Many of us compare ourselves to others, but it may reach a point where we feel like we’re constantly doing it, and it’s having a huge impact on our body image and sense of self-worth.
It's an issue that comes up a lot with my client group- it's not unusual for me to regularly hear statements like "I look at other people and see how much bigger I am than them" or "I'll never look like them, so what's the point in trying?".
The psychological theory behind comparison was developed by psychologist Leon Festinger back in the 1950s, making the claim that we evaluate our personal and social worth by assessing how we compare to others.
In other words- we all look around us and (consciously or unconsciously) compare ourselves to others to see how we measure up.
One of the flaws in physical comparison is our tendency to engage in something known as ‘upward comparison’. This is our tendency to only compare ourselves to those deemed thinner, prettier or more attractive than us. The more we spend time looking at those who we feel have the 'ideal' body, the more likely we are to feel inadequate and struggle with our own body image.
Additionally, the more focused we are on bodies that we see as attractive, the more it actually skews our perception of what the average body looks like. In other words, the more we focus on thinner bodies, the more we start to believe that this body shape is the norm that we sit outside of.
This sets an unrealistic standard, and makes us believe that we are less attractive than the majority of people.
And that's before we add social media to the mix.
At this point it's undoubtable that the media (and in particular, social media) has a negative impact on body image. We're constantly exposed to images and content that depicts unrealistic beauty standards. Despite some promising changes in the diversity of content we're exposed to, social media still predominantly leans towards body and appearance types that are unobtainable by the majority of the population.
It takes a solid and well-practiced critical eye to apply a healthy level of cynicism about what's going on behind the scenes. Strict exercise routines, diets, make up artists, editing, cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery, curated content and image manipulation all contribute to beauty standards that don't even exist in real life.
The reality is, bodies are incredibly diverse.
There will always be someone who is bigger, smaller, taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, more toned, more curvy than you.
So, what can we do to reduce the amount of comparison we're doing?
Let's start with these questions (all of which I HIGHLY recommend using as journal prompts):
Think about the comparisons you make- do you tend to compare yourself to people you consider more attractive than you?
What are your motivations for comparing yourself to others?
When you compare yourself to other people, how does it make you feel?
What is your body capable of, outside of your appearance?
And if you'd like a practical strategy to put into place, here's an exercise you can try today:
Later today or tomorrow, plan for a time where you can sit for a few minutes in a busy place and observe people. You’re going to focus on every THIRD person you see. Observe their appearance, size and shape. Compare them to other people around them.
What do you notice?
What has it helped you to realise about body diversity?
Do you feel that this level of diversity is depicted online?
As with anything related to improving your body image, these strategies and changes in thinking take time and practice. But they are worthwhile in the long run, when you can look back and realise how much you've changed and how differently you view your body 😊
If you'd like to learn more strategies and have someone hold you accountable, I'm your gal.
Sign up today for your free 15 minute consultation to find out if I'm the right fit for you.