body positive

Seven Reasons You Should Cut Comparison and Mind Your Own Body Business

 
"Comparison is the thief of joy"

You know that comparing yourself to others is “bad.” Perhaps you’ve pinpointed that comparing your physique to another person’s leaves you feeling like crap and distracts you from experiencing gratitude for the body you have. 

Even knowing these things, it can be exceedingly difficult to remove ourselves from the comparison game. We have an instinctual drive to want to define ourselves in relation to others. In addition, social media gives us an endless stream of material for comparing our looks to others. 

In last week’s blog post, I explored one reason why (even brief) exposure to idealized images in the media can be harmful to our body image (more on that here). I proposed we use August to clear our lives of images that drive comparison.

Have you purged your social media feeds of this material yet?

Apart from making you feel shitty about yourself, here are seven compelling reasons you should try to retire from the practice of comparison for good and mind your own body business.

1.  Comparison takes you out of the present moment.

The present is all we know we have; the only time we are guaranteed on this earth. Do you really want to spend those precious moments worried about how your body matches up with someone else’s?

If you’re beating yourself up for how you look comparatively, you’re living in the past, likely fretting about what you ate or how you spent your time up until this point. (This script goes: “If only I had the willpower to get up at [fill in the ungodly hour] to work out every day, I could look like that too...”)

In contrast, if you’re worried about how you’re going to meet a beauty standard set by someone else, I bet you’re jumping into the future, creating mental lists and plans for how you “should” be living. (“I swear I’m going to start waking up at the buttcrack of dawn to run, starting tomorrow… “). By spending your time looking outside of yourself for targets and goals, you miss out on the here and now.

Do you ever look at old pictures of yourself and think: “Wow I looked great, what was I so worried about?” Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell a former version of myself to RELAX. I wasted so much time worrying about nothing.

All you can do is appreciate where you are right now.

2. Comparison robs you of memories.

To this day, I have vivid memories of being around family members or friends while stuck in a spiral of comparison. I was not able to enjoy this time with others (and I’m sure I wasn’t a bundle of laughs to be around either) because I couldn’t snap myself out of the negativity brought on by comparative thinking. I can’t get that time back.

During one particularly bad episode while I was in high school, I recall being at an amusement park (Cedar Point, aka “America’s Roller Coast,” for those of you who are familiar) with friends. This was a day that should have been full of fun, sun, rides, and fries, but I spent the entire day fixated on how unattractive I felt. Literally the whole day. I looked at every other female in that park through a lens of comparison (I’m bigger than her, she’s so much cuter than me, I could never pull off that outfit, etc.). I don’t recall any conversations with friends that day. Not a single one. That day (among many others in that phase of my life) was ruined by comparison

3. In comparing, you limit yourself.

By comparing yourself to someone else, you fail to honor that your body is unique and the only expression of you in this world. So much beauty lies in differences: why should we all strive to fit the same plastic mold we are told is “ideal”?  

4. Comparison is counterproductive.

Some people turn to “fitspo” or “thinspiration” as a means of defining a goal, but this behavior is often more detrimental than it is helpful to goal-setting. Since comparison typically brings on negative emotional states (feelings of inadequacy and insecurity), achievement of goals is hampered. Don’t you think you’d be more likely to go on that run if you’re feeling good about your body and its capabilities rather than hating on yourself? So stop looking outside yourself for motivation, and show yourself some love instead.

5. Comparison ignores the big picture.

By comparing yourself to someone else, you are judging yourself based on a superficial understanding of another person’s life. You fail to acknowledge that you know nothing of the other person’s struggles and sacrifices.

Often, if we experience envy of another person’s body, it is not just that person’s physical form we are after. It is what we imagine comes with that body; what we imagine that person thinks and feels because of how they look. We assume that physical attractiveness (whatever that might mean in the context) equates with a better life, greater success, and more positive state of mind. But that is not necessarily the case. The person whose body you are coveting may be miserable; trapped in a comparison game of her own. It’s impossible to know for sure.

6. Comparison is a losing game.

There will always be someone more [fill in the blank]. Keep chasing that carrot and you will never be satisfied.

7. Comparison says more about YOU than the other person.

Using someone else’s looks as a measuring stick for your own pride can be just as harmful as looking at another through a lens of envy. While you may get a temporary boost by thinking you look “better” than someone else, ultimately your self-worth is hinging on the perceived disadvantage of another person. If you’re judging someone else’s body as less worthy than your own, it’s time to ask yourself why.

What are you afraid of? What is threatening about the other person’s body? Why do you feel the need to judge the way the other person is showing up in the world? Are you making assumptions about the other person’s lifestyle or “health” based on how they look? Where are these beliefs coming from?  

More often than not, judging another person based on her looks speaks volumes to our own fears and insecurities. For example, if I were to experience disdainful thoughts about an “overweight” person, I might want to examine (a) why I had formed a connection that being overweight is “bad” and (b) whether my snap judgment of that person stemmed from my own fears about my body.

Because if I truly felt good about myself and secure in my own skin, there would be no reason to be thinking nasty thoughts about someone else.

Do you find yourself getting stuck in the comparison trap when it comes to body image? Click below to download my cheat sheet for getting out of comparative mode quickly.

 

How A Couple Minutes Can Hurt Your Body Image

 
A New Study on Perception Calls For a Body Image Reset

Did you know that your perception of your body size can be altered in as little as two minutes?

Neither did I.

My mind was just blown by a recent study I read which examined the effect of exposure to different body sizes on self-perception (you can read about this Macquarie University study here).

In the first segment of the study, subjects were presented with images of bodies that had been digitally distorted to look thinner or larger than the true size of the people in the photos. Subjects were also shown similarly distorted images of their own bodies.

The effects were surprising and profound.

In both experiments, the subjects reported perceiving their own bodies as “abnormally fat” after they were shown images that had been contracted to look thinner. In other words, "being exposed to images of skinny people doesn't just make you feel bad about your own body size, which has been known for a while, it actually affects the perceptual mechanisms in your brain and makes you think you are bigger . . . than you really are,” said a co-author of the study.

And, even though the subjects were considered psychologically healthy individuals, their self-perception could be altered in as little as two minutes of exposure to the distorted images.  

This new evidence speaks volumes to how susceptible we may be to media images manipulating our self-image.  

It's no mystery that the average woman presented in the media is exponentially thinner than the average woman (the average model wears a size 00 to 0, while the average U.S. woman is between a 12 to 14). Not only that, media images are many times altered (photoshopped, "facetuned," what have you) to make the women depicted look even thinner than they are.

This new study suggests that exposure to these impossible creatures can make us perceive altered, ultra-thin body types as the new “normal."  

We then see our own unaltered bodies as “abnormal.”  

In as little as two minutes.

Just spend a couple minutes looking at certain magazines or social media accounts, and it’s like you’re looking at yourself through a distorted funhouse mirror.

If this is possible after only two minutes, think of the effect of a lifetime of exposure to distorted media images. 

Everything we think of as normal is really just the result of a lifetime of exposure and stimulation. 

Crazy, huh?

I propose we use the month of August to hit the "reset" button.

For the next 30 days, I challenge you to clear your life of images that may negatively influence your self-perception (to the extent this is within your control, of course). You know what that means...

Put the magazine down.

I know, I know. Those glossy pages. The cute outfit ideas. The fun little perfume samples. They catch your eye on the way out of the supermarket or at an airport convenience store.

I used to buy fashion or fitness magazines “just for fun.” But, trust me, the effect was not so fun... (more on that another time). Knowing what I know now, I would rather sit through a transcontinental flight twiddling my thumbs instead of subjecting myself to the crap in most magazines.

Read a book instead. And furthermore...

Chill out with the social media scrolling.

If you follow accounts that constantly offer up unrealistic images (I'm looking at you, "fitspo"), or users whose posts make your inner critic start yelling "why don’t my abs look like that?" or "I need to start eating zucchini strings instead of pasta," it is time to say goodbye (at least for now). 

Here are a handful of Instagram accounts that I follow instead. These body positive accounts will leave you feeling inspired rather than inadequate.

Replace your exposure to distorted, unrealistic images with positive messages of self-love for the rest of this month, and I bet you’ll feel a little more at peace in your own beautiful body by September.  

If you want to take your body confidence to the next level, sign up for my mini-course: Three Steps To Spark Body Confidence and Ditch Your Inner Mean Girl. It’s totally free and will teach you real, actionable steps to transform your relationship with your body. Click here to enroll.

 

 

Getting in Shape Without Shame

 

I don’t feel at peace in my own skin.

Sometimes I’m hyper-focused on my (perceived) flaws and can’t seem to snap myself out of it. 

I can’t be fully present in the moment because I’m worried about whether my stomach is sticking out or if my cellulite is showing. 

I wish I exercised more frequently or made more balanced food choices, but I haven’t been able to stick with a healthy routine. 

Sound familiar?

It sure does to me. 

At one point in my life, I identified with these thoughts at least several times a day. 

At first, my pursuit of a healthy life was not, in fact, grounded in healthy desires. I had many body-focused demons to overcome before I could engage in a sustainably active and balanced lifestyle.  And unfortunately, I’m not the only one.

I’m just going to come out and say it: There is a bit of a dark side to the fitness industry. Many fitness professionals and enthusiasts put forth a message that is focused on physical appearance and aesthetics above all.   They try to capitalize on the vulnerability of women by inferring (or outright telling them) they need to be fixed.  This concept is reinforced by “fitspo” images of barely dressed women flaunting the “ideal” body type, by fitness instructors chanting that students should “think about how your butt is going to look,” and by truisms reciting that changing your body is just a matter of willpower. 

One of the fitness truisms I’ve come across many times is: “Think about why you started.”  The problem is most people are starting from the wrong place—a place fueled by self-loathing and focused on shallow results.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing inherently bad about appreciating the physical results of hard, healthy work. The problem arises when this is the primary motivator behind a love of fitness. The incentives are skewed, increasing the danger of unhealthy and disordered habits forming.

Given my own demons, I went through brief periods of pursuing fitness or altering my diet that were driven by vanity. In a past life, I tried working out because I wanted to “look good” (as defined by mainstream society). I dieted. I experienced disordered eating and a VERY negative body image. I compared myself to others. I internalized the “ideal” flouted by the media.

I was miserable.

And, in the end, I gave up. Every time. The pursuit of fitness motivated solely by physical appearance is largely unsustainable. It is a shallow motivator. It does not get to the core of why we do what we do.

Now, I want to run a little farther or faster than I did last time.

I want to pick up something heavier than I could manage before, or hold a pose that I once couldn’t sustain without shaking.

I want to feel boundless energy and the ability to conquer new things.

Today, I am driven to exercise by the appreciable benefits an active lifestyle brings to various facets of my life. For example, being active gives me more energy, helps me focus, and empowers me to achieve goals I never thought were within my reach. Before, I felt like I was going through life tired all the time. Now, I am energized by challenge and growth.

Sure, I also want to feel confident in a bathing suit.  But that confidence comes from within.

I became a wellness coach and personal trainer largely because I believe in an approach to exercise and eating that starts from a place of wholeness, not a place of inadequacy.  I believe we should seek healthy habits because we believe we are worthy of living our best lives, not because we already feel we are less than enough.  We shouldn’t be looking at our bodies as objects that need to be fixed, but rather as wonderful vehicles capable of doing great things.

It’s time to move beyond vanity-motivated fitness. It’s time to focus on wellness instead of our waistlines. And it’s time to be motivated by support, not shame.

Want to learn more about how I can best support you? Let’s find some time to chat! Click here to book a FREE 30-minute Discovery Call with me.