How tall poppy syndrome affects your weight and your happiness

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Brad is a business owner who is married with 3 teenage kids. Over the past few years, he invested a lot of time and money into his business and sacrificed time with his family in order to keep it growing. His wife also worked full-time to help with income, as a lot of the money the business brought in was re-invested. This year, all their hard work paid off and they had the most successful, profitable year in business they’d ever had. 

Brad decided that instead of continuing to work long hours, he was going to employ someone else in the business, so he could spend more time with his family. They had always loved camping as a family but hadn’t been for several years due to their long working hours. Brad decided to upgrade their old tent and buy a caravan, as he figured this would make it easier to head away for a weekend at the last minute. Brad also decided to reward his family for the hard work and sacrifice they had made with a trip to the United States, which included a visit to Disneyland. 

While Brad was so proud of what he had achieved, he didn’t want to make a big deal about buying a caravan and booking an overseas trip. He decided not to tell his brother who lived interstate because he had always been jealous of Brad and his business and didn’t understand how hard it was to run a business. On the day he picked up the caravan he felt more anxious than excited because he felt that his neighbours would think he was a ‘show pony’, bringing home the van. The last thing he wanted was to get them offside because they were jealous. Even though he had worked really hard to afford the caravan and the holiday, he knew that these things would upset some people so he didn’t want to draw too much attention to them. When his kids posted on social media that they were going to Disneyland, Brad felt anxious again and began to worry that people would think he was a show-off and a ‘big deal’. He was so worried about what people would think, that he asked his kids to delete their social media posts.

Simone, Brad’s neighbour noticed the new caravan in Brad’s driveway. She rang her friend Caroline, who lived in the same street to tell her. 

Simone: “Oh my God. Have you seen the size of the van Brad has in his driveway? Must have cost a fortune! I wonder how he afforded that.”

Caroline: “Well, it’s alright for some people isn’t it? I can’t believe he’s showing off like that. Did you hear that they have also booked a holiday to the US as well?”

Simone: “Seriously! How can they afford that? And their kids are at private school. I know he’s got his own business and she works, but surely they can’t be making that much money, can they? They must be rolling in it. We can barely scrape together enough for our annual Christmas holiday at the beach.”

Caroline: “Well, I think her parents are well off, so they probably helped out with money somewhere along the way. Seriously though, it’s just not fair how some people have it easy while you and I work for everything we have.”

Simone: “Yeah, I know…”  

If you can relate to a scenario similar to this, then chances are you’ve been part of a phenomenon of our social culture — tall poppy syndrome.

This can show up in many ways.

For example, maybe you’ve been offered a promotion at work, but you’re worried about being in the limelight. 

Maybe you know you could be scaling your business but you’re worried about what other people will say.

Maybe you don’t want others to know you’re flying business class when you go on your holiday, in case they think you’re showing off.

Or maybe, you gossip about other people who are enjoying success.

Tall poppy syndrome can manifest itself in your life in many ways – whether you shrink yourself, your talents, and your achievements to avoid attention; or whether you envy other people succeeding. It affects your relationships, your happiness, and your weight.

What is tall poppy syndrome?

Tall poppy syndrome is a social phenomenon where people of merit are resented because of their achievements. It’s a term that refers to the tendency to ‘cut down to size’ those who are experiencing success. This is often done by speaking badly of them (usually behind their back with other people), sabotaging them, acting as if their achievement doesn’t deserve celebrating, or implying that there is a reason other than hard work for their success.

Tall poppy syndrome is based on the idea that poppies should all grow to the same height. If one grows taller than the rest, then the grower cuts it back to size in order to keep the height of the flowers the same. Tall poppy syndrome is prevalent in Australian and New Zealand culture and appears to stem from the Australian cultural narrative of everyone having a ‘fair go’. 

However, engaging in tall poppy syndrome or letting it dictate how you live, can have disastrous effects in your life, and on your weight.

There are usually two groups of people involved in tall poppy syndrome — those who get cut down and those who do the cutting.

Why does it happen?

Tall poppy syndrome is a result of insecurity which is born out of low self-worth. You can read more about low self-worth in our blog How low self-worth affects your weight.

Because these people are insecure, they feel that putting other people down will make them feel better. They gossip about other people because it’s easier to look for, and comment on other people’s faults, than look in the mirror and deal with their own faults and shortcomings. Only insecure people put other people down, while people who are not insecure support other people.

We all have insecurities and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is something wrong if you’re not working on your insecurities and instead spend your time cutting down other people. 

Insecure people often find other people’s success uncomfortable because it shines a light on what they’re not doing and may call into question their own effort. People who cut other people down do so in an attempt to make themselves feel better about who they are and what they haven’t achieved. They think that dimming someone else’s light will help their own shine a little brighter.

People who are afraid to succeed fear being judged and cut down by other people. Those who are afraid to shine often try to keep other people happy so they can fit in and be liked by everyone, instead of following their own path and reaching their true potential. This fear is also based on low self-worth.

Do you cut tall poppies?

Signs you cut down tall poppies include:

  • Feeling jealous about other people’s success
  • Gossiping about successful people behind their back
  • Trying to sabotage their success by spreading rumours
  • Believing other people’s success is due to luck
  • Looking for faults in successful people
  • Denying the work that the successful person put into achieving their results
  • Gloating or feeling pleased when someone fails at something
  • Socially excluding people who are succeeding
  • Downplaying or ignoring other people’s achievements
  • Making snide remarks about someone else
  • Giving backhanded comments to someone who is succeeding
  • Avoiding being around successful people
  • Only supporting people who are ‘lower’ or ‘further back’ than you are
  • Feeling angry when someone else is praised for their success
  • Having a victim mentality and thinking “it’s alright for them”
  • Comparing yourself with other people

Are you afraid to be a tall poppy?

Have you ever found yourself playing small because you are worried you will be criticised for showing the world of just how brilliant you really are?

Just as there are signs that you engage in tall poppy syndrome, there are also signs that you may be afraid to be a tall poppy. These include:

  • Hesitating to share your success
  • Feeling ‘guilty’ for doing well
  • Worrying about what other people will think of you
  • Hiding your gifts and talents
  • Not wanting to post your achievements on social media
  • Downplaying your achievements
  • Worrying that your success will upset someone else or hurt their feelings
  • Not putting in your best efforts 
  • Feeling anxious about people praising your success
  • Aiming for mediocre results so you can fit in with other people
  • Engaging in people-pleasing behaviours instead of following your own path.

It’s also worth noting that if you worry about people judging you for your success, there’s a good chance you judge other people. For example, if you think someone will think you’re a show pony, chances are that’s how you view other people who are successful. 

How it affects your weight loss

Engaging in either of the above behaviours will impact your weight more than you realise. Here’s why.

You won’t focus on your own journey

Cutting down other people, or being afraid to be cut down means you’re not focusing on your own journey to lose weight. Instead, you’re too busy watching what other people are doing and allowing their actions to dictate what you will do. For example, you’re either too busy watching what other people are doing so you can cut them down, or you’re watching the ‘poppy-cutters’ and doing what you can to avoid them.

You won’t focus on the right actions

When you’re too busy watching what other people are doing, you won’t have time to do the things that will help you lose weight. For example, if you’re afraid that other people are going to gossip about you behind your back, then you’re more likely to engage in people-pleasing behaviours to avoid this. However, this won’t help you lose weight. You can read more about this in our blog Are you too nice? Why people pleasing is making you overweight. Similarly, if you’re putting your energy into tearing other people down, then you won’t be focusing on the things that you need to do to ensure your own success.

You’ll feel stressed

Constantly watching what other people are doing — either to tear them down or to avoid being torn down — is exhausting and stressful. It can also create feelings of jealousy, anger and resentment. The stress involved in this will take its toll and prevent you from losing weight. You can read more about stress in our blog How stress and weight gain are linked.

You won’t work on your habits

Spending your time gossiping and tearing down others, or hiding your success won’t help you get results because you won’t be spending time dealing with the habits that led you to become overweight. Your habits are what will determine your weight — not what other people are doing. By working on yourself and focusing on the habits that you need to change, you’ll begin to make progress. To understand why working on your habits is so important read our blog Why weight loss is never about food or exercise.

You won’t celebrate your wins

Worrying about being cut down by other people means that you won’t celebrate your wins. Celebrating your success is an important part of the process when it comes to weight loss transformation, as this improves your confidence and keeps you motivated to keep progressing forward. It also helps you build momentum and creates a snowball effect where your results keep compounding. To understand this further, read our blog The snowball effect: Why small things add up to big weight loss. 

You’ll sabotage yourself

Worrying about what other people think of you will mean that you will end up sabotaging yourself because you’re afraid of what they’ll say or do to you if you do succeed. This will cause you to engage in behaviours that may not support your weight loss, such as drinking to excess, eating junk food, and not prioritising your weekly food prep or regular training.


You’ll have toxic relationships

Engaging in tall poppy syndrome — either as a person who likes to cut other people down or someone who is actively trying to avoid it — will contribute to toxic, unhappy relationships. People who cut down other people only associate with other people who cut down successful people. This means you won’t surround yourself with people to help you learn and become the person you need to be, in order to lose weight. Instead, you’ll be surrounded by people who will enable your sabotaging behaviours which will keep you stuck in the same, unhappy place.

Trying to keep other people happy by denying your own success will mean you’ll end up unhappy. Instead of doing what’s right for you, you’ll spend your time trying to keep other people happy who don’t have your best interests at heart. These people won’t support you, help you or encourage you. They won’t call you out on things that are sabotaging your success, and they won’t hold you accountable to your goals. In short, you’ll be surrounded by people who will hold you back from success and keep you in the people-pleasing habit loop.

What you need to do

If you’re sick of going around in circles and not getting results, there are two things that will make a BIG difference.

Build your self-worth

The first is to build your self-worth. When you feel worthy, you won’t be threatened by other people’s success and won’t feel the need to tear them down. Instead of spending your time cutting people down, you’ll have time to focus on your own journey and to do the things that will help you achieve the results you crave. 

On the flip side, when you increase your self-worth, you won’t care what other people say about you or do to you. You’ll value yourself and your goals enough to block out the noise and stop the people-pleasing behaviours that have led you to where you are. You’ll feel free to work hard, and put in your best effort, and reach your true potential and your goals.

You can read more about how to improve your self-worth in our blog How low self-worth affects your weight.

The other factor that impacts your weight loss success is the people you surround yourself with. People with self-worth don’t need to put others down to feel good about themselves. They understand that if someone else’s light shines, it doesn’t dim their own. People with self-worth celebrate other people’s success, but also hold them accountable, and don’t enable their self-sabotaging behaviours that will prevent them from succeeding. You can find out more about the importance of your support network in our blog Why you need a weight loss support network to succeed.

At Imani Tribe Transformations, we help people increase their self-worth so they no longer feel threatened by other people’s success, nor feel the need to keep hiding in order to fit in. We provide a supportive, caring community that not only holds each other accountable but celebrates everybody’s success. We also give you the knowledge, systems, strategies, tools and skills so you can stay on track with your goals — even on your worst days.

If you’re ready to reach your full potential, get in contact now.

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Remember we don’t have weight problems, confidence problems, relationships problems, health problems, professional problems, business problems or parenting problems.

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Put simply, weight loss takes care of itself when we address the habits and mindset that got us where we are and hold us back from losing the weight for good.

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