“In 1995, TV was first introduced to Fiji showing many imported US shows.
In 1998, only 3 years later, 11.9% of the teenage girls were hanging over the toilet bowl with bulimia, a previously unknown behaviour”.
– Susie Orbach, “Fat is a Feminist Issue”
I haven’t forgotten this shocking fact since I first read it many, many years ago.
Until teenage girls in Fiji started to compare their bodies with women on American television, the eating disorder bulimia nervosa didn’t exist in their country. As the unfavourable comparisons began, so did the mental health condition.
We live in a world where we’re invited to compare ourselves to others almost constantly.
On social media especially, we’re urged – on a daily basis – to evaluate how we measure up to other people’s lives, bodies, careers, health, happiness, you name it. Thanks to Before-and-After photos and the 10-year Challenge, we’re even encouraged to compare ourselves to ourselves,
But what’s the cost of comparison?
If you struggle with low self-esteem, comparing yourself to others gives your Inner Bully an opportunity to stick the boot in. Like an evil game show host, your Inner Bully loves to draw you into “The Comparison Game” – the worst quiz in the world, where each round is torture and the “prize” is a collapse in your self-esteem.
“She’s thinner and more successful than you”; “people like him much more than you, because you’re a loser”, sneers the Inner Bully.
If your overeating is emotion-driven, you’re more likely to turn to food as The Comforter attempts to detach you from feelings of shame, defectiveness and worthlessness. What happens then? You guessed it. You Inner Bully shames you for binge eating and you feel even worse than before.
So why do it? Why keep comparing yourself to others?
As Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning explain in their book “Self-Esteem”: “once in a while you decide that you are more attractive, smarter or warmer, and you feel a moment’s satisfaction at being higher on the totem pole. Though it comes only occasionally, that moment’s satisfaction is reinforcing”.
That instant of satisfaction is enough to keep you invested in “The Comparison Game”.
But is it a game you’re willing to keep playing if 99% of the time you end up feeling rubbish about yourself and turning to food, and the other 1% you’re scoring points off others to feel better about yourself?
Here are some ideas to help you escape “The Comparison Game”:
Consider limiting your time on social media
How many times have you felt OK about yourself until you’ve seen something on social media? How often have you wasted hours disappearing down a virtual rabbit hole when you could have been doing something creative or meaningful or truly relaxing? Social media has its purpose, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of our existence. If social media didn’t exist how would you feel about yourself and what would you do with your time?
Pick yourself up when you compare
Don’t let your Inner Bully draw you into comparing yourself to someone else. Remind yourself of the enormous personal cost. Is it worth your mood taking a nosedive and having a binge? Absolutely not. Make a habit of sending your Inner Bully packing and stopping “The Comparison Game” before the cheesy opening title music begins. It may be a hard habit to break, but it’s worth breaking – repetition is key.
Focus on what’s important
Is the size of your body or how many “likes” you get more important than your character, integrity or authenticity? I hope not. Consider your strengths and qualities. Take ownership of your courage, curiosity, humour, kindness, determination and creativity. If you know and value yourself, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else does or how they look. What matters is that you let your inner light shine by being grounded in who you are.
There’s room for everyone so we have no need to compare ourselves – favourably or unfavourably – to each other.
If you want to feel better about yourself, it’s important to intervene in anything that might cause a downward spiral in your self-esteem. Instead of thinking “they’re better than me”, perhaps you could say “I wish them well – I have no need to compare myself to anyone”. How would that feel?
While the cost of comparing ourselves to others is a seriously negative impact on our sense of self, the benefit of putting an end to comparisons is peace of mind and self-empowerment.
Theodore Roosevelt was bang on the money when he said “comparison is the thief of joy”.
Don’t let your Inner Bully steal yours.
Becker, A.E. (1996) Body, Self & Society: The View from Fiji. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
McKay, M. & Fanning P. (2016) Self-Esteem. Oakland: New Harbinger.
Orbach, S. (2006) Fat is a Feminist Issue. London: Random House.