Teenage Girls and Body Image: A Lesson For All Of Us
This post originally appeared on Food for Thought.
According to a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (2010), teenage girls tend to compare their bodies more to their peers than they do to celebrities in the media. An article published recently by Nancy Tracy on this very subject points to the Social Comparison Theory, a psychological theory which holds that more often than not people tend to compare themselves more to people who are similar to themselves than to those who seem to be inferior or superior. So- for example, rather than comparing your cooking skills to someone who is featured on the Food Network, maybe you compare your cooking skills to those of your neighbor, sister, friend, cousin, etc. And the analogy follows with anything- your looks, your athletic ability, your body, etc. Anyways, what they found was that in schools where the average BMI (body mass index) was higher, girls felt less pressure to diet and be thin, whereas in schools where the average BMI was lower, girls felt increased pressure to be thinner.
I think that the results of this study are powerful in that they affirm what we might already know and experience about what happens when we make comparisons about ourselves to others- which is that often, we feel that we need to be something other than what we are. We feel like we don’t measure up to those around us, or that we are just not as good as so-and-so. Teenage girls might compare themselves to their peers more than they do to celebrities, but who knows what the statistics look like for adults (we probably compare ourselves equally to our peers and celebrities). I think the media still shapes and influences our standards of beauty in a way that we may never fully comprehend, but I think the act of comparing ourselves to others is an important thing to step back and evaluate.
Someone very smart once told me that “comparison is the thief of all joy” and that has stuck with me– it is so true! We are conditioned to look around us to see where we fit in the pecking order, and usually the act of comparing ourselves to others leads to feelings of inferiority, insecurity, anxiety, frustration, discontentment, and so on. Whenever we compare ourselves to others, we don’t usually feel better about ourselves- we feel worse! And on the rare occasion that we do feel better, the sense of confidence we gain from that is false and empty.
One quote (by Max Ehrmann) that I love which speaks to this: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” We all at times are so busy worrying about how we measure up that we lose out on being ourselves, and we aren’t able to enjoy who we were made to be. Another one of my favorite quotes is by Judy Garland- who said, “Be a first-rate version of yourself, rather than a second-rate version of someone else.” I think she had it right! We are the only ones who can be the best at being us- so let’s focus on that!! We all have strengths, talents and interests that make us unique and when we aren’t able to see those for what they are, we miss out (and so do others)! The next time you find yourself playing the comparison game, stop and consider your strengths, abilities and your beauty- both inner and outer. The idea is not to become vain or self-absorbed– but it is so important that we see ourselves for who we really are, rather than viewing ourselves through a filter that is designed to categorize and classify our worth based on another.