My cats are getting humongous. They must be around one-year old now, and they are already huge. I guess their dads was one hell of a cat, since their mom wasn’t that big. I can’t believe they might still grow, I mean, we only leave in a 41/2, there is not enough space anymore for their tiger games. Have you ever seen a cat fight? It is brutal my friends, I am telling you. Soon our house will be too small to contain those two giants.
Although there seem to be no end to their expansion, they really don’t care. They are living the cat dream: they eat, they play, and then they sleep. Eat, play, sleep. That’s it.
I wish I was a cat. Not because of a strong desire to spend my days on a couch sleeping under the warm afternoon sun (although that part seems quite nice too), but more because I cannot not care. What others think matter to me. It matters a lot. Too much. I know it. I know that those who care don’t matter, and that those who matter don’t care. I know that celebrities and models don’t only have great genetics and luck, they are also airbrushed and photoshopped. Still. With the rise of YouTubers and Instagrammers, in that era where we can follow all those beautiful people day in day out, it is hard to resist. It seems more doable than ever to be just like them.
I don’t even have to go on social media to find beautiful people: they are all around me. In yoga classes, at work, on the streets. Therefore, I am constantly comparing myself, at home through pictures posted on social media feeds, and outside wherever I am doing. It is exhausting, and very pointless. Why do I keep on doing that? I think it has to do with the social comparison theory.
Leon Festinger proposed this theory initially in 1954. This social psychologist suggested that there was a drive within individuals to assess themselves through comparison with others, in order to reduce uncertainty and learn how to define their own self. Nowadays, the initial framework has been completed with multiple propositions. According to Thorton and Arrowood, self-evaluation would be one of the main motivations to engage in social comparison, which is funny in a way, since individuals are also not always the best to produce an unbiased self-evaluation. Therefore, social comparison could also be used when individuals are looking for ways to improve their self-esteem. In that case, we would tend to interpret, distort or ignore information that does not correspond to what we are looking for and only retain information that consolidate a positive view of ourselves.
Sometimes, to maintain that great picture of ourselves in our head, we would even avoid to compare ourselves in areas where we feel we do not perform well. Studies have shown that performing downward comparisons, when we compare with people who are doing not as good as us, could make us feel better about ourselves, and upward comparisons, when we compare ourselves with people we believe are doing better, could inspire us to reach our goals. This relationship would be moderated by self-esteem and affect: when we feel good about ourselves, we can look up for inspiration, but when we don’t, it could only make us feel worse. For people with a stable low self-esteem, downward social comparisons could in fact improve their negative mood and help them be hopeful and motivated about their future.
It seems like I am not alone unable to resist the comparison with media. It appears that media is very good at telling us what is expected by our peers when it comes to how we look, and how we should evaluate ourselves based on those expectations. Studies have shown that in most cases where women had engaged in upward social comparisons with a societal ideal proposed in the media, it resulted in negative feelings about the self.
I know all that, and you know it too. It’s nothing new, but it is still super powerful stuff. It makes me want to be a cat even more. Or a lobster. Do you know how lobsters grow? They feel the discomfort of a too-small shell. They take a break out from the world, hidden in the rocks, to remove the old shell and grow a new one which fits their size. I wish I could be able to feel the discomfort, and be courageous enough to expand, break out of an old shell and grow into a new one. Not afraid of what others might say. Like Safia Nolin who dared to show up in a T-shirt (a very cool one though) and jeans at a gala event. Like Alicia Keys who is courageous enough to go without makeup in front of millions of people at the MTV Video Music Awards, when everyone else spends hours on prep for such events.
I am neither a cat or a lobster (maybe in a future life though if I do well enough, I am working on that). I do live in a society where appearance is valued, where beautiful people are richer, marry well, have more success. I still have a choice though. I can choose to work on developing the inner strength, the confidence I need to be who I have to be. I can choose to have faith, and believe it is worth more to feel good about myself and get the love from those who matter, instead of looking for the approval of those who don’t. I can choose day after day to let my inner cat eat, play and sleep without caring about my size as much, to let my inner lobster grow.
Dare. Dare to be you. Dare to live from the inside out, because there is no other way around. You can keep hiding if you want, or take breaks just like the lobster to recover and grow stronger, but don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t get out of your shell, or that you should think about getting a smaller one. Be BIG. Live BOLD.