out that blog popularity is entirely based on personal taste. For example, there’s one blogger who’s enormously popular; I see her blog listed everywhere. Figuring that the numbers must mean something, I jumped on the bandwagon and also became a subscriber.

    Now, this lady is lovely, and I’m sure she’s a wonderful person. But honestly, after a few weeks of reading her blog, I came to feel that her sense of style was really boring and predictable. I eventually stopped reading and finally deleted my subscription.

    But judging by the numbers, I am greatly in the minority, so more power to her …

    On the other hand, I LOVE your blog. You have a unique sense of style and a wonderful way with words. You write from the heart, but you also manage to consider your readers’ interest and involve us in your stories. I look forward to your blog every morning. Brava!

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  23. Oh, Elissa... I wanted to respond to your post and drafted a handful of responses that I deleted. I decided they were too wordy and I was over-thinking what I wanted to say. So, instead, here's my gut response - I heart you.

    I'm a perfectionist by nature and can relate on so many levels to every word you wrote. As an only child, I competed against myself and in my mind I was never good enough. My focus changed in high school from being the goody-goody Asian girl who got good grades to desperately wanting approval and acceptance - I wanted to trade my "smart" title for "pretty" and "popular." I distinctly remember someone referring to me as the "chubby Asian girl." That was the turning point for me where I started obsessing about my weight and self image. Things got worse in college - especially when I became involved with a controlling guy who actually encouraged me to lose even more weight any way I could.

    Although I am incredibly lucky to have met my husband who loves me for who I am in whatever shape or form AND has given me the comfort and support to love myself, I still struggle from time to time - I'm a Virgo after all. Thank you for so much for sharing this part of your life with all of us. This is as much a reminder for me as it is for you: Remember that all you can do is YOUR best.

    Mucho love!!

    PS - I am head over heels for that skirt! Oohlala!

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  24. I absolutely adore this post. I continue to be inspired by you on a regular basis, and these posts, and your amazingness, are the reason why.

    While I have never struggled with an eating disorder, I have definitely struggled with the desire to be perfect. In high school I did not have a lot of friends because of this. I shut everyone else to just focus on myself, my studies and getting straight As (or the occasional A- or B+). It wasn't until I got to college that I realized this was no way to live. I then spent all of college learning how to balance my life. Sure I didn't get perfect grades anymore, but I had friends, a job, a social life, and that was all more important.

    Nowadays, I try hard to not focus on comparing myself to others, but since I have gotten into blogging, I can't help but find myself doing just that. I wonder why this blog has this many followers, or how this blog gets lots of free items from vendors. I want all of that, but I try and push it aside and remind myself that is not why I got into blogging. Most time it works, but I will admit, deep down, that nagging feeling of why not me is still there.

    The one thing I can't seem to stop doing is comparing my closets to that of others. I don't have a lot of money, in fact I am quite poor. Thus my closet is small, I do not have a lot of clothes. I see some bloggers who can literally never wear the same outfit or item twice, and I get jealous. I wear items over and over, not because its a favorite item, but because my closet is that small and I can't afford to buy new clothes on a whim. It gets me down, more often than I would like to admit.

    Elissa, I know I have said it before, but thank you. Thank you for being amazing, for writing about the tough things other bloggers won't touch, and for inspiring me every day.

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  25. Ummm hell yes. I am not a perfectionist in all areas, but I do feel strongly that work worth doing is worth doing WELL.

    I am a sewing blogger. I have had my blog for a couple of years. I don't update it super regularly because I don't have/make time, so I only have a few followers. But it still kills me when other sewing bloggers enter the scene and seemingly take it by force **cough cough Gertie cough cough**. Hundreds of followers, teaches sewing lessons in her area (right after I wasn't hired to teach sewing in my area) and a freaking book deal.

    But. Her blog is a huge part of her life. My blog is a way that I communicate about my fairly solitary hobby with other solitary hobbyists. Not a huge part of my life.

    But I still actively have to let it go.

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  26. Thank you for opening up about your background. When it comes to perfectionism, I can totally relate, if you're not the BEST, you don't exist...at least, that used to be my thinking, which is soo wrong.

    I try not to compare because I know it doesn't lead to anything constructive and it only makes things worse. However, there is a fine line that pushes you to do something better and greater than your counterparts and to carve out your niche. I find that I don't want my blog to be defined by numbers or stats but by the relationship I build with my audience, my commenters, and my fellow bloggers because numbers may change but I think the friendships I make will last way longer. =)

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  27. I used to compare the stats thing for my blog, but found it a slippery slope. Great post - congrats on making the IFB weekly roundup!

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  28. Thanks for this very honest post (found it via IFB). Perfectionism and a need to be the best is something I've certainly struggled with in the blogosphere. It takes someone like my boyfriend to remind me I've achieved a lot already, to bring me back down to earth and point out that I shouldn't be mentally berating myself and I should be proud of my accomplishments. :)

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  29. It's such a brave thing to get out there and admit something so very personal and I really admire you for that. I found your blog via IBF just a few minutes ago - we both made it to the list of 20 links a la mode.
    As far as being a perfectionist goes, I think I do my best to be one, but there's also a realist in me that keeps me grounded. I think I used to worry about being perfect more when I was younger. Just like you I was at music school and just had to be the best at every discipline - piano, singing, theory.... everything. Same happened at University later. But at the end I realised that being happy and well is more important that being perfect. I think it's got a lot to do with loving yourself the way you are and it often comes as we grow up, learn things about ourselves and meet people who often help us realise that nobody's perfect and imperfections ARE beautiful... Whether it's something we do or a part of our appearance...

    x

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  30. This post was so beautiful and touching. Too often I think we bloggers hide ourselves behind the clothes and try not to reveal too many "personal details". You put yourself out there. And I am SO happy to hear you are in recovery! Congratulations. That is a huge accomplishment and you should see view it as making "The Best" decision for your health, your mental wellness and your future!

    Definitely a new follower and can't wait to get to know you better through your posts.

    p.s. AMAZING skirt!

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  31. What a wonderful and very touching post!

    I too feel pangs of dispair when when I see some bloggers stats, but what can you do? Just make your blog better!

    Love,
    Heather

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  32. I think it's very wonderful and brave to talk about such personal things here on your blog. We all have feelings of inadequacies at time, especially when comparing yourself to others, who has better clothes, better blog, better this.. I often have to stop myself from doing the same thing and just enjoy what I have cause Im damn lucky.
    Congrats on making links a la mode!

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  33. Oh my gosh! YES! Ready to stop competing and just BEING! ~Serene

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  34. Wonderful, courageous post! It's not easy to just open up about our struggles. I think that women struggle with the pressure of perfection more so than men,as we are constant "pleasers". I most definitely have and still do feel the pressure to be the best girlfriend, daughter, employee, friend, blogger etc. and the pressure comes from myself.(I was also a professional modern dancer for 5 years). I have, however realized that perfection is found in the IMperfections. That is what makes us special and unique, so take comfort and joy in knowing that we are all perfectly imperfect. :)

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  35. You look fantastic! Thank you for having the guts to share such a personal memory. I just wrote a post a week or so ago about one of my favorite quotes- "Comparison is the thief of joy".. it touched on many of the things you mentioned! I wish you luck. As a fellow blogger (and woman), if there's anyway I can help support you, let me know!

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  36. Perfectionist? Competitive? Me, the good girl valedictorian? Naaaahhh....

    You hit it on the head: "I spend entirely too much time and energy trying to figure out what makes some so successful, how they have so many followers and sponsors and lead such gorgeous glamorous lives."

    Gah! Me, too. But I'll tell you a secret: you're one of the ones I look up to. "Wow," I think. "Look at how many comments she gets. I never get many comments. And she blogs more often than I do! I'm so lazy compared to her." Etc. Etc.

    Bad habits die hard! :)

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  37. To struggle the perfectionism you need better than that. Now what is better than that?

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