How to Have a Beach Body

That’s a joke I’ve seen online:

post-image

Or even more simply:

beach-body

I’ve been struggling to describe my experience in my beach body on this year’s vacation, so I’ve been dragging my feet on writing about it.  But here goes nothing!

This is the third summer I’ve been wearing my current swimsuit.  (Although this year, I had some bonus alternatives I wore to the pool in the evenings – my mom gave me a bag of old suits!)  That is, I’ve been roughly the same size for three summers, which is a very good thing.  I say roughly because I was a few pounds slimmer last summer – so I don’t look quite as fit this year.  Ironically, I was less self-conscious about how I looked in my swimsuit than I was either of the past two years.  I’m chalking that up to a lot of self reflection about life being too short and upon giving myself credit for how good I look, given the progress I’ve made, instead of beating myself up for the work I feel I have yet to do.

But there’s more.  I really studied myself in my swimsuit.  I got uncomfortably comfortable examining every little (and not so little) aspect of my exposed flesh.  I acknowledged things like the muscle tone I’ve cultivated in my arms, shoulders, and other areas.  But I also considered that unfortunate under arm giggle.  I noticed that although I thought that my biggest current “problem area” was my post-baby belly, it’s actually still my butt and thighs.  Like it’s always been.  (Possible explanations:  My middle is more visible and obvious to me in day-to-day activities, so I think it’s worse because I’m more aware of it?  The change in that area is simply more drastic than in others?)  I contemplated the veins in my legs.  And I very closely inspected the back of my thighs overall shape and the appearance of cellulite.

And then, I allowed myself to indulge in what many consider to be a serious no-no: Comparing myself to others.

On comparing as a no-no, just look at the quotes that came up on the topic after approximately 4 seconds of internet searching:

“I cannot say this too strongly: Do not compare yourselves to others. Be true to who you are, and continue to learn with all your might.”   ~ Daisaku Ikeda, Discussions on Youth

“Comparison is the death of joy.”   ~ Mark Twain

“Do not compare yourself with anybody. Compare yourself with yourself, for yourself and by yourself. We are all uniquely pottered and purposed by our creator!”  ~ Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

“The problem with comparison is that you always feel either better than someone else or worthless compared to someone else.”   ~ Dillon Burroughs
[WORD!]

I’m not sure what to make of this one:

“If you have an old habit of competing and comparing yourself with others, then you are still living your life like a sperm. GROW UP!!”   ~ Saurabh Sharma

But here’s my favorite:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~Albert Einstein

So good or bad (I’ll come back to that), here’s what I figured out from the comparisons:

  • Virtually every woman I know has arm giggle.  Get over it.
  • Yes, my belly is a bit of a wreck, but lookie, lookie!  Compared to my butt, who’s going to notice?
  • I believe I have few visible veins in my legs compared to other people I see (or whose legs I see).  That’s something to be grateful for, as it’s an issue I wouldn’t have as much control over in terms of improving it.
  • Not saying my thighs are lump-free, but considering their size, they’re pretty damn smooth.  I see women with slimmer but dimply-er thighs than mine.  Would I rather have my big, relatively smooth legs or thinner, bumpier ones?  It’s a push.
  • Except for the teen-aged and 20-something girls who looked like they would be heading to some athletic camp when they got home from the beach, I thought I looked better than the majority of people at the beach.
  • Even though my final analysis was positive about myself, I didn’t like the way I was thinking about the issue.  Here’s where I started to come full circle on the comparing thing.  I didn’t like what I was doing.

Why did I feel the need to compare myself to others?  Why did I need to assess better, worse, or same?  And again, even though I felt like I looked “better,” I still felt like comparing myself to everyone else was a mean thing to do to myself.  And then I got to wondering if comparing myself to others – who absolutely didn’t know I was doing it – was a mean thing to do to them.

Even though they didn’t know I was measuring them up, was it mean to them to think:

  • “My thighs are smoother than hers.”?
  • Her arms may be thinner but they’re not as toned as mine.”?
  • “My boobs aren’t as saggy as his.” (Yeah, some poor men even go dragged into the action.)?

At the same time, I believe that comparison is often necessary to achieve things in life.  So although I think that the sage advice to avoid comparison is wise if you’re using it to beat yourself or someone else up, I think it’s acceptable when you’re learning something new or otherwise trying to improve a skill.

Sometimes you need to look toward someone who already knows what they’re doing and honestly assess where you are in comparison to them.   For example, I just started taking taekwondo (another post coming about that!), so my kicks, stances, and punches feel awkward because they’re new to me.  And I have to look to the more experienced students in the class and compare my movements  to theirs.  When I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m not pulling my knee up high enough first and snapping my kick out with power like Jane is,” I believe that’s acceptable.  It’s pretty objective.  Jane has had more practice and I need to try to duplicate her movements to improve my own.  But it’s NOT okay for me to say, “I suck at this.  Look how fluidly and flawlessly Jane execute those kicks, whereas I look like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum!”  That is mean to myself – plus not very productive in terms of improving.

SO!   I decided that it was mean and completely unfair to be judging people in terms of who looks better/worse/same as me.  And I decided to make a strong effort to quit harming myself and others like that.  I’m going to try to only compare me to me from now on, except where it’s productive to use someone’s abilities as an objective example for improving my own skills.

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others?  Do you sometimes think you don’t measure up to others in terms of appearance or other areas?

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