You do it. I do it. They do it.
We compare ourselves to other women. ALL THE TIME.
Mostly, we practice upward comparisons. In other words, we set our standards by looking at women whom we deem “above” us. In the fitness word, this supposedly motivates, inspires, and lights a fire.
Does it work? Usually not. Mostly, we just feel bad about our compared bodies.
Okay, fine. Just stop it, right?
I’m sure you’ve heard the advice about accepting yourself as you are or seeing yourself as beautiful even with physical imperfections. This is nice.
Unfortunately, as far as mental habits go, this advice is true, but useless. You can’t completely squash comparisons unless you are Superwoman, and if you are, you don’t need to be reading this.
Don’t Squash, Swap.
Swap out the old mental comparisons with new ones. Many mental health professionals recommend downward comparisons. This is a more specific way of saying “practice gratitude.”
For example, when hearing a little voice emerge in the grocery checkout line — a voice noting how your hair doesn’t flip like that model’s, or how you would never look that good in a Superwoman lycra onesie, or how if you only lost those last 10 pounds… — start thinking about someone else:
Not the magazine model, but perhaps your morbidly obese aunt with osteoarthritis, or the older woman from church in the wheelchair, or your second cousin suffering from debilitating lung cancer, or the mom down the street whose belly bears the marks of pregnancy but whose stillborn daughter lies motionless in a small grave.
The point of comparing is not to feel superior, but rather to recognize someone always has it worse than you. ALWAYS. We fixate on the someone who seems to have it better, but we can just as easily turn our attention to the someone who would love to trade places with us.
If You Need More Than a Mental Downward Comparison…
I’ll be honest. Gratitude doesn’t come easily to me. Perhaps I was born a bit neurotic. In the especially dark mental moments, I need something more tangible than someone telling me to be thankful.
When I start to feel particularly down about my body, I literally go online to my bank account and put aside some money in an account reserved for donations. The act of getting up, getting my computer, typing in my bank account information, and transferring the 5 or 10 dollars, often gets my head out of the envy cloud. Some moms have told me they use an envelope to throw in 1, 5, or 10 dollars, and then donate the money when the envelope is full. This is the best way I have found to make gratitude something that I actually DO.
In a way this is selfish. Let’s call it “selfish downward comparison altruism.” Evidence conclusively shows, as does common sense, that giving to others makes us feel better.
For example, if you feel like it, try donating any amount to Maternity Worldwide. Every 2 minutes a woman dies because of pregnancy or childbirth complications. I’ve found the best way to stop thinking about my body is to imagine not having one anymore. This isn’t morbid. This is gratitude.
You’ll have to continually remind yourself to swap comparisons. You might not even realize you are comparing until the thought has long passed. But the next time you find yourself starting an upward comparison, tell yourself to stop, to think downward, and to realize someone ALWAYS has it worse than you do.
Note: I am in no way associated with Maternity Worldwide. I like their mission and this is why I chose to link to them.
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- Elizabeth Dunn and Michael I. Norton, Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending, Simon & Schuster, 2014. ↩