It brings me no sense of pleasure to state that I have never met a woman who was completely satisfied with herself and felt no envy towards another woman's looks, love life, career or any other aspect of her life. This refers to our perception of somebody else's reality since we cannot claim to know anything about the true nature of lives of others, their inner storms, doubts and broken dreams. The fact that the object of our undignifying fixation is unaware of our envy, benevolent, kind and even favored by others doesn't diminish the feeling at all, but quite the opposite - it feeds the malice we all know we are capable of fostering.
The Deadly Sin
Envy (often referred to as jealousy) can be described as a feeling of grudging admiration for another's talent, personality, physique, money, happiness or any other thing we feel deprived of in our own reality. It is so primal that Christian teachings and Dante's Inferno name it as one of the seven deadly sins, right after greed, lust, and pride.
The feeling itself is rather uncomfortable - we are consciously aware that it is wrong and poisonous for us and others, completely unproductive and, frankly, not serving to our dignity and the carefully nurtured image of a mature, content and confident self. We feel ashamed and somehow even less worthy of having it in the first place, which makes us unwilling to admit it to anyone, usually even to ourselves. Again, the shame can push us into self-destruction or destructive actions towards the other party. We could become bitter, malignant, cruel or at least unkind as we expose our weaknesses - our faulty nature and a specific dissatisfaction.
Woman to Woman
However, what I am intrigued by is a particular kind of envy, the one amongst women. It is directed to the one of the same sex we, whether willing to admit it or not, consider better than we are - more beautiful, more intelligent, dealt with a better card in life, undeserving of her luck and fortune. This feeling is particularly damaging, even traitorous to the idealistic concept of womanhood and the feministic principles of comradery and solidarity among equals joined against a collective oppression.
It usually appears among women who are similar in a certain aspect, who are "competing“ in the same category in terms of physique, profession, workplace, age group, social status or circle. The atmosphere of competition and the notion of limited resources and opportunities to gain within the category and in general, in addition to all of the obstacles women encounter in a patriarchal and conservative society, creates a fruitful soil for the undignifying feeling to grow.
If it's true that Homo homini lupus est, then what would be the proper analogy for the women-to-women relation? Serpents, perhaps? This is a witty observation I made a few times at cocktail parties having a laugh at my own expense. Somehow the aftertaste got bitter as I grew - wiser, bolder and more of a woman.
The truth is that I have had my honest share of the malice of the scorned women. There is no much difference between the behavior of girls from school who envied my grades and slender physique to colleagues who tried to make my life a living hell forty hours a week because they saw me as a threat or a reminder of their own inferiority (this is how they saw themselves, I never tried to make any of them feel inferior). I was slimmer, wore the same clothes better, walked in high heels effortlessly, men enjoyed my company, my income was higher, take just about anything and twist it into your reason to hate me. The truth is that most of the time I didn't even recognize it as envy (sometimes still don't even today) and was baffled by the irrational behavior of my "comrades“, while the observers called it out for what it was - plain envy.
How do you fight that? You don't. Don't waste your energy proving what you are not to those who had already pilled up wood for the stake. Save it for what's deserving of you and get better, climb higher, laugh harder even if it's just to spite them (a bit childish, but it feels so damn good!). If they go after you to harm you, particularly if they cause you real damage, respond as forcefully as you can possibly think of. But do it wisely, a catfight won't do you any good.
The Alchemy of Turning Negative into Positive
Bear in mind that I am no saint myself - more than once I have experienced envy towards another woman, but always for that what she has not earned by herself but puts her ahead (allow me to underline the distinction). I felt it unjust that she was undeservingly given an advantage based on her name, background or some inherited assets. When it comes to mother nature, I've learned to count my own blessings and attribute the rest to genetics, which is far out of my reach (although, some feminine mastery of illusion comes in handy).
However, that has not made me immune to the continuous efforts to, for example, give my body the shape or the skin tone it had not been doomed or learn a foreign language not spoken by any of my ancestors or friends. I see the described kind of effort as a natural and completely human strive to do more and be more. The certain amount of envy towards sirens of the big screen and French madames was actually helpful.
The key thing I wish to assert is that we can learn to recognize a negative feeling in ourselves, name it for what it is (no bullshit, please), rationalize the root of the feeling and find a way to turn it into a productive output. The most important thing is to forgive yourself for the subconscious negativity and prevent yourself for any conscious negative action towards another person. There is no guilt in experiencing a feeling, the accountability lies in our actions. In fact, in most of the cases, I managed to render something positive out of it and use the feeling as an incentive, a push towards an aspiration that revealed itself to me. When you think about it, it's a form of alchemy - you turn worthless into worthy and you do it with your inner power.
Bottomline, the feeling of envy has nothing to do with the other person. It is a sign of our own insecurity, the crisis of self-esteem and the feeling of underachievement or inadequacy, which sometimes WE ALL HAVE. The root, the cause of it derives from our inner self and is therefore for us to deal with it. Introspective, self-awareness, self-responsibility and reason are our assets in dealing with it.
And if it serves you any comfort, the woman next to you most likely envies you and some other woman for something she doesn't have but you do and take for granted. People tend to get used to good things and forget just how good they are. Grow out of this petty and small, energy-consuming itch with a kind word and walk your fabulous self into the sunset. Do it with your better, improved self - maybe with the incredibly tanned legs and in French (o la la, mon dieu!).
Hell, you might even make friends with the skinny rich b*tch. Oops!