Why do we compare ourselves and want to look like others?
We are hard-wired for community and acceptance within that community, yes, even the introverts and the people that say, “I don’t care what people think of me.”
To some degree, we all deep down have the innate drive to want to be around people, to connect with them, and to feel like we truly belong. So we find ways to match each other in some way, which we can see throughout history - the fashions, the way people spoke, the types of foods eaten, and culture as a whole. If we look to tribal cultures they have face and body paint markings, masks, and tribal wear that is part of their traditions used in daily life or ceremonial events. I remember the first time I saw a picture as a kid of the women that wear the rings around their necks, making them look as though they have doubled the lengths of their neck! That is fitting in with their community because if you don’t do it, they are likely to be ostracized.
As a young American tween, my “unique style” was not unique - I wore a version of what everyone else wore depending on what group I felt like I wanted to identify with - I wore XL everything with nikes, then all black clothing with Doc Martins, pale makeup and bright red lipstick, there was a preppy phase but not too preppy to have some edge to it, and so on throughout my various phases as I have aged.
“The point is we see many images of things that we want to identify with and belong to that we start to compare ourselves to see if our current image matches with what we see around us, because we want to belong.”
No one ever told me to look like the others, it just happened naturally as I was exploring who I wanted to belong with, often times misguided based on what I picked up from movies of the ’80s and ’90s, and Seventeen magazine. Here nor there how I was influenced, the point is we see many images of things that we want to identify with and belong to that we start to compare ourselves to see if our current image matches with what we see around us, because we want to belong. Unfortunately, what we see around us is increasingly not the people physically around us, but online and just like Seventeen magazine, it’s not real life.
“They see influencers living yoga lives, or fitness models and we may desire to look and be like that even if we have no idea if they really are happy or healthy.”
Since Jessica and I are in the nutrition and health world, we see these comparisons all the time. “I want my butt to look like so and so” or, “how do I get my macros to have that butt?” They see influencers living yoga lives, or fitness models and we may desire to look and be like that even if we have no idea if they really are happy or healthy. But what we find most is that a lot of folks are pulling away from identifying or finding community with the physical people around them and seeking this through online culture. That doesn’t make it wrong, but our brains are wired to want the closeness of the physical proximity of others and to belong, but our image of what we want our group to be may not match what is online so we start to withdraw from them in search of another community.
Another flip side to this is when you have started to change how you look physically or you may be eating different or drinking less alcohol than those around you. This can trigger those in your inner world to start to feel threatened. They will question why you are changing or push more food/alcohol on you or say snide remarks. Which in turn, will make you question if your changes are really benefiting you because your community/connection may be in danger that you feel on a deeper level. This deeper internalization of your community threatened by your changes, while ultimately the best thing for you, may be why you will “fall off the wagon” or consume things you didn’t plan to.
“Look around to your external world to see how it’s impacting your internal world, you may not realize how being hard-wired for connection drives you to compare or change yourself.”
Look around to your external world to see how it’s impacting your internal world, you may not realize how being hard-wired for connection drives you to compare or change yourself. Yet all at the same time, we can be ourselves making all of our changes we desire for our best selves and still live in complete harmony with our community.