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Self Acceptance and The Comparison Trap

Posted Jul 08 2011 9:22am
After a few independent occasions recently where I have found myself being criticized by others or talking to friends about how they compare themselves to other women, I finally decided to write a post about something a lot of bloggers have talked about extensively already: the comparison trap.

I joined the healthy living blog community in March as part of an effort to help (and also learn from) other women struggling to balance their hectic lives with their desire to live a healthy lifestyle.  After 25 years, I have learned a lot about what "being healthy" actually means...and it extends far beyond eating well and being active. Without a strong support system and self-confidence, it is virtually impossible to lead a healthy life.  Being strong and healthy comes from the inside first, which is something that seems to get lost in the shuffle while we are attempting to achieve the "perfect" body.

As women, we all struggle with comparing ourselves to others, and I have found myself guilty of this from time to time, although much less now that I am in my mid 20's.  We see beautiful models and actresses that grace the covers of our favorite magazines, and we want to be like them.  We read style blogs with women who have amazing senses of fashion, health blogs with women who are amazing chefs, and fitness blogs with women who run faster than the wind (I'm talking to you, Janae !).  We compare ourselves to these people and the people around us, such as our friends, our family, our neighbors, and our co-workers, wishing that we, too, could have that person's fit body, or perfect relationship, or level of fitness, or fabulous closet of clothes.

     I thought I ran fast today, but this blogger ran faster/farther/longer than I did!  I must be a failure.

     My friend has the perfect relationship, but I can't seem to find a guy.

     My co-worker has the BEST clothes.  I wish I could raid her closet for a day.

The problem with these thoughts is that they are not only unhealthy, but unimportant in the grand scheme of life.  But before I go into why this is unhealthy, I want to give you a glimpse of my history with the comparison trap
In college, I worked out in the gym, ran the 3- and 5-mile loops, and ate relatively healthy meals.  However, although I did not suffer from severe body image issues that seem to have plagued, or still plague, a lot of other bloggers, I definitely found myself falling deeply down into the comparison trap from time to time in the past.  I compared myself to other female peers and role models, and I struggled to figure out how I could achieve the perfect body, perfect relationship, basically the perfect life.  It sounds completely exhausting, and it is even tiring to type right now, because it was physically and mentally exhausting trying to be everything I was not!  I totally forgot about all the wonderful things about me, and I got lost in trying to be "perfect" in the eyes of others.

Last weekend, after talking to John about a girl we just met who kept saying negative things to me, he gave me some brilliant advice.  He said, "I have learned a lot about myself, and I've embraced everything about me - both good and bad - and I have learned to take negative comments, such as those you have recently experienced, in stride.  In situations like that one, I try to set the record straight by telling them that I am fully aware of who I am, the good and the bad, and then I just let the comments roll off my shoulder.  I am a good person, and that is all that matters to me."  The more I thought about what John said, the more I realized how it relates to how we compare ourselves to others.  As women, we should embrace ourselves for who we are and realize that we are not perfect, but that we all have our flaws.  We can try to improve ourselves to fix these flaws - working harder to run faster or working out to lose weight, as a few examples - but we just need to accept things that we cannot change.

The truth of the matter is that comparing ourselves to others is only going to create internal pain.  The best part about you and me is that we are different, and that should be embraced!  Quit trying to get the approval of others, and work on loving yourself unconditionally...that is the key to a life of happiness.

In the past few years, I have learned to embrace both my strengths and my weaknesses, and I have learned to love who I am for the good person I am inside and not for what I look like on the outside.   It really is true that "the best accessory a girl can own is confidence" and this confidence shines through brightly on the outside.  So, instead of beating yourself up for the things you aren't, praise yourself for who you are!  Now is the time to quit looking for acceptance in other peoples' eyes, and look for it within yourself instead.  Figure out exactly who you are as a person and how you will use your talents to do good things.  The world will thank you for it!

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