“SISTERS RIVALRY 101: WHEN PEOPLE JUST WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW DIFFERENT YOU ARE”

Siblings fight and resent each other for many reasons, from petty things to serious issues. The causes also vary, although there is one factor that most people tend to ignore, believing it is all cool, normal, and…well, some even consider a means to ‘build one’s character’ through this so-called ‘social challenge’.

            It is when people just will not shut up about how different you and your sibling(s) are, as if they have nothing better to talk about. As if what they say about you will automatically change a damn thing or force you to fulfill their (unrealistic) demands.

It is as if you are just not or never good enough, compared to your oh-so-perfect brother or sister.

I know how it feels to have yourself under constant, unfair scrutiny and comparison to your older sister. If you think that being the first-born is already hard enough because one has to set good examples to their younger sibling(s) later on, then being the second is also not a stroll in the park either.

You feel like you have already got a standard set high on you. If you do not or cannot meet them, you are considered not good enough. You have to either be like them or even better. A copycat or a rival.

When my older sister and I were little kids, it did not seem to matter much. Once we went to the same middle school, a P.E. teacher came up to me one day and asked me with such amazement that I was even related to my sister.

“Are you really her little sister?”

            “Yes, sir,” I answered cautiously. After all, I was a newbie.

“You’re different,” he remarked. “You’re fat.”

            I blinked with shock. As if the rude comment was not enough, that teacher added: “How does it feel to be fat?”

            I was still too shocked to respond and he just smirked and walked off. I refused to let that go, though.

Before I knew it, I started receiving more unflattering attention. Everybody in that school knew my tall, slim, straight-haired my sister whom many boys liked. I was not stupid nor naive. She has always been everything I am not and no one should ever have needed to remind me of that fact.

According to some teachers there, my older sister was also smarter than me. She got good grades all the time, often without trying as hard as I had. How did I know? One of them said this to me one day, some time after her graduation to high school:

“This is strange. How come you couldn’t make it into ‘kelas berbakat’ – “ (a class for the gifted or the brains) “ – like your sister?”

Soon, they all became the same old broken records I had been forced to listen to. Why can’t you be like your sister? Why are you two so different? Why don’t you try to be more like her?

            Your sister is so much prettier than you…

            Oh, shut up. Shut up, shut up, and SHUT UP!

Honestly, I had wanted to yell at all of them. They never had to like me or accept me as I was. If they had really idolised my sister so much – as if she could never do anything wrong, they could keep on praising her for all I cared. I just wanted to be left alone.

No, they would not stop. They just had to do that, making me feel like I was never good enough. When I got mad and talked back at them, they ended up gaslighting me with typical responses from common bullies who just wanted to get away with whatever they said. It was as if I had no rights to defend myself and earn a sense of peace I actually deserved.

“Why are you so sensitive? We’re just saying.”

            “It’s the truth, isn’t it?”

            “Think of this as a motivation to improve yourself.”

            Yeah, right. Lame excuses as always. It was my fault that I could not take criticism and suggestions I had never asked in the first place. Yes, I was aware of the truth, thank you very much.

A motivation? By praising her (or other people for that matter) and putting me down at the same time? Nice going.

Ma had tried with assurances like: “Come on, you’re beautiful too!” or “They only mean well”, which made it even worse. None of them helped at all. It was as if my personal, original traits had gone underrated and unacknowledged.

Then I grew up rebelling. I started becoming a tomboy, cutting my hair short and wearing trousers and jeans most of the time outside school hours. Skirts, dresses, and other girly-looking outfits were a ‘meh’ to me. They all reminded me of her. I hated even the thought of wearing them and then getting trapped in the same old comparison once again.

Not only that, I had made it clear with Ma and everybody that I refused to study in the same place where my sister was. Not high school and university. The same workplace? No way. I know this sounds awful, as if I treated my own sister like a pest I had to get away from.

I just wanted people to see me for me, not someone’s fat/freak/whatever little sister. I wanted them to recognise me without her name on it. I know I had issues back then and it was not her fault, but people can be so bloody judgmental – even when you mind your own business.

There were times when I just got hostile with my sister, sometimes with no apparent reason. I hated that she seemed to get all the nice attention from the world and I just had to wait for my turn…somewhere in the deep, dark corner of the room. I felt like they would always love her more, no matter what I did.

Eventually, I moved out of the house and started living on my own. I started becoming more comfortable being with strangers or alone. They do not know me, so it is all good. There are people whom I trust and do not.

For quite a while, I stopped sharing stories, especially with my own family. I started pushing people away. Even when I am there for them, it is either because they need me or my own personal storm has passed.

I have finally got my wish, of course. People do notice me for me. However, one of my best friends once asked me this:

“Why is it so hard for you to believe that people actually care about you too?”

            I knew that I should not have bothered with those nasty comments about my sister and me, but that does not mean it was okay for them to talk to me like that. They were not being fair with me. My sister and I are two different women, all with our own uniqueness. That does not mean that she is always better than me and vice versa.

No, what they said to me was not encouraging. In fact, they had wrecked the great relationship I was supposed to have with my own sister.

They also had turned me into a mysogynist. For a while there, I hated slim, pretty girls. They seemed to have more priviledges and got more praises and attention – especially from men in general.

It has taken me a while to be where I am now. I am thankful for all the friends who have been patient with me. I owe nothing to my bullies, because I do that to myself…a lot.

I deserve to be happy. That is why, I chose to put an end to the same old nonsense.

“Maybe you should start behaving more like your sister, so that you’ll get a husband faster,” said one of my aunts one day. My response was quite chilly:

“Are you saying that I should change myself, personality and all, to be more like her, Tante? I am me.”

            She was stunned. “No, that’s not what I mean-“

            “Then what is it?” I challenged her again. I caught Ma glaring at me, but I no longer cared.

When my aunt finally left, Ma calmly told me: “You know, you don’t have to react that way if you believe that you’re already good enough.”

            “No, Ma.” I shook my head defiantly. “Enough is enough. This ends here, right now.”

            No girls nor women deserve to be made to feel this way. Never have, never again. No excuses and I mean when I say: Enough.

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