Our world thrives on comparisons. It constantly pits people, places, objects against each other. Coke or Pepsi? Backstreet Boys or NSync? Vanilla or chocolate? The media consistently feeds us imagery - photos of people we’re supposed to look like, places we’re supposed to go, things we’re supposed to see. It’s only natural that our brains create comparisons of what our lives look like compared to the lives the media is portraying.
Media has always played a role in self esteem, but in recent years with the rise of social media in addition to traditional media, that role has grown exponentially. I’m not that old, but when I was a preteen, I was comparing myself to Lizzie Mcguire and Ren Stevens on the Disney Channel -- yes, they were hip and cute, but they were still real humans - they got braces, they wore horribly bedazzled denim jackets and scrunchies - they were kids. I do not envy what preteens and teens are seeing and comparing themselves to today.
The saddest part is when you realize that most of the images of “real life” on social media are actually heavily edited and retouched. We’ve created an unattainable standard and told every woman from age 12 to age 50 that she needs to look like a Kardashian, with a surgically altered face and figure. The toxic standards represented in the media aren’t exclusive to women, either -- men are just as impacted by the heavily-promoted images of what they “should” look like as women are. No one is safe from the judgmental mindset that the world we live in breeds.
If I take myself “in context” and compare myself to the images spewed in my direction via TV, movies, social media, billboards, websites, commercials, etc., it severely impacts the way I feel about myself. I start to wonder if I have too many wrinkles, if my nose is too big, if I need to lose weight. Heck, even commercials for cosmetic surgery have shifted to showing women in their 20s as patients instead of women in their 50s and 60s. My earliest passion in life was acting and to this day I remain a working actress with agency representation, but looking at the ingenues in TV and movies from the 1980’s and 90’s compared to the ingenues of today, the shift is startling. At times I wonder if Cindy Crawford, the supermodel of all supermodels to my generation, would’ve even had a place in our current world (just look at her daughter Kaia, who looks almost like a beautiful mirror image of Cindy, but 30 pounds lighter and with much less joie de vivre).
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Once I realized the absurdity of the world the media shows us daily -- a world where people all start to look the same, food is never eaten because it’s too busy being “styled” for perfect photos, beaches aren’t enjoyed because that would reduce their photographic-appeal -- I gained some clarity. If nothing is real, then nothing can be enjoyed. Nothing can be surprising. Nothing can be fun.
So what’s the solution? How do we start living again and lose our tight grips on the digital world we think we’re living through?
- Reset your mind. Instead of waking up each morning wishing you had a life you don’t, wake up each morning grateful for who you are and what you have. Gratitude does wonders for self-esteem.
- Limit your media and social media time. The goal of media is to sell you something (even the news is trying every way they can to keep your attention so that they can sell their commercial slots at a higher rate), so it’s always going to be working towards convincing you that “if you just had , life would be so much better!” -- instead focus on what you do have.
On a personal note, a good friend of mine who was a film production major in college went to work for the History Channel shortly after graduating. I was enthused for his success until he told me he was ready to quit or be laid off because his entire job focused on figuring out ways to keep people’s attention just long enough that they were willing to sit through commercials. I always found that profoundly sad to think about.
- Stop comparing. We all know that most of the images we see are retouched and fine-tuned to a point that almost surpasses perfection (photoshop fails, anyone?) yet we still look at photos of our favorite stars and wish we looked like them. Stop. You look like you and there is no one else who looks like you, so you’re the perfect version of yourself.
- Get outside. Enjoy nature, move, sweat, soak up some sun. The more time we’re confined to the indoors, staring at screens, the worse off our mindsets seem to be, so give yourself some time to enjoy the outdoors.
- Forgive yourself. With voices demanding perfection all the time (not only from the media, but from our own internal monologues), we can be extremely hard on ourselves (and on others). Nobody is perfect. Forgive, let go, be in the moment instead of holding onto the past, and move on to living.
- Seek help. If you’ve tried to let go of the pressures and comparisons that our world inspires, but you’re still stressing over it, you have not failed in any way, shape or form. We all need help at times and help can come in many forms. A few thoughts to consider: speak with a medical professional; research the various supplements that can help with brain support; find opportunities to grow, improve and get outside of your mental cage.
We get so caught up in the fodder of what our lives should be that we end up wasting the life we have. As Aristotle said, “One cannot love others if one does not love oneself.” Let’s all make a pact to take a little less time comparing ourselves or looking at ourselves “in context” and a little more time loving what makes us unique.
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