It’s summer time in the states and everyone is seen with way less layers. The “bikini body ready” concept floats around social media as well as sped up routines in the gym. It is great to have goals to improve your body, however, obsessing and comparing is not going to get you to a place of self contentment.
While we are on the topic of social media, these are the various ways people are comparing themselves to others every day:
- Magazine spreads and covers of celebrities and even professional athletes
- Social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram
- Online sources (articles, blog pages, etc)
What needs to be understood: It’s not a competition.
Additionally, we only see what those magazines and pictures want us to see. We don’t see the behind the scenes, or know for sure what routines people really do to obtain those bodies.
Of course, professional athletes work extremely hard to obtain their physical endurance and muscle composition. But that’s just it: they spend practically all of their time training. Comparing yourself to an elite athlete is not fair due to the fact that your lifestyles are completely different. If you are inspired by them, that is great. Comparing yourself to their body structures isn’t.
As for celebrities: A very common way of thinking of fans is to fantasize about having the life and body of their favorite celebrity. Those celebrities are placed on magazine covers to represent how to prevent aging and how to have the “best body of your life.” The issue here is everyone’s body type is different. They don’t train the same way or build the same muscle in the same places, and have varying metabolisms.
Also, photoshop is a real thing. Back in 2011, for example, Jennifer Lawrence was majorly photoshopped on the cover of Flare Magazine, and this caused a flare in her temper. Jennifer was completely right to question the changes made to her body. These included an overall slimmed figure, more pronounced collarbones, and the sinking of her cheekbones to make her less full. Why? Because the fashion industry sets unrealistic standards.
Perhaps the easiest industry to penetrate for flaws is the modeling industry. It’s harsh and unrealistic, and so many men and women practice unhealthy behavior to obtain the standards to get work in this industry. Many models, especially females, are well below a healthy BMI (body mass index). Being underweight for extended periods of time is harmful in a lot of ways, and prohibits one from functioning properly. Just for a reference, below is a BMI table obtained from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
|18.5 – 24.9
||Normal or Healthy Weight
|25.0 – 29.9
|30.0 and Above
The bright side of a better future:
French Legislature proposed a bill last year regarding BMI of models. French agencies that promote models under the BMI of 18 could receive major jail time and a fine (specifically up to 6 months and a fine of 75,000 euros). Models there are now required to have a medical certificate in order to sign with an agency. This effort in France should be considered an amazing opportunity to stop the idealization of dangerously thin body types and curb eating disorders such as anorexia.
Not all models are unhealthy and not all agencies promote overly thin clients, however, it is a very present issue and readers receive a false image of beauty and healthy weight.
Victoria’s Secret, another example, is a very well known and beloved company in the States for its display of beautiful women often in very little clothing. There seems to be a universal panic attack of young girls all over the country when the VS annual fashion show rolls around. Again: these women have a very strict diet that they are constantly managed to follow, and their magazine photos are partially photoshopped.
On average, it is said to take approximately 6 hours to photoshop one model. Every detail is observed and examined for flaws. Have you ever seen the accidental photoshop errors in this company? I happened to see them in a class throughout my public health studies, and I love to see professors incorporating these topics to better aid the false depiction of ‘perfection.’
Breaking it down:
- Changing the figure of a person on a major magazine cover gives a completely false visual of body image and weight to any reader.
- As these unrealistic standards rise, eating disorders, body image issues, and overall self esteem of the youth population especially will continue to worsen.
- What is real and what is fake will be harder to differentiate.
- Those who do not feel they meet these standards see less of themselves, just due to comparisons.
There is a theory that has accurately described this comparison behavior. It’s called the Social Comparison Theory, originally described by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. Essentially, we as individuals tend to measure our self worth by how we measure up to others. This is directly associated to the issue of poor body image, because of the incessant need to self-evaluate.
How self-evaluation can be healthy:
- We set higher goals to obtain
- We work for higher standards
- We analyze what we could be doing better and aim to improve
How self-evaluation can be unhealthy:
- We degrade ourselves in our current state
- We leave little to no room for error or mistakes
- Instead of setting goals we become stagnant and negative
According to the Social Comparison Theory, we are actively comparing ourselves primarily through social interaction and media consumption. There has been an establishment of sociocultural standards of beauty, portraying idealistic bodies that immediately cause readers to then want to become more like those idealized individuals.
It is completely unattainable to have the same body as another person. This is due to genetics. A naturally curvy girl cannot become a girl without curves. A girl cannot lengthen her body to make her legs and torso longer like the girl she sees in photos. And these issues occur in men and boys as well. Men around the country feel the same burden of feeling scrutinized for not looking like their aspired male athletes and professionals in the tabloids.
We are all built differently. Some things we cannot alter, and as a human race that has so much diversity, one would think to find that fact beautiful. If we all looked the same, think of how incredibly boring we would be!
A way to catch yourself in the trap of social comparison is to ask yourself what you are gaining from doing it. Comparing yourself to others, whether tearing yourself down or putting yourself even higher than others in terms of body image, is not going to bring you real contentment.
I took a women and sexuality course my junior year in college that had a very interesting week dedicated to body image. The professor asked every student in the room to say what they would change about their body. As she went around the room we all begrudgingly answered, feeling exposed to what she might say. She said we were all wrong, because we’re all perfect the way we are. Not perfect in the sense of something unrealistic, but more perfectly imperfect.
**Side note: I have really long feet, something I loathed for years as I honestly could not find shoes that fit me in the clearance section (where I often go). I was definitely self-conscious as my feet continued to lengthen as I got taller. The truth of the matter is I’m 5’11, so if I had smaller feet I would probably fall over due to laws of gravity. It took me years to just get over it, and now I joke with people and say I have built in flippers when I go swimming (no joke I didn’t buy flippers while snorkeling in Hawaii). I make jokes of it because I can’t change the size of my feet.**
Exercise and eat healthy because you want to feel better for yourself. Don’t set goals based on another’s person’s unattainable genetic makeup. Work and focus on your body structure and improve what is in your control, and in a healthy way.
The truth is: As you obsess over what you would change in your body, another person may be looking at you and wishing they had your proportions. And it’s all harmful to everyone’s health and interferes with what really matters: pretty much everything else.
I personally workout and eat right to feel content, and actively tell myself that’s all that matters. I don’t care what my friends look like in comparison to me. I don’t lift myself up by tearing them down. I don’t question my desire to gain muscle while in a society that often favors the opposite.
Do what makes you feel good about your body, and everything is a process. The above information is all to create a more black and white scenario of what is real and what is fake. What’s real is you. Be your best self, and do it for you. Thanks for reading! xx