Self-comparison is a natural human instinct. We are social creatures and self-comparison is one of the ways in which we form our identity within society. Your psyche has built in mechanisms to compare yourself with others in your community and make a judgement as to whether they are above or below you in the hierarchy. This could be in terms of physical beauty or strength, intelligence, material belongings or any other factor that might affect your ability to survive and reproduce. We also learn from others through role modelling and we base our ideas of who we are on the response we receive from those around us. We are primed to be hyper focused on others, what they think of us and how we compare to them.
Unfortunately, the people we tend to compare ourselves with are not those that we see in our daily lives but those we see in the media, far removed from our own communities. We forget that the people we see in the media are usually in the spotlight because they are amongst the most beautiful, most successful or most wealthy people in society and we use them to benchmark our own worth. Comparing yourself to others in this way often leads to negative self-talk and feelings of not being worthy or good enough. And since the explosion of social media, our exposure to visual media has sky-rocketed. Teens across the world are now spending around 3 hours a day on social media according to this report by Social Buddy. Instagram, the most visual social media platform, now has approximately 1 billion users, with almost 40% under the age of 25.
At this age, we are extremely vulnerable to self-comparison and based on the number of beauty and fitness influencers, it’s pretty clear that comparing your body to others is one of the ways that we do this. When I was a teenager in the early 2000s, I was already under the influence of media messages from TV and magazines and I would compare myself to celebrities and models that I saw. This led me to spiral into extreme body dissatisfaction and almost a decade spent chasing the thin-ideal, believing that if I only looked like the women I saw in the media I would be happier and my life would be perfect. But at least this was only a small part of my life and most of the time I was surrounded by real people.
These days though, social media is full of “real” people showing us how beautiful, how successful and how wealthy they are. We are constantly surrounded by advertisements and influencers whose sole purpose is to sell us something by making us feel like we are not good enough as we are. Research into the impacts of social media on body image shows that social media use is associated with increased body dissatisfaction and self-objectification as well as internalisation of body-ideals, that is adopting the belief that certain body types are more socially acceptable than others. It is a double edged sword of opening yourself up to feedback from others when you post images of yourself and comparing yourself to others in images that they post.
I’m not saying that you have to avoid social media altogether if you want to feel good about yourself and stop comparing yourself to others, although it definitely could help! I just want to raise awareness of this issue and share a few tips from my training in the Non-Diet Approach to Health Coaching on how to stop comparing your body to others online.
Staying mindful is the first step as self-comparison is most toxic when we don’t see clearly what is happening. In particular, when we believe everything that we see online and we create a world view in our head that is different from reality. Exposure to images of ideal body types changes our perception of what is normal in society, raising the standard that we set for ourselves. If you spend too much time online comparing your body to others, you can easily start to believe that all women look like models and that you are the only one who doesn’t measure up Your standards of what is healthy and normal become warped when you are constantly exposed to images that use posing, lighting and editing to curate a perfect image of beauty.
The simple act of becoming mindful that not everything you see online is real and that social media can negatively impact your body image and self-esteem can help to reduce these negative effects. Being aware of how you are thinking and feeling when you spend time on social media and which channels trigger self-criticism or negative self-talk is the first step towards creating a healthier online space for yourself. Also making the conscious effort to bring yourself back to reality and recalibrate your mind by spending time with real people and seeing the huge variety of body shapes and sizes that exist amongst normal, healthy women rather than only comparing your body with images you see on social media.
Along with this is to start thinking critically whilst you are spending time online. Rather than just viewing content passively and letting it dictate your emotions, take a moment to question why that content is there and how it was supposed to make you feel. Question everything! Especially when someone has something to sell, don’t take anything you see or read at face value. Be aware that every image you see could have been edited or airbrushed and may not represent reality, even photos from “normal” people who are not trying to sell anything but still want to portray themselves in a certain way.
I had a discussion with a friend not long ago about exactly this, why she was editing her photos for social media. Her opinion was that it is harmless and just a way to show your best self online. My opinion is that it can be extremely detrimental and create impossibly high standards that you and everyone who sees your photo then feels like they don’t measure up to. It is one thing to see a perfectly curated photo in a glossy magazine advert when you are aware of the amount of work that went into creating the image. But it is entirely another thing to see a “casual” selfie on social media of someone looking completely flawless and suddenly become acutely aware of your less than perfect appearance.
Finally, developing appreciation and gratitude for your body and all it can do for you has been proven to act as a weapon against comparing your body with others online. This study showed that women with low body appreciation were more likely to experience body dissatisfaction after watching media adverts but women with a higher body appreciation were more resistant to feeling bad about their body and were more likely to remain neutral. You can nurture a positive attitude towards your body by using techniques such as guided meditations and affirmations which work by planting the seeds of positive thoughts in your mind. For example by repeating to yourself or writing down statements such as:
- My body is strong and capable
- My body is unique and beautiful
- My body enables me to experience the joys of life
- My body is a miracle of life
- My body deserves love and respect
Focus on qualities you like about your body, the amazing things your body does everyday or the things it allows you to do. Cultivating respect and gratitude for your body can help to boost your self-esteem and create a more positive body image, enabling you to be more resistant to comparing yourself with others in a negative way. This also gives you the freedom to stay in your own lane when it comes to improving your health and focus on healthy behaviours rather than aiming for a particular weight or body shape goal.
In today’s world, with so many potential traps to fall into, it’s so important to be mindful of our thoughts and actively work towards mental health, especially maintaining a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I try my best to be authentic and honest on my platforms and perhaps that is why I don’t have a huge audience as unfortunately perfection sells pretty well.. BUT I am committed to remaining authentic and finding my own path to true health and I encourage my clients to do the same!
Over to you…
Has social media and self-comparison impacted your body image? Share your thoughts and experiences below, I would love to start a conversation and raise awareness of this issue. Go ahead and like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health.
If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability to reach your health goals, I offer 1-2-1 holistic health coaching. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting but I also help anyone who is looking to improve their overall health and find the perfect balance for their body. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!