How to Re-route Body Comparisons


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 neither of you is 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, 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.

Image via Emily McDowell’s Etsy.

Originally posted 2013-12-02 06:18:05.

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12 Responses to “How to Re-route Body Comparisons”

  1. ChristineB

    Great post! I also find that when I compare, it tends to be my biggest flaw (my saddlebags) against someone else’s best feature, without noticing that someone who has great legs might also carry a little more weight around their tummy, and they may be looking enviously at my relatively flat stomach (for example). I try to be conscious of when I’m doing this because it helps keep things in perspective. Like you said, we all have features we love & features we may love a little less. And I also appreciate how you pointed out that making value judgements based solely on a person’s appearance dismisses everything they are on the inside, which is the best part of a person anyway! Our bodies are just a shell.

  2. marsha calhoun

    Comparisons are indeed odious – that’s what my father said, and he was right. But I must gently disagree with your statement “You can tell virtually nothing about a person by viewing her body.” Those who work with bodies know that posture, how one holds one’s body, how one walks and moves, reflects a great deal about that individual – not necessarily anything that needs to be judged as pretty or not, but rather as conducive to comfort and health and general well-being, or not. I would like to see us be more aware of how we use our bodies, and this (like so much else) is first discernible through the mirror, or the mirror of others’ eyes. Ignoring what our bodies look like because we don’t wish to discount the other aspects of ourselves is perhaps just as bad as ignoring our personalities and experiences and inner worlds because they don’t show outwardly. Comparative evaluation can be used for good, I say, when we do it kindly and let ourselves notice all the different ways that people use their bodies (rather than focusing on a snapshot that shows only how immediately “pretty” someone might be), and how some ways lead to greater ease and comfort and health.

    • Annabeth

      I would like to cosign this statement. Your body is your vehicle through life, and it is a part of you. It deserves acceptance and celebration – and you can’t have either of those if you’re ignoring it! The sensible, healthy comparisons Marsha is talking about are totally different than corrosive body-shaming.

  3. shebolt

    Well said! I noticed that, as I get older and especially after I turned 40, I’m not as inclined to compare my body to other women as I am to compare my body to younger versions of myself. I’m fit and strong, and the imperfections that used to bother me no longer irritate me as much. I’m happy to have the body I do, especially at my age, and am hoping to keep it strong and healthy for as long as possible.

  4. Dee

    Comparison is the theif of joy. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    Thx for another great post,Sally!

  5. BamaCarol

    Very timely for me, Sally. I was so proud of myself for losing some weight for my health until I saw a friend today who had lost more. For a little while it made me feel crappy but then I realized that her achievment did not belittle mine at all. We had both been trying to get healthier and we did so that was cause to celebrate! But it is extremely difficult to not compare ourselves even among good friends.

  6. LIz

    I lived in Japan in the 1980s through the early 1990s when the public bath (o-sento) was still a feature in many neighborhoods–including my own–and group vacations often revolved around a visit to a natural hot spring (onsen).
    I was initially very self-conscious about using either method of bathing because I was considerably larger and taller than even the average Japanese man!
    I learned a lovely lesson from the Japanese, however. The first time I used my local sento, and every time I went to a new onsen, the other women there looked at my naked body with a great deal of discrete curiosity–obviously they hadn’t seen many–or probably any–foreign bodies before. I watched them checking out my parts: breasts-check; five fingers and toes-check; interestingly shaped butt-check; and so on. But once they checked me out it was like a great collective ‘hmmm” and then everyone went back to washing.
    They didn’t care, and if they compared, it was just to satisfy their curiousity, not to judge. And, I should add, the baths and hot springs had all shapes and ages of Japanese–no one was embarassed, harassed, or made to feel odd or unusual.

  7. LIz

    Except, I should add, that people with tatoos were not allowed, by law, to use public baths, beaches, or swimming pools.
    Tatoos were associated with Japanese mafia gangs, as well as considered a violation (like ear piercing) of the Shinto ideal of leaving the body as unscarred and untouched as possible.
    It may be different now. I haven’t lived in Japan for 20 years.

  8. Tracey

    Love it Sally, thank you. Comparison is the killer of creativity ~ Brene Brown.
    We only have one body and without it, we would not be functioning on this earth to enjoy all the good things about life. I also enjoyed reading the replies above, particularly Marsha’s point about ‘how we use our bodies’. I have met some stunning physically beautiful women who have no personality, no self-belief and no internal strength. I have met women who aren’t the epitome of (Western) cultural beauty, but who were so comfortable in their own skin, so loving and warm that they lit up the room. I know which one I’d rather be.
    Carpe Diem xx