This morning I read an article on “beauty work,” the digital manipulation of actors and actresses in movies and television to alter their appearances. No matter how rampant this practice may or may not be, the larger point is that comparing ourselves to people we see in any form of media, or even in real life, is never a good idea.
Joanne and I love the town in which we practice. She grew up here while I grew up just one town over and used to work at a sporting goods store a block from where our practice now stands. One of the challenges of our town, however, is the widespread focus on appearance and the negative fallout that this behavior spawns. Because the latter often shows itself in the form of eating disorders and disordered eating, we set up shop here in order to fill the need for help.
Quite often, patients come into my office and compare themselves to others, but the points of comparison go beyond actors and actresses and more often focus on fellow residents they see in the community. No digital manipulation there, but still, what are they really seeing?
Unless someone is completely candid with us, we never really know what he or she does or does not do to look a certain way. How do you know that the person who just lost a tremendous amount of weight is not battling a serious disease? Are you really sure that the friend you admire for being supposedly naturally slender is not struggling with anorexia, or that the co-worker you praise for eating the perfect little lunch is not later secretly bingeing on pizza and cupcakes before purging? Do you ever consider that the super buff weight lifter might be on steroids, or that the gym rat who can seemingly go for hours on the stair climber might be ignoring a slew of overuse injuries?
How sure are you that the person whose body you wish you had is any more happy, satisfied, comfortable, or confident with his or her body than you are with your own? Do you recognize the very real possibility that he or she is looking back at you with envy as well?
We never really know what is going on with someone, whether they are on a movie screen or walking down the sidewalk. Given that someone’s appearance tells us nothing about the person other than what he or she looks like, and given the negative consequences that frequently arise from comparing ourselves to others, how is it ever a good idea to make such comparisons?