Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cosmopolitan Comparing of Cosmic Proportions

{Photo courtesy of here}

I am extremely guilty of comparing myself to other people, especially when it comes to looks.  I think that most women look at all sorts of physical traits in other women and try to compare themselves on a level playing field.  Appearance isn’t the only thing that we compare.  We also can compare our achievements, houses, cars, possessions, jobs, lifestyles, family, etc. 

I know when I am unjustly comparing myself to someone else because my reaction fits into one of the following three categories.  I call them the three D’s: Defensive, Depressed, or Determined.

Comparing is okay when it inspires and encourages us to do something good, like volunteering at the soup kitchen or something.

Comparing is NOT okay when it discourages us and debilitates us from doing anything productive at all.

The difference is in what we believe about ourselves.  Comparing is dangerous when we believe that we are not good enough the way we are.

Women’s magazines are a perfect example of unjust comparing.  First of all, just looking at the pictures in those things will cause you to pull out your yard stick.  Second, the articles in those magazines are only about how to better oneself.  They operate under the pretense that women are hopelessly flawed and need to spend hours of time and energy making themselves worthy.  Just about every single article in women’s magazines (like Cosmo, Glamour, Marie Claire, Vogue, or Self) tell you how to live.  They want us to think that we need to read their magazines.  It is not for our entertainment or enjoyment.  These magazines are offering must read secrets that you can’t live without.

My favorite body image blogger, Margarita from Weightless, recently interviewed Jennifer Nelson, the author of AirbrushedNation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines.

I found this piece extremely enlightening.  Jennifer used to write for women’s magazines for many years.  She has seen the other side and wants to get the word out about how dangerous these magazines really are.  She writes:

“I’d have to say what was most surprising was how I hadn’t really noticed that every topic was approached from this ‘women aren’t good enough as is’ mantra. From relationship pieces to sex tips to dieting, beauty, aging, even health stories—their premise across the board is that women need to fix something about themselves, hell everything about themselves. The women’s magazines call this “service” or advice. But the truth is that men’s magazines don’t take this approach with article content. There, men are treated as though they are already perfect as they are and they’re offered content to inspire, humor, inform or entertain them, rather than improve every aspect of their lives.”

Jennifer, I could not agree more.  When I used to take a flight somewhere, I would get a magazine because I thought it would be relaxing, low-key, and easy to read on the plane.  However, by the time I got to the baggage claim, I was aware of my poor style, awkward make-up, masculine gait, extra pounds, flabby arms, and oh yeah, un-matching luggage too.  Why did I keep reading those stupid magazines?  I HIGHLY recommend you to read the rest of Margarita and Jennifer’s interview.  You can find it here.  Jennifer also has a blog called Airbrushed Nation and it is also packed with awesome information.

Here’s a dramatic example of how my life is negatively affected by our culture’s perception of beauty.  When I see a really thin woman, like a runway model, or just someone really thin, I automatically start comparing and contrasting myself to her.  I have been brainwashed by society via magazines and other media outlets that this look is the most attractive of all.  If someone else comments on this same person’s looks, then the effect on me is even worse because it affirms my suspicions.

One time, my husband made a comment about a lady in a movie.  He said, at least two or three times, that she had an incredibly tiny waist.  What I hear is, “Wow, that woman is so attractive because she is so thin.  I wish you looked like that!”  I know this is absurd.  And my husband would agree with me that this is not what he meant when he made the comment.  I recognize that my reaction is a result of the years of brainwashing I’ve endured.

Remember those three D’s?  This guideline is how I can tell I am being ridiculous and need to get real.

First, I could become Defensive.  I defend how I look or I defend what I am doing, whatever it is that I am comparing.  Sometimes, I do this by using humor.  But most of the time, I will say something negative about the other person, like, “well, she has a weird nose”…I don’t know…something to take the attention off of what I am coveting.

Second, I could become Depressed.  I could internalize the comment and sulk about how I don’t look.  I would be sad that I can’t look like that person.

Third, I might become Determined.  I might set my mind to the goal of becoming like that person.  I react stubbornly and try to stick to an exercise routine and restrictive eating plan so that I can become as thin as the women in question.

All three of these reactions are D-U-M-B, dumb. But recognizing that I am reacting to something even more dumb helps me stay grounded.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Recognize what makes you feel inferior.  Recognize what you are consenting to and find out where it came from.  This experience will be truly enlightening for you, I promise!

Challenge of the Day: Stay away from Women’s Magazines!

Good Luck and until next time, Take care, YOU!

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