In the age of social media, comparing ourselves to others is easier than ever. Whereas previously the people we went to school with years ago would have disappeared into the back of our minds, now, their lives and achievements are there for us to see 24 hours a day. Our comparison pool has grown exponentially over the last decade or so – and it’s contributing to a growing number of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
“As humans we are programmed to think someone else’s life might be better than our own,” explains Jo Love, a mental health advocate and director of the Speakers Collective. “The ‘grass is greener’ syndrome has been experienced for generations and at its most positive it allows us to work out where we fit in the world. However, with the recent explosion of social media platforms, we’ve taken that experience and poured petrol on its flames and we can be left with a feeling of not being enough.
“We now live in a ‘comparison culture’ meaning we are constantly, both consciously and subconsciously, comparing our lives to the highlight reels of people we haven’t seen in years and in many cases we have never actually met. At our fingertips we are bombarded an endless scroll of other people’s accomplishments, collecting likes and shares, spreading FOMO and feelings of inadequacy into our commutes, our moments waiting in line for coffee, even our beds at 2am and it doesn’t feel good.”
According to exclusive new research commissioned by Stylist, comparison culture’s influence on our lives is incredibly extensive. When we asked 114 women what things affect them the most when they compare themselves to others, 59% said that people who make life “look easy” are particularly damaging, with 44% saying that seeing other people’s holidays and experiences had an effect on them.
What exactly can we do to change this? We’d all like to break free from our compulsion to compare – but sometimes that’s easier said than done. For now, we want to focus on beginning to loosen the grip comparison culture has on our lives, so we sought out some expert advice on how to resist comparing ourselves to others.
So, without further ado, here’s 5 ways to do just that.
Give yourself a break
The first step to beating comparison culture is accepting that comparison is a part of human nature, and it’s OK if you find yourself falling into the comparison trap.
“Don’t beat yourself up when you catch yourself making comparisons – that only fans the “I’m not enough” flames even higher and amplifies our insecurities,” Love explains. “Instead, try being kinder to yourself, accepting your own humanity, fallibility, and vulnerability.”
Level the playing field
Is the grass really that green on the other side? If you’re not sure the pictures you see on social media are telling the whole truth (hint: they never are), you could be selling yourself short by comparing your everyday life to the enhanced version of someone else’s you’re seeing online.
“When you feel the sting of comparison, stop and consider whether you are actually comparing apples with apples,” Love says. “We tend to compare our weaknesses with others strengths; our insides with others outsides; and what we don’t have with what other people do.
Make social media sociable
The way we use social media is incredibly important – so make sure the time you spend online isn’t worsening the need to compare.
“When it comes to social media there is a growing body of evidence to show it is ultimately how we use social media, not how much time we spend on it, that has the greatest bearing on how it makes us feel,” Love points out. “Mindlessly scrolling has been shown to lower our mood as we get trapped in a cycle of ‘compare and despair’. However, it’s been found that contributing, sharing, and interacting can have the opposite effect.”
Stay in your own lane
It’s important to remember that we all have different things going on in the background. Life is a messy, multi-faceted process – no one is going down the same path, and comparing ourselves to others who have been dealt completely different cards to us isn’t doing anyone a favour.
“We all have our own hurdles to scale, fears to conquer and paths to forge,” Love says, “so run your own race and let others run theirs.”
Eyeball the green eyed monster
Last but not least, remember that it’s okay to give in to our impulses every once in a while – and doing so can actually help us to break free.
“There is enormous freedom in holding your hands up and admitting you feel envious, even if it’s just to yourself,” Love explains. “In having the courage to admit we are feeling jealous, we can often magically loosen the grip that green eyed monster has over us.”
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Love Women series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers.
1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals
5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.