Comparisons With Real Women

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on May 20, 2009

Our conversation yesterday about our appetite was a really good one, wasn’t it? I enjoyed reading over 60 comments from all of you throughout the day. It is obviously a topic that affects us all. I was flooded with emails yesterday from many of you. Reading through the emails and comments actually brought tears to my eyes because I feel the pain that many of you have been through with this. Everyone has been teased at some point in their life for how they look, how little they eat, how much they eat, what they eat, and the list goes on and on.

When I was entering high school, I was teased about how muscular my arms were. I was mortified! I would cry about it and zero in on it in pictures. I can still remember who the person was (ass!) and what his exact words were. To this day, I struggle with accepting my arms even though I know that I have no rational reason to.

I received so many beautiful emails from many of you sharing your story and lifting me up. My mom sent me an email that I will never forget:

Hi Ange,
I just finished reading the 63 responses from your earlier post today. 
It is incredible how you have touched people’s lives in a such positive and inspiring way.  I was overwhelmed with the kind comments you received — in fact, it brought tears to my eyes.  I believe you have found your calling in life and don’t let an occasional negative and cruel comment bring you down for one second!

Talk about inspiring, eh?

Many of you don’t realize this but I get so much inspiration from all of you each and every day. :)

I received an email from Erin who asked me a wonderful question:

How do you avoid comparisons? I find that i constantly compare my body to other women I encounter in the world. I am smart enough not to buy into photo-shopped, airbrushed magazine models, but i can’t escape from the REAL WOMEN I see out there in the REAL WORLD – they are not airbrushed and i see so many beautiful women with "perfect" bodies all the time… i can’t help but think along the lines of "if THEY can look this good, i SHOULD be able to too!!"

it’s really hard for me – even on the days i actually feel GOOD about my body, i find myself making comparisons and coming up short (fat/unfashionable/uncool/etc) – and i end up coming home and hating what i see all over again. i don’t think i can make all the healthy changes I WANT to make with this kind of mindset. i hope i don’t sound too crazy… and if you have any thoughts on this, i would really, really appreciate it.

This is such a great question. I think much of the talk on body image focuses on ‘not believing the social media hype’ such as TV ads, music videos, magazines, and the like. While I believe this is true, it doesn’t capture the entire picture. Many women suffer from social comparisons with other women on the street or women in their personal lives. Maybe it is their sister, their best friend, or a girl they see in class each week. These types of social comparisons, to me, are much more harmful because we know that these are real, non-airbrushed women. It is easy for me to dismiss an image in a magazine by saying, ‘Oh that is so airbrushed!’, but it is nearly impossible to dismiss a real person.

I have stopped buying fashion magazines because I was sick of the content. Stories on how to ‘Free Yourself From The Diet Mentality’ followed by a diet or cigarette advertisement. The hypocrisy of magazines really irks me, and finally I cancelled my subscriptions. I realize that ads are the bread and butter of magazines, but it also doesn’t seem like there is much effort going into finding quality advertisements.

It is horrifying to think that in 2009, we are still finding skinny cigarette advertisements with 6 foot 100 pound models plastered over them! I mean, really, who creates this garbage and more importantly, do they sleep at night knowing the message they are sending out? So yes, I cancelled my subscriptions to my previously favourite magazines. It was hard at first, but I don’t miss them at all. I enjoy Runner’s World right now.

But like Erin points out, how do we avoid the social comparisons in the real world? I admit that I still struggle with comparing myself to women in my own life or strangers I see on the street. I think it is partly human nature that dates back to our evolution, but I also think that the media has reinforced this behaviour in us much more than it should be.

Evolutionary Psychology research has shown that men compete for power and status while women compete with physical qualities like attractiveness and thinness (see e.g., Cashdan, 1998).

I don’t think it is realistic to say to yourself that you are going to totally eliminate comparing yourself to other women. It is possible to reduce the behaviour though, especially if you think that it is affecting your overall happiness and impeding your road to health. For myself, when I stopped focusing on dieting, counting calories, and weighing myself I found that my urge to compare myself with other women also decreased. I think the two and two go together. Counting, weighing, and obsessing spill over into your relationships. When you are counting calories or worrying about your weight all day long, you are going to be ruminating about it even while visiting with your girlfriends or while you are out at the mall shopping or at work.

Negativity breeds negativity!

This obsession with food and our bodies does not end there, you see; it poisons everything in our lives! I used to be at school in a class but all I could think about was how much I weighed that morning or how much I ate the night before or how tight my pants felt. Sound familiar? This negativity would then tarnish all of my other thoughts. I didn’t want to be in class or around others and damnit, why is that girl next to me so much skinnier than me??

When I finally gave myself the permission to ease up and let go of the control, I realized that it was silly to compare myself to others.

Throughout my education, I did lots of psychology research on eating disorders- a few studies and lots of research articles. The shocking thing I found was just how many women are unhappy with their bodies and how many women suffer from eating disorders. The more I researched, the more I realized that the pretty and thin girl in my class is really miserable, hurting, and obsessing about her weight. I think of this as the ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ phenomenon. We always think that skinny women have it all, but that isn’t always the case.

I used to be thinner than I am now, but I was unhappy and obsessing about my weight. I wouldn’t give anything in the world to go back to that size.

So when you are wishing that you had someone else’s body, please stop and rationalize the thought.

Unfortunately, the odds are that the women you are comparing yourself to is struggling with her own body image and eating behaviours.

I think it is also a good idea to create a mantra that you can repeat to yourself when you find yourself engaging in social comparison.

You can say things like:

  • I am perfect just the way I am
  • There is no one perfect body type or size
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  • I don’t need to change
  • Beauty radiates from the inside out
  • I glow because I treat myself good
  • I’m great!!!! I’m amazing!!! :) Seriously- say it!!
  • Remind yourself of your favourite body part!

Today’s questions:

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to the women in your lives?

How does it make you feel?

Can you think of ways to stop it?

Do you still think about hurtful comments that people have said to you in your life?

Angela_Signature

“The thing I like about my body is that it’s strong. I can move furniture around my apartment. I can ride my horse…I can play basketball. It’s a well functioning machine.”

~Cindy Crawford

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Sally May 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm

In general I feel good about my body but sometimes it is so hard not to compare to other women. I work in research and our subject group is adolescents and just yesterday I found myself comparing my body/weight to that of a 14 year old girl! I know how stupid it is to compare myself to an 8th grader, but I couldn’t help it. Thank you for this post.

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Loral August 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm

HI there, just visiting your site for the first time and so touched by this article… I am a personal trainer now but when I was younger I was a dancer and had a really hard time with my body’s lean toward muscular build. Doing an entire class in front of a full wall mirror when my arms were noticeably more muscular (or just muscular at all!) compare to the other girls. This actually led me to leave dancing last year (I had gone back after a few years off) and it still saddens me. Even though I’d never want skinny arms its the pressure you feel of being different that hurts. Its nice to hear that someone else feels the same! Your site is awesome and I look forward to baking and learning from it!

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