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Catching comparison | Teen Ink

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September 4, 2011. The day had been good, but school is tiring. I lay down on my couch to watch a bit of tv and relax. Unprepared for what will happen next. On the screen, a brunette woman is swimming in the crystal clear waters of Bora Bora. The ocean floor is visible only feet from where she wades. Not a cloud visible in the radiant sky or a thought in her mind. She notices something is missing though. She reaches up to grasp her ear lobe. Suddenly, her mouth opens to scream. “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna cry,” Kim Kardashian shrieks. “My diamond earring!” 

Most of us probably remember this iconic moment during season 6 of Keeping up with the Kardashians. Luckily just a while later Kylie Jenner found Kim’s $75,000 diamond stud in the crystal waters. But I was extremely invested, weren’t you? Wondering- what will happen next? 

In this day and age, everyone seems very obsessed with everyone else. Not only on reality TV shows, but social media too. I know we go home and scroll mindlessly through instagram or tiktok,  learning all the brain-numbing dances. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, teens who spend over 10 hours on social media per week are 56% more likely to report being unhappy than those who spend less time on social media. We also turn on the TV and watch Married at First Sight or The Real Housewives of some major city. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we’d rather watch celebrities make a fool of themselves on scripted television shows. How can we expect to become successful when we don’t take the time to learn about the only person that matters? Ourself. 

My concern is that our society invests an excessive amount of our time into other people’s lives. Looking at those instagram barbies or flawless, false bodies on reality tv. Stalking people on the internet because you just have the extra time. Staring at his instagram page will not force that guy to notice you! Why should we waste valuable hours? Why don’t we make social time instead of screen time? I’m not being fake when I say that all this drama results in mental health issues that can lead to tragic outcomes. The solution- let’s take a step back from our screens and focus a bit on ourselves. A bit of me time. Don’t become plastic, but it’s about time that you glamorize yourself. 

You might be thinking- ‘Well, I don’t do that…I just watch reality tv for fun and have social media to talk with my friends. Just because I’m looking at other people doesn’t mean I’m comparing myself to them.’ Studies show that 88% of women compare themselves to images they observe on social media, with over half of them emphasizing that the comparison is unfavorable. It’s not just women either. Studies also show that 65% of men compare themselves to images they observe on social media. Comparing is not only prominent in social media, but in everyday life as well. According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. Basically, anytime a thought comes to your mind it’s a 1 in 10 chance that you’re measuring yourself to others. Social comparison theory is the idea that people determine their own social and personal worth based on how they compare to others around them.

Social comparison theory is something I struggle with everyday. I can think of several instances when I thought the worst about myself because I thought the best of someone else. For example, there is a girl who goes to my school, we’ll call her ‘Kayla’. Every time I see Kayla, the first thing that pops into my mind is ‘Dang, wish I could have won the genetic lottery like her.’ Whenever I’m feeling down about myself, I use Kayla as an excuse. I always vent- ‘Why couldn’t I just look like Kayla!’ I practically praise Kayla while simultaneously hating myself. Definitely a habit to break. 

Comparing ourselves also pertains to celebrities. Lip fillers. Nose jobs. Brazilian butt lifts. Three things that we probably can’t afford. But you know who can? Celebrities. For instance, Kylie Jenner looks completely different than she did when first rising to fame on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Although most celebrities, including Kylie, aren’t open to the public about their surgery, it’s fairly easy to see that their change in features is more than ‘maturing’. On the other hand, Kris Jenner has acknowledged receiving Botox, a breast augmentation, a facelift, and fillers. All of these physical adjustments have cost Kris around $70,000, but other sources say that she’s spent around $1 million on plastic surgery. That’s the exact reason why celebs always look so good despite how old they get- it’s not their real looks! There is no sense in comparing yourself to a celebrity if it’s impossible for you to look like that. It’s not natural, so let’s not compare ourselves to $10,000s of dollars. Plus, there are quite a few celebs with botched plastic surgery that I would not want to resemble.

Now while we may scoff at how ridiculous it is to measure ourselves to other people, we should also come to terms with the consequences it can have on our society. For many, situations relating to comparison have affected their family, friends, or even one’s self. Comparison leads to low self esteem, which then leads to negative thoughts, relationship problems, fear of trying, perfectionism, fear of judgment, low resilience, lack of self-care, and self-harming behaviors. Suicide has been the 2nd-leading cause of death among teens in the U.S. since 2016. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, self-esteem issues is a major factor in those whose have suicidal thoughts. Research done by author Simon Wilksch at Flinders University in South Australia suggests that young people who use social media are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Skipping meals and other behaviors related to eating disorders were reported by 52% of girls and 45% of boys participating in the study.

I can attest to these issues for not just one example, but many. I can’t seem to walk out of the house without looking somewhat presentable. Put on mascara and do my hair despite where I’m going. I have this pressure to look good all the time. I fear that I won’t measure up to the idea that people have of me in their heads. I have a friend with an eating disorder. At one time she would go periods without eating and then just binge- making herself sick. Now, even though she’s getting better, she doesn’t let herself eat something really good if it seems too unhealthy. She feels pressure to look slender all the time. Every year we change the clothes we wear. The words we use. The way we act. Because we feel the pressure to be accepted by others. Online or offline- comparing ourselves leads to adjustments in our lives. 

While most of us just make adjustments, others become overwhelmed with an out of place feeling. This can lead to disastrous outcomes for many. For example, on January 22, 2022, the Washington Post reported that the mother of an 11-year-old child, Selena Rodriguez, was suing Facebook and Snapchat for ‘a lack of adequate safeguards that led her daughter to take her own life in July 2021.’ The lawsuit claims that Selena Rodriguez’s suicide was ‘caused by the defective design, negligence and unreasonably dangerous features of their products.’ The court documents said that Selena had struggled for more than two years with an extreme addiction to Instagram and Snapchat. She was hospitalized for emergency psychiatric care and experienced poor self-esteem and eating disorders and self-harm and ultimately, suicide. An adolescent girl who was still young enough to be out on the playground was taken from this world far too soon by none other than comparison. 

Albert Ellis, an American psychologist, once said, “Self-esteem is perhaps the greatest emotional sickness known to humans.” So, how do we defend ourselves from this deadly illness? What can prevent a worldwide pandemic of comparison? Susan Haas in Psychology Today writes ways that we can stop comparing ourselves to others. Haas writes that we should avoid scrolling mindlessly through social media and follow a few steps. 

Step one- become aware of, and avoid, your triggers. Notice the circumstances that allow you to compare yourself. Make a list of who and what you frequently envy. Now avoid those things. Step two- remind yourself that other people’s outsides can’t be compared to your insides. Remember that good looks don’t make a high GPA. Nice hair will never be the equivalent of kindness. Also, ever notice that good looking people eventually break up more often. Guess the inside of those relationships didn’t look as good as the outside. Step three- Be grateful for the good in your life, and resist any lies that shout ‘it’s not enough!’ I find that this helps me understand how blessed I am in life. Having a nice face, getting boys easy, or having a big following is just all extra contrasted to possessing family and friends. 

We all feel pressure one way or another by measuring ourselves to others. We all lose a bit of self-esteem when someone appears better than us. We all can work toward believing that we are enough. Take this hint and please don’t get any plastic surgery. Be motivated and become successful- don’t let anyone else’s appearance get in your way. 

April 14, 2022.  I’m grabbing my popcorn out of the microwave and turning on the TV. I select Hulu, the premiere of The Kardashians appears, and I settle in to follow the current drama. The Kardashian family might still have a bit of a hold on us, but don’t let that affect your life. All that drama just isn’t worth it. Comparison is a celebrity, always taking up our society’s attention. While we might not have those $75,000 diamond earrings, we are enough and we should remember that. Being rich, famous, and good looking just isn’t everything. 

Comparison is useless. Everyone is born unique. You are you, and I am I. You have qualities that no one else has. Once you start living your life as yourself, free from caring about others opinions, you will truly become happy.

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