Comparisons are everywhere. We compare ourselves to others so frequently that we are oblivious to the impact they can have on our lives. The most toxic comparisons I have made in my life are those surrounding my body, I started to see myself in a very negative light. What I’ve learned is, we see our own flaws way more noticeably than others see them in us; I guarantee that the things you are insecure about likely aren’t even on anyone else’s radar. One of my friends once told me that “people think about you a lot less than you think they do”, and I totally agree.
The absolute worst place for my self-esteem used to be the gym. I would go solely because I wanted to change my body, and force it into a shape that it isn’t build to be. I would constantly compare how much weight I could lift, or how fast and far I could run, with the intensity of others’ workouts, and I frequently injured myself because I was trying to compete with them (hint: a 5’3” woman can usually not lift as much as a 6’0” man). I would spend my entire workout catching my own gaze in the mirror and picking apart what I saw. I would choose to go at random hours of the day so that fewer people would see me in my sweaty, no-makeup, insecure glory. Though my relationship with my body is so much better than it used to be, there are many days where I still don’t love it the way I’d like to. I’ve put a lot of work into my self-love journey over the past couple of years, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you. Here’s what has helped me when it comes to comparisons, especially at the gym:
- Think of all the things your body can do. It is so easy to focus on what your body doesn’t look like, what its limits are, or what you wish it could be. But, each and every body is incredible. Think of all of the things it does for you every second of ever day! And when you think about it, part of the amazing thing about exercise is testing your body and its limits, and that’s pretty cool. Once I started thinking more about what my specific body is capable of, going to the gym, and even just walking through the world, got a lot more comfortable. I started to get excited when I could add more weight to my exercises, or when I could hold that plank or that headstand for longer than I had before. I started to respect my body, and little by little I started to like it more and more.
- Wear what makes you comfortable. This could be a baggy t-shirt and sweats, it could be a sports bra and booty shorts, or anything in between. Wearing something you are uncomfortable in will only add to your gym anxiety, and it’s hard to enjoy exercise and what your body can do if you are feeling self-conscious. For me, when I first started going to the gym, I was most comfortable in leggings and my dad’s t-shirt. Now, I love working out in shorts and a sports bra. Little by little, my comfort level changed, how I liked to move and sweat changed, and my habits changed to account for these things. But if I had tried to work out in different clothing when I was more uncomfortable with my body, I probably would have walked out the gym’s revolving doors and never gone back. (Also – since I’ve started going to the gym regularly, I haven’t lost any weight. In fact, I’ve gained weight. That’s okay. Comfort in what you wear, and changing what you exercise in doesn’t have to be accompanied by weight loss; mine wasn’t! But the more you learn about yourself, chances are, the more comfortable you’ll feel in your body).
- See a counselor if need be. My counselor has been incredible in helping me come to terms with body issues that I hadn’t even known that I had. She’s been a great help to me as I try to become more comfortable with myself and my body, and has helped me shift my focus from Ally as an unsatisfactory body (in my head), to Ally the friend, daughter, sister, cousin, writer, theatre artist, and yogi whose body will enable her to do all the incredible things she has ahead of her.
- Challenge yourself. At first, this might be just walking through the doors to the gym or going outside in that tank top. For me, this was the case. But as you start to become more comfortable with your routine, I encourage you to take little steps to challenge yourself, even once per week. The most memorable challenging moment in my journey was the first time I practiced yoga in a sports bra and leggings. I’m a girl who would undress in the dark, who would avoid mirrors at all costs, and would never want people to see my stomach. Challenging myself in that moment, and realizing that others did not give two sh*ts about what I was wearing or what I looked like was so liberating. Self-five, Ally!
- Boycott the mirror. I don’t mean you’re not allowed to be feeling your look. You’re damn fine, girl. But what I do mean, is don’t get caught up in appearances at the gym. Don’t spend all your time exercising in front of a mirror, because instead of focusing on strength or how your body feels in that moment, it might be just a little too tempting to criticize your looks when you’re already feeling vulnerable. I challenged myself to take two weeks away from exercising in front of a mirror, and it helped me a lot. I was able to listen to my body and its cues more, and actually feel the exercises, because I wasn’t stuck in my head the whole time.
- Have fun! Exercise is supposed to be fun! It is often challenging, yes, but if you’re hating it, it’s just not worth it. If you hate running, try some yoga! Hate lifting weights? Try hitting the pool, or going for a hike. There are so many incredible ways to exercise, and you don’t have to stick with the first one you try. I’m not a huge fan of distance running, but since so many people I know loved it, I thought it’s what I should be doing, too (thanks, comparison!). I’ve found that, for me, a challenging yoga class, the weight room, barre, or a good swim is so much more fun. These are just some of the great ways I can get my body moving and actually enjoy it in the process! Exercise can be great self-care, so don’t forget to take the time to explore what feels best for you and your specific body.
While there’s not really a one-size-fits-all checklist for learning to stop comparing yourself to others and becoming more comfortable in your own skin, I hope that some of these tips can help you too. Don’t be discouraged, because it does take time! Learning self-love is like learning a new language. Be patient, and don’t give up! I’m rooting for you! – Ally
Ally is a mental health advocate and public speaker and works with organizations like Wear Your Label and Jack.org. She is a contributor for The Mighty and is passionate about sharing her story because she knows the power of the words “me too”. If she’s not baking in her kitchen, you can probably find her reading a play, writing slam poetry, or crying over a hedgehog video on YouTube.