Have you ever heard someone say, “Just stop comparing yourself to others?” Well, what does that even mean, and is developing self-esteem and a positive body image really that simple?
“Self-concept is defined as the sum of an individual's beliefs and knowledge about his/her personal attributes and qualities. It organizes abstract and concrete views about the self and controls the processing of self-relevant information” (Mann; Hosman; Schaalma; Vries, 2004). More simply, self-concept refers to everything we believe ourselves to be and not to be. These beliefs are based on the knowledge we acquire about ourselves. However, knowledge comes from experiences, and if our experiences have been negative, we may form negative beliefs about ourselves, and likewise, a negative self-concept.
“For example, social self-esteem is how individuals feel about themselves during social interactions with others, and how those interactions affect their social value (Mafra; Silva; Varella; Valentova, 2022). A study found that social comparison negatively affects general self-esteem” (Mafra; Silva; Varella; Valentova, 2022).
Given that, it’s natural to take the measure of “looking good” to ensure that we have positive social interactions, and therefore, a positive self-concept. “Surveys with American women showed that 78% spent one hour per day on their appearance (e.g., hair treatments, dressing up, and makeup). Taking on average, 55 minutes of women’s day. Hair and makeup seemed to need more time invested than other appearance-related behaviors. American women did not only spend time on active appearance enhancing behaviors, but among the most watched categories by women on YouTube, the top two are appearance-related. Another study showed that American women spent, on average, 10 minutes on makeup in the morning and 85% tended to apply at least 16 products on their faces before leaving home” (Mafra; Silva; Varella; Valentova, 2022).
Oftentimes, we find a good appearance important because it increases the likelihood of positive social interactions, and likewise, it lessens the potential of an attack on our self-esteem. We are taught that a good appearance enhances our social value (Festinger, social comparison theory).
But, why can’t we just know we look good and believe in our value without comparing ourselves to others? “According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind” (Psychology Today, 2022) “The way humans think is comparative by nature. When people make evaluations, they do so in relation to a norm or standard” (Kedia; Mussweiler; Linden, 2014). “To describe oneself as tall, for example, implies that one is taller than others. Even such a basic statement about physical properties is therefore inherently comparative”(Kedia; Mussweiler; Linden, 2014). So, not only do we focus on how good we look in general but also how good we look in comparison to others. Comparison can be used to improve future decisions, but it can also dominate our sense of self-worth, and this can actually cloud our judgment.
While we are social beings, we are all individuals with different stories, different experiences, and different genetics. There are many times when comparing oneself does not make sense because the other person’s situation, life, body makeup, etc. might be so drastically different from our own. Comparison implies that there are similarities between two parties, but if one compares themselves with someone who has few things in common with them, that may not be helpful. Moreover, if one sees a stranger and compares themselves to them, that may not be helpful either because there is not much knowledge available to make an accurate comparison.
For example, say someone makes the decision to choose the same skincare product as an influencer without knowing their skin type. Perhaps the person wanted his/her skin to look like the influencer’s, but this comparison did not lead to a good decision because there was not enough information.
While several studies found a positive relationship between attractiveness and self-esteem (Mafra; Silva; Varella; Valentova, 2022), and no one should be shamed for pursuing attractiveness, we should not compare ourselves to people or images that make us feel alienated. It may be helpful to follow these feelings because this might be a mental cue that you’re path is drastically different, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
We are all our own people, and we have the right to choose what is normal for us. Our self-worth is up to us because we can choose what inspires us and what does not. While we cannot completely control our experiences in life, we can choose how we want to pursue our self-worth. Although our physical reflection is constantly available to us, we can contemplate what we love about life apart from physical appearance and find value in that. We can find self-worth in the moments that we have with loved ones, in the moments we take a step towards a dream, and in the moments we decide to make our own decisions.
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their influence on the reward system.” The Neuro Report. 2014.
Hosman, Clemens M. H. Mann, Michal (Michelle).Schaalma, Herman P. Vries, Nanne K. de. “Self-esteem
in a broad-spectrum approach for mental health promotion.” Health Education Research, Volume 19, Issue 4, Pages 357–372. Oxford Academic. August 2004.
Mafra, Anthonieta Looman. Silva, Caio S.A. Valentova, Jaroslava V. Varella, Marco A. C, “The contrasting
effects of body image and self-esteem in the makeup usage.” PLOS ONE. March 25, 2022.
Psychology Today; Festinger, Leon. “Social Comparison