What’s the Cost of Comparing Ourselves to Others?

“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.

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A World Without Dieting

If dieting never existed, what would your relationship with food be like?

Just think about it for a minute.

How would you eat if you’d never learnt to diet?

Would you wake up feeling confused and stressed about food?
Would you feel guilty and ashamed about eating something you “shouldn’t”?
Would you still binge? Label food as “good” or “bad”? Hate your body?

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Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way

“Body image is quite independent of physical appearance. Someone with high self-esteem tends to view her body favourably, regardless of how she actually looks.  

The weak connection between body image and physical appearance means that changing your looks won’t guarantee a lasting improvement in self-esteem…you need to get past your appearance and focus on your other personal strengths as well.”

– Rita Freedman, “Bodylove”.

It may come as a surprise that body image really has nothing to do with how you look.

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Expert Insight: Body Appreciation vs. Body Loathing

“Advertising for many commercial goods functions by cultivating our body insecurity or hatred in order to sell products.  If we all believed we were attractive as we are, for example, we would have little need for most commercial beauty products.  Women in particular are taught that their self-worth is determined by how well they match the cultural standard of beauty.  Most of us therefore feel inadequate and that we can never measure up.  And it seems as if advertisers have recently realized that they were so busy exploiting women’s insecurities, they’d forgotten half the population. So now they’re doing their best to make men feel equally horrible about themselves.  Buying into these images doesn’t benefit anyone but the advertisers”.

– Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, “Body Respect”.

A few years ago, when I was facilitating a workshop on emotion-driven overeating, I was talking about not buying into “the cultural standard of beauty” that Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor describe.  One of the participants became quite angry and said something like “it’s all very well to say that but this is how the world works”.

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