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As social beings we have the tendency to compare ourselves to others. Social comparison is a way in which we gather information and evaluate our life/ qualities/features to see if we measure up. The evaluation of the body by social comparison has many psycho-social consequences such as it can increase feelings of stress, inferiority and a need to conform.  It reduces self-esteem, increases perfectionism, body envy, frustrations and depressive affect. These consequences occur especially when upwards comparisons are made and when the body is the main component of the self-worth. Interactions with ” more attractive” peers increase feelings of discontent and dissatisfaction with the body and it also increase the frequency of social comparisons. Contrarily to what one might expect, a comparison with others whom one perceives as less attractive than oneself does not increase the body satisfaction.

Making negative and derogatory statements about the body (i.e.fat talks) are by-products of social comparison and have become a norm and automatic habit in our social interactions.Engaging in them with our peers gives a sense of solidarity, mutual understating, comfort and establishes a sense of closeness with others. Cognitively, there is no dissonance, thus it confirms and strengthens the negative body image. Listening to fat talks of others, who have a similar or smaller size sends a message that we should also be unhappy and unsatisfied with our own body and appearance. One starts to measure up and focus more on own body and feelings, which increase the frequency of social comparison even more. Fat talks can increase shame, guilt and raise behaviours that aim at changing the appearance (e.g. dieting and excessive exercising). Focusing primarily of the body causes us to ignore, dismiss and underestimate other aspects of ourselves and of others. This bias and selectiveness does not only impact our mental state, it influences how we perceive others and our behaviour, which may create relational difficulties.

So what can you do about it? Instead of finding solidarity and comfort with others, who engage in fat talks, it is more beneficial to you to keep the company of people who accept, nurture and appreciate their bodies. Exposure to positive body talk, as well as, participating in healthy behaviours will promote a balanced and more positive body image. Self-compassion could moderate the effects of social comparison and the exposure to fat talks by reducing the self -criticism and regulating the negative emotions. Reminding yourself, for example, that all bodies come in different shape, sizes and that everyone has their own imperfections and life problems that go beyond their physicality, can reduce the distress and discontents with your own body. There is a lot of diversity when it comes to the human body and as such the definition of beauty is broader than the images that we are exposed to.  When the focus turns beyond the flaws to all aspects of the self and life, then acceptance of the self and even of others can occur.  When you can find beauty in your own imperfections and when you acknowledge your inner beauty, the body image starts becoming more positive and as such you will be able to focus more on yourself as a whole, embrace your body shape and accentuate your beauty.

Treat yourself with the same kindness your would treat others in a similar situation, thus affirming your humanity,  uniqueness,  positive characteristics and  by reminding yourself, as you would others, that  you are lovable and worthy  person who deserves love , respect and care just for being who you are. Encourage, motivate and forgive yourself for your imperfections. When you treat yourself with care and understanding, it enables you to be  more flexible with the standards that you set for yourself, more attentive and nurturing of your present physical , psychological and emotional needs . The ability to perceive and value yourself beyond the physical body and the ability to nurture the self and the body, will result in body acceptance, self –acceptance and an improved psychological well-being.

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Kristin J. Homana,K.J., & Tylka, T.L.  (2015). Self-compassion moderates body comparison and appearance self-worth’s inverse relationships with body appreciation.Body Image, 15, 1–7.

Tylka, T.L., & Sabik, N. (2010). Integrating Social Comparison Theory and Self-Esteem within Objectification Theory to Predict Women’s Disordered Eating. Sex Roles, 63, 1, 18-31.

White, J. B., Langer, E. J., Yariv, L., & Welch, J. C. (2006). Frequent social comparisons and destructive emotions and behaviors: The dark side of social comparisons. Journal of Adult Development, 13, 36 – 44.

Salk, R. H., & Engeln-Maddox, R. (2012). Fat-talk among college women is both contagious and harmful. Sex Roles, 66, 636-645.

Warren, C. S., Holland, S., Billings, H., & Parker, A. (2012). The relationships between fat talk, body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness: Perceived stress as a moderator. Body Image, 9, 358-364.

Wasilenko, K.A., Kulik, J.A.,& Wanic, R.A.(2007). Effects of social comparisons with peers on women’s body satisfaction and exercise behaviour. International Journal of Eating Disorders ,40,8, 740-5.

 

 

 

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