Avoiding the Body Comparison Trap

Let’s talk about bodies.

Everybody has one. They’re all different shapes and sizes. It’s rarely more evident what people’s bodies look like when donning a swimsuit in public.

When we were at the beach the other day I was thinking about the saying “every body is a beach body.” Implied in that statement is that everyone has the right to get nearly naked and be on the beach, be free in their own skin. Yet, I wonder how many are actually happy with their own bodies?

Even in my fittest, most body-confident days I found flaws in myself that made me uncomfortable being seen in a swimsuit. There is always someone who is thinner and someone who is larger.

The comparison trap is one I’ve stumbled into far too often. I look at others and judge—perceiving others’ bodies to be better or worse than my own, knowing this isn’t helpful or healthy. Because “comparison is the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt said.

Do you get stuck in the comparison trap as well?

Here are seven tips I am learning to avoid body comparison trap.

1. Know your triggers

Body comparison happens much more for me when less clothing is involved. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go swimming at a beach or pool. I just need to prepare to be confronted by other bodies. Maybe it means making an intention beforehand that I will not spend my time body-gazing.

Rather than watching the seemingly flawless twenty-something sleek slim young bodies playing volleyball, I will watch my kids splashing in the waves and building sand castles. Better yet, I will get in there with them and get so busy (and present) playing that I don’t have time for gawking at strangers’ silhouettes.

2. Celebrate your strengths

Rather than fixating on what you don’t like about your body, celebrate what you appreciate. I think it’s best to showcase our strengths and minimize our flaws. For example, I am self-conscious about my midsection. I feel better at the beach when it’s covered. For me, this means wearing a tankini or one-piece rather than a bikini that makes me feel like I should suck in my “gut”.

Another helpful point to remember is not to compare your weakness with someone else’s strengths. Also, appreciate each person’s differences. Isn’t it amazing and wonderful how different and unique each person is?

3. Get Motivated

If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your body, acknowledge that you have power to change it. Are there lifestyle choices you need to change? What goals would you like to work toward to get your body to a place you feel more “at home” in it?

If it’s a realistic goal (I’m not going to look like a 20-year-old again but I can commit to strengthening my core by doing 10 minutes of targeted exercises each day) set it, and stick with it. If you need, accountability or help setting goals, I can help!

4. Compare yourself to you and be grateful

Are you expecting yourself to look like you did 10 or 20 years ago? Acknowledge all the ways you are better now even if you’re not as firm,  have stretch marks now, etc. Rather than comparing yourself with others, try a competition with yourself. Competition can drive you to be the best you can be. How can you be the best version of yourself?

If competition isn’t motivating, think back to the younger you.  Imagine how she would be excited to see the life you’ve created. How have you grown in ways beyond the physical, how have you grown (not just physically but emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc.), and how can you be the loving, accepting person she needed back then?

5. Have empathy and compassion for yourself

Comparison usually comes from a place of insecurity. If you find yourself comparing, note it. But don’t judge the judging. Sometimes I get critical of myself for falling into the comparison trap.  It’s OK if you slip. But don’t stay there.  Get up and go to healthier place.

Take the judging as a cue to nurture yourself.

Sometimes just stating feelings out loud gives them less power. One of the best ways to release negative thoughts is to admit them and tell the truth.

If I say this to myself, I often feel more free: “I’m feeling insecure about my body because it’s not as fit/toned as her…but I’m acknowledging that my body is wonderfully made and I am thankful it functions so well.”

6. Compliment rather than compare

If I’m with friends and I’m feeling jealous of various aspects of their bodies, sometimes it helps to say it out loud. It starts with admitting the truth to myself (see above point), and then to others.

 “Jen, you have really amazing arms. I’m envious.”

More often that not, this friend I am complimenting will return the appreciation and state something she admires about me. This is not, of course, the point of the exercise to go fishing for compliments. The purpose is to be affirming of others’ strengths.

7. Reframe your mindset

Rather than thinking about the beach or pool outing as a time to showcase your body and look at other bodies, think about it as a time to spend time with your family and enjoy the scenery (landscape). Listen to the waves, smell the salty air, feel the sand between your toes. Focus on what your body can do for you, not just on how it looks.

I think it is so important to model body positivity for our children. We can learn to love these bodies we were given and treat them with care.

I am still learning how to best avoid the comparison trap. It’s a journey about progress, not perfection.

How about you; how have you learned to appreciate (and not compare) your one-of-a-kind body?

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