Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” People are so wrapped up in themselves that they hardly notice your flaws. But if you are so wrapped up in yourself that your flaws are all you can see, then it’s time to start unwrapping.
It’s possible that you have become your own worst enemy, your most ungracious critic. The illusion of perfection may have infiltrated your self-image, but the good news is that feelings of inferiority can be reversed.
Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” We’re going to look at some of those comparisons which zap our joy and block the path to true contentment.
Comparing ourselves to others begins at a very early age. Little babies carefully observe their parents behaviors and start imitating them as early as six months old. Being the third child born within three years, I always had my older siblings for comparison. Life as a little kid is so much easier when you have a couple of kids who have gone before you to show you the ropes. So much of learning in childhood comes from copying the behavior of others that comparing ourselves to others is a natural outcome.
Television and other media also start to affect our views of ourselves from a very early age. My sister had blond hair and my grandmother would give her a perm to make her look like Shirley Temple. I had straight dark brown hair and always got the stupid pixie haircut with the hideously short bangs. She was considered the little princess and I the tomboy.
Later, we would compare ourselves to the characters in our favorite TV shows, like Penny in Lost In Space or Laurie in The Partridge Family. I even joined the fencing team in high school to be cool like Emma Peel in The Avengers.
Seventeen Magazine was a huge influence in our preteen comparisons. How could any average awkward twelve year old girl feel good about herself after looking through those pages filled with beautiful models with perfect teeth wearing perfect clothes and always having so much fun! Children have no conception of how the media’s goal is to make us feel that we are ‘less than’ in order to sell us a product that will fix our flaws and make us acceptable.
And Then Along Came Twiggy
At age sixteen, Twiggy became the first prominent teenage model. She was named “The Face of 1966” by the Daily Express and voted British Woman of the Year. At 5’6’’, Twiggy weighed 91 pounds at the height of her modeling career. Thinness became an obsession for millions of girls worldwide.
When my mother was pregnant with my little brother, I was about nine years old and some of the ladies from our church put together a baby shower for her. We were in our living room, and for some strange reason everyone was stepping on the scale and weighing themselves. By then I had a younger sister, who was very skinny, as was my older brother and sister. My brother would eat a whole sleeve of Oreos and drink milkshakes to try to gain weight!
I weighed in that day at 123 pounds. To a nine year old, the numbers on the scale are meaningless until someone points out how your number compares to someone else’s number. That was the first time I was aware of my weight and that dreaded number on the scale had put me in the ‘fat’ category. (We avoid that f – word in my house!)
The scale became my enemy. It had the power to produce feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. It even had the power to make me cry on more than one occasion. The struggle with my weight became a struggle with my self-image. When I was successful at losing weight, I was being “good,” and when the weight came back, as it always did, I was “bad.” This went on for years, like an emotional roller coaster ride.
The illusion of physical perfection in media images can be very damaging, especially to adolescents.
The ten highest paid models of 2013 average 5′ 10″ tall and 121 pounds. They are from Brazil, South Africa, The Netherlands, USA, China, Australia and Puerto Rico. They are recruited from the far corners of the globe, probably because every country has only eight to ten women who fit the mold they have created. What about the rest of us? What are we supposed to do when the fashions in the stores look better on the hangers than on us?
We measure ourselves against people who, in some cases, aren’t even real. Photos are manipulated to create an ideal that is not humanly possible for most of us to achieve.
Today, magazines and online media openly endorse and defend the use of digital manipulation, which digitally slims women’s bodies and even exaggerates or adds a “thigh gap.” What, I ask myself, is a “thigh gap?” Those are two words I would never have put together. Thigh rubbing or thigh chafing perhaps, but a gap?
The website Beauty Redefined has a feature called The Photoshop Phoniness: Hall of Shame Gallery. It shows magazine covers where photos have been digitally manipulated to make the already thin actresses and singers fit the mold of the fashion models mentioned above. These women, who have already achieved huge success in their fields, were somehow not quite magazine cover worthy without a bit of digital magic.
Kate Winslet spoke out about her picture on the Jan. ’03 British GQ cover. The article said, “Acclaimed actress Kate Winslet is notoriously beautiful and curvaceous, so it’s not surprising men’s magazine GQ would want to include her on their cover. What IS surprising is that they removed her curves entirely, leaving extremely thin legs that bear no resemblance to her own and a rightfully upset actress. She told Britain’s GMTV, ‘I don’t want people to think I was a hypocrite and had suddenly gone and lost 30 pounds, which is something I would never do, and more importantly, I don’t want to look like that! … They made my legs look quite a bit thinner. They also made me look about 6 feet tall, which I’m not – I’m 5 foot, 6 inches.’”
Unrealistic images of women with no freckles, no wrinkles, and sometimes no pores at all, are creating the illusion of beauty which is not actually attainable. Their objective is to sell the product that will magically make you attractive and thereby make you loved, successful and happy. It’s fake news, people! They are lies, and very powerful lies.
Hindsight is 20/20
Shortly after high school, my yearbook was lost in a fire, so when I attended my 30 year high school reunion, they gave me one from a box that someone had saved all those years. When I opened that book, and found some photos of myself, I was astonished. I could not believe how great I looked, and how skinny! All those years I had such a negative self image. I weighed about 135 during high school, but since both of my sisters weighed right around 100 pounds, I considered myself 35 pounds overweight. Comparison truly is the death of joy!
Comparing myself now to those photos in the yearbook, I certainly wouldn’t mind being ‘fat’ like that today. But with the passing of the years and childbirth and menopause, my two Twiggy sisters and I are a bit more even now, and I have actually been the skinniest of the three of us, even if only for a short time.
I love to be able to tell people that I lost forty pounds last year, which is true. The problem is that it was the same four pounds I lost ten times! Being on a diet since the age of twelve is probably a good thing because I would weigh about 600 pounds by now if I hadn’t been. But as I get older, I see weight loss now as more of a desire for comfort, such as being able to walk up stairs without getting out of breath, or being able to reach my feet to tie my shoes.
With age comes wisdom, and it is a wise person who realizes that skinny doesn’t look as attractive on old people. In fact, many elderly people look gaunt and a bit like a skeleton if they don’t have some fat on their bones.
Beauty is Fleeting
Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
Yes, indeed, beauty is fleeting. I look back on photos from just ten years ago and think I still look like that. Until I come face to face with a mirror and realize that the fleeting process seems to be picking up speed! So, my mirror will now be used for emergency purposes only, like checking for lipstick on my teeth.
I once heard that the best exercise for losing weight is pushing yourself away from the table, so it would make sense that the best solution when you are horrified by what you see in the mirror, is to push yourself away from the mirror. Push yourself away from yourself and go out and help someone who needs you. There are millions of lonely people today who could use a slightly overweight friend who has a few wrinkles. They would be happy to accept help from someone who can’t fit into the pants she wore last summer.
I’ll end here with another quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It’s time to start rethinking some of the lies you may have accepted as truth, and to begin an attitude adjustment, which can liberate you from the chains of comparison.