Before we dig in, a very important caveat: To be human is to compare. It is a very rare person who can move through life without comparing her success, relationships, wealth, experiences and -- of course -- body and beauty to those around her. It is an even rarer person who can view herself in isolation and still feel connected to society and her fellow human beings. We all compare. We all get jealous. We absolutely cannot help it because we are hard-wired to be curious about people other than ourselves and to see how we measure up. Do not beat yourself up for comparing. Do, however, consider how to react once you've started down the comparative path.
What do we gain by comparing bodies?
So, you've found yourself comparing your body to someone else's. What are you likely to learn from this exercise?
That bodies come in a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations.
That most bodies have aspects in common.
That every person has features she loves and features she does not love.
You may be tempted to assign value based on your comparisons, deeming certain body parts or traits to be "better" or "worse" than those possessed by your object of comparison. Do your best to avoid this. Bodies are not fundamentally good or bad, no matter what the media and the diet industry want you to believe. You may be bigger or smoother or taller or less symmetrical than someone else, but one is not categorically and essentially better than the other. In fact, at the molecular level, you are the same. If you compare, focus on diversity and overlap instead of yielding to the temptation to assign positive or negative values.
What do we lose by comparing bodies?
Say you succumb to comparative evaluation. What do you lose when you compare your body to someone else's and decide whose is better?
Individuality: By rating one type of body as better, you are relegating all others to worse. But, in fact, each body is unique and lumping sizes or shapes together dismisses that essential individuality.
Power: Your body has strengths, capabilities and talents. By comparing it to a body with totally different strengths, capabilities and talents -- most of which are not readily observable -- you may begin to devalue what your body can do and achieve. Comparing bodies can strip you of feeling powerful and capable, feelings that are essential to self-esteem.
Perspective on what's truly important: You can tell virtually nothing about a person by viewing her body. You don't know how happy or healthy she is, what is going on in her life or who or what is challenging her. Deciding that her body is better or worse than yours dismisses her personality, life experience, and essential self. Deciding that her body is better or worse than yours also dismisses YOUR non-body attributes.
Body comparisons can be more harmful to some people than others, but they will hold a dark side for the vast majority of us. If you are able to compare in a relatively detached and scientific way, noting variety and differences without assigning them emotional or social value, you are in the lucky minority. If you, instead, find yourself comparing, judging and spiraling downward, consider directing your thoughts away from comparison by reminding yourself of your individuality, power and personal strengths and values. Women are so often told -- directly and indirectly -- that our value is encompassed by our bodies, beauty, figures and physical selves. But, of course, it is not. While our looks can tie into our self-esteem and confidence, they are not our only sources of power. Remembering that can defuse some body comparison situations.
Again, comparison is a natural instinct, so don't go thinking you can eradicate it or avoid it entirely. But see if these suggestions might help the next time you get caught in a comparative-evaluative body spiral.