You walk into the gym ready to crush your workout. You’ve got your favorite leggings on, a fun t-shirt, and you’re on top of your game. After a brief warm up, you walk over towards the weight rack (because you’ve already mastered the weight room), pick up the 10lb dumbbells, and start your workout. But that’s when the social comparison starts. You look to your left and see some super fit chick with cut arms doing more push ups from her toes than you thought possible. And to your right? That runner chick on the treadmill is sprinting at a speed of 12mph. You didn’t even know treadmills went that fast!
She can do so many more push ups than me.
She’s so much stronger/faster/fitter than me.
Or maybe you’re out at happy hour with some friends, you look around and see so many beautiful women in their cocktail dresses. You can’t help but notice how well they are rocking their outfits. They look so happy, pretty, and confident. So, the questions start.
Why can’t I have her arms?
Why am I not that confident?
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. I know I’m not alone. It’s almost impossible to stop comparing ourselves to others, whether it’s your best friend, a stranger, or someone in a magazine. But the truth is, after doing some serious research, I’ve found that social comparison is much more than the thief of joy, and it NEEDS TO STOP.
Why social comparison doesn’t serve you
Comparing yourself to others seems to have absolutely no positive effects. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It seems that if you you engage in social comparison, you are very unlikely to successfully eat intuitively. When researchers studied a group of teenage girls over a one year period, they found that social comparison was the strongest NEGATIVE predictor of subsequent intuitive eating [source]. Read: if you’re comparing yourself to others, you’re going to have a damn difficult time getting to that intuitive eating happy place. You know, that place where you eat based off of internal hunger and satiety cues instead of skipping meals to keep yourself skinny or eating because a plan tells you it’s time.
Social comparison is also shown to be a key contributor to feelings of shame [source]. When all you’re doing is looking at others and judging yourself, sometimes you can’t help but feel inferior. It’s that inferiority that leads to shame, “the most powerful, master emotion” (at least according to Brené Brown).
Why you should care
…because this affects us all.
When I was in middle school, I developed a bit faster than all my friends (I was the same height at thirteen as I am now at twenty five). I looked around and thought something was wrong with me.
Why was I so much fatter than my friends?
Why were they so much more confident than me?
And it wasn’t just me that noticed how different I looked.
I remember one afternoon, swimming at my friend Katie’s house in January. We thought it would be fun to jump into the cold water but I didn’t have a bathing suit. She looked through her drawers and pulled out two swimsuits: a bikini and a one piece. I’ll never forget what happened next.
She turned to me and said, “You should wear the bikini, you know, because you have more fat and you’ll stay warmer than me.”
Even twelve years later, I remember the pain in the pit of my stomach. It was like she had punched me.
I frankly hated myself. The shame, anxiety, and fear that came with comparing myself to my friends and the images I saw in magazines definitely contributed to my 10+ year battle with anorexia. Because I felt so inferior, I didn’t see any other way out, besides trying to change my body. I thought, if I could just look like them, I will feel better. The weight fell off so fast but the shame didn’t go away so easy.
Social comparison is a dangerous fallacy. It’s a romantic idea right? If we can just be as pretty/smart/strong/capable as she is, we’ll be happy/better/satisfied. My friend, believing this will fail every time. There’s only one way to true joy, and that’s living as your authentic self.
Today, my friend, I challenge you to help me end this social comparison. Stop comparing yourself to the woman standing next to you. Own what makes you different from her instead! Stand tall, strong, and in your power. This will bring you the joy, love, and happiness you’re really looking for!
Tell me something unique and amazing about YOU!