Do You Compare Your Body To Other Bodies?
You see a picture of someone on Instagram and you can't help but feel bad about yourself. Why does she have such perfect hair, how did she manage to get her stomach so flat, why does she look so good in those skinny jeans, why is her skin so clear... and why can't you look more like her? We can all fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. However, research indicates this this kind of social comparison has a very negative effect on our mental health, self-esteem and wellbeing. Here are 6 reasons why comparing our body and appearance to other people's bodies and appearance can be very unhelpful:
1. We tend to focus on other people's positive attributes, while focusing on our "negative" ones and we therefore aren't making a fair comparison. When we look at ourselves in a mirror, we often look at ourselves up close, scrutinise every pore and wrinkle, see every stretch mark in detail and really focus in on every part body. However, when we look at others, we usually see them as a whole person, focusing too on things such as their energy, personality, humour and the entirety of their appearance. It is as though we look at ourselves under a very strong microscope but we only see others from afar. We also tend to focus more on the things about ourselves that we perceive of as flaws and focus on others' positive attributes. We all tend to focus on our own insecurities and then notice the same feature in other people. So, for example, if I am insecure about my hair, I will notice just how thick other people's hair is, if I am insecure about my skin I will notice how clear and wrinkle-free other people's skin is or if I am insecure about my stomach, I will notice the flat stomachs of others. Of course, we too have positive attributes that others would notice but we just aren't focusing on these things, instead honing in on our "negative" attributes. All of this makes comparing ourselves to others very unhelpful as it often isn't even a fair comparison anyway.
2. We never truly know what is going on in someone's life. Someone we meet could only look the way that they do as a result of an illness or eating disorder. Someone could also look a way that we admire but actually be struggling with their mental health and wellbeing as a result of obsessing over food/exercise/their weight. We when we see someone else's body, we don't see what their life looks like as a whole - and whilst we may aspire to have their body, perhaps we really wouldn't want to aspire to have the life that meant that they have that body.
3. The images that we see in magazines and on social media often don't represent reality. When we compare ourselves to someone on our Instagram feed or to someone we see in Cosmopolitan magazine, we are compare ourselves against images that often don't even accurately represent the person that is in them. The way someone poses for a photo, the lighting and any Photoshop or filter used, can all make us aspire to achieve something that isn't necessarily even possible/achievable. These images also subconsciously give us a false impression of what people look like. We only think our cellulite is unattractive because we aren't seeing that around 90% of women typically have it, we only think that the blemish we get isn't attractive because people edit these blemishes out of their photos and we only dislike our body because we are trying to look like a body that has been Photoshopped. Even people we see in real life are often wearing flattering clothes, make-up and other things to present themselves to the world in a certain way. It isn't fair to compare this "polished" version of someone else against that "raw" version of ourselves that has just woken up in the morning and isn't yet ready for the day.
4. Each body has been on a different journey , so it isn't fair or right to compare our journey with someone else's. Maybe your body looks the way that it does because of how it has served you throughout life: maybe it has allowed you to carry children, to get through difficult moments or to endure periods of mental or physical illness. Whilst you may think that your body has been negatively affected by these periods of time, another way to look at it is that your body has actually carried you through these difficult times. Scars represent things you have been through but survived, wrinkles represent experiences you have had and a life you have lived and stretch marks may represent a body that has transitioned as you have moved through life's stages. Therefore to compare our body to someone else's is to compare our lives and stories to theirs and of course, we all have been on very different journeys and we all have different stories to tell so we can't expect our body to look like someone else's.
5. By comparing our bodies to other people's we deny the beauty and individuality of our own body. The moment we say that we want to be more like someone else, we are also saying that we want to be less like ourselves. It is possible for us to appreciate the beauty of another without also wanting to look like them. However, when we compare ourselves against others, we are often looking for ways in which the other person is either better or worse. Maybe it is more helpful to say that any physical aspect or feature of someone else is neither better nor worse, it is just different - and that is completely okay...
6. Difference is what makes the world interesting and exciting. Wouldn't it be so boring if every plant and flower looked exactly the same or if every building or car looked exactly the same way? In the same way, wouldn't it be very boring if every person and body looked the same? Difference, diversity and variety is what makes the world so beautiful - so do you really want to look just like someone else?
You see a picture of someone on Instagram and you can't help but think... "She has such perfect hair, she has a great stomach, she looks good in those skinny jeans, her skin so clear... she looks great, but so do I, even though I look nothing like her!"