Theodore Roosevelt held an interesting point when he said “Comparison is the thief of joy”. Soon everyone around the world preached his mantra. I cannot count how many times my parents, teachers, other authoritative figures, and even friends told me not to compare myself to anyone. But suppose we were at Trader Joe’s buying apples. We compare all of them and pick which one is the ripest, the reddest, the largest. Or at the mall we’d pick between two shirts depending on color, style, how well it would fit on our bodies, and of course, price. We compare everything all the time. So how did body image comparison become such a big deal?
Believe it or not, comparing oneself to their ideals, whether unrealistic or not, can be a great source of motivation. I myself kept a computer folder of my dream bodies from celebrities, body trends of bubble butts, thigh gaps and chiseled abs. As part of the result I lost all the fat pounds I thought would never come off. Once I saw the dramatic progress, I lost sight of which other girl I wanted to look like and only focused on myself. Though I never ended up looking like Adriana Lima, I became my own body crush. The process of comparison is the thief of joy–the result isn’t.
There are several instances when comparison becomes unhealthy: a) you give up on yourself or b) you do the opposite and restrict to extremes. Firstly, if you think, “I’ll never get Beyonce’s killer curves, so why even try?” then you need to reevaluate your attitude. If you’re not trying, how would you know? What if you channeled that negative energy into that extra rep of push-ups, or a 30-minute session of cooking a delicious, healthy dinner? You would be at least one or two steps closer to your dreams, which is better progress than sitting in one place and moping. On the other hand, you could be absolutely determined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow and follow every single diet plan and workout routine you can get your hands on. Sure, Paltrow may still eat potatoes–just not enough to outweigh the juice cleanses deprived of calories and nutrients the human body needs! It becomes unhealthy and unrealistic when you try to live like another person. You lose sight of individuality, plus this orthorexic lifestyle may not last long–a couple years at the most. When I had a very restrictive diet, I went insane one night and ate pizza, chile relleno, and three full-sized salads! It is better to cheat every now and then instead of breaking loose out of nowhere. The guilt isn’t worth it.
The benefits you obtain from using ideals are motivation and a sense of therapy. If you don’t feel like working out or you’re tempted by a donut, you can recall that bikini ad and get out of your rut. Picture your celebrity crush to run faster, punch harder, lift heavier, hold that plank longer, etc. By the time you’re done, you’d be closer to your goal and be too tired to feel discontent. Also, just the fact that you can see who you’re comparing yourself to makes it seem more possible to achieve.
Body image comparison is not the ideal way to live and set one’s expectations. In fact, I believe it is one of the last things one should do because comparison becomes problematic too easily. People need to reflect on their individual lives first, such as their relationships and well-being. Comparison can come to play when one needs a visual or idea of what he/she want to look like or to be if there is no ideal weight or body fat percentage as a goal. What’s important is how that person will handle those ideas; if they give up or develop rigid habits, comparison is not for her or him.
Roosevelt was not wrong all along but he wasn’t entirely correct, either. Firstly, comparison made me angry, resentful and disproving of myself, but in the end, I lost all excess weight and got a healthy body I thought was impossible. If you compare yourself to others and cannot seem to find any happiness whatsoever as you make progress, comparison is probably an obstacle you need to overcome. But if you are still aware you are your own person and are only in control of who you would look like, then you’re on the right track. Remember your girlfriend’s amazing legs during your kickboxing class and you just might break the poor dummy.
Have you ever had issues with body image comparison? Has it helped you in any way, or derailed you? Either way, I hope that if you’re looking to lose weight or get in shape, you find the correct source of motivation for you.