It is so hard to look at people in the media and not compare ourselves. Sometimes without even noticing it, we start taking note of how “perfect” someone else looks as well as of all the ways we don’t measure up to that. “I’m so out of shape…I wish my stomach was that flat…I want her hair!” Even if we felt pretty good right before that, we end up feeling terrible. And if we did already feel bad about ourselves, now we have an extra helping of shame and self-loathing.
Maybe you’ve realized it’s pointless to compare yourself to the Photoshopped images at the check-out stand and the perfectly polished people on TV who have a team of hair, clothes, and makeup artists. Hopefully you’ve realized it’s unrealistic and therefore not a fair comparison. But even if you’ve managed to get to that place, have you also stopped comparing yourself to real-world people? This can be so much harder. Whether it’s related to our careers, finances, relationships, abilities, and of course, our appearances, we tend to measure ourselves by how we compare to others around us. It could be your best friend coworker or the lady jogging down the street in her spandex and sports bra. Maybe you walk into rooms and immediately start sizing everyone up to see if you’re prettier, thinner, or more fit than the other people there.
Comparisons are a pretty unreliable system for defining self-image. I mean, there are always going to be people who you are “better” than. And there are also always going to be people who are “better” than you. You will always encounter people who are prettier, thinner, smarter, whatever-er than you. And so the feelings of superiority and inferiority teeter-totter back and forth as you compare yourself to various people, and any sense of security will be temporary and totally dependent on others.
Next time you’re tempted to pore over someone else and notice how “perfect” they are and all the ways you think your body is inferior, simply look away as quickly as you can to prevent your brain (or your eating disorder) from ramping up with its criticisms. I call it bouncing your eyes because you bounce your eyes off that other person before you can really zero in on them enough to fully play the comparison game. Instead of spending those next few minutes comparing yourself to them, distract yourself by focusing on something else entirely. You might still feel some shame, but it will be much less intense than the usual torrent that comes with the comparison checklist. I’m sure you can find something better to do with your time and energy; I know I can!
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.