Mirror Mirror

Did you see this article http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/sexism-dovetails-with-hypocrisy-20120620-20ocf.html in the paper last week talking about how advertising affects our self-image? It got me thinking about where our self image does come from and whether I am as aware as I thought I was about how advertising affects me.

Ever had that moment where you see an ad with a person you admire, whether it’s their looks; their sporting prowess; their wealth; or maybe just their life in general; and a little part of you says “I need that product”? And although you know that buying that new lip gloss/ handbag/surfboard/pair of jeans won’t make you into that person. And you know that the model in the advertisement had professional hair and makeup and a stylist and a photographer and a marketing person etc…all to pick the image that looks the best. There is still that sneaky little thought that whispers “maybe I could look like that if only I was wearing that pair of sneakers.”

What is really subtle about this that whilst we think we are thinking “I wish I looked more like them” what we might actually be thinking is “I wish I looked less like me.” That somehow, the person who we are is “less than” someone else.  And this doesn’t just apply to people we see in advertising. Every time we look at another person and compare ourselves to them we may be doing ourselves a disservice because we are all unique.

There is no one like you in the whole earth. No one who can do the things you do or fill the places you fill. And that’s important to remember and celebrate.  

Learning to identify our strengths is one way that we can celebrate and value the unique role we have in the world around us. But that is a whole other blog post…

I like to think that there are two different ways we can compare ourselves to others, one which can be very unhelpful and stop us from succeeding, and another which can inspire us.

The first way is where we are almost envious of the person we are comparing ourselves because them seem to have something we want and cannot have. This often leads us to thinking that if only we had that thing people would like us more, or life would be better etc. This can be very demoralising.

For example: I might look at someone who has better marks than me in Maths and feel like I will never be good enough because they are always beating me in that subject. But I might forget that I always beat them in English.

This may indicate I have a value which says that “people who are good in Maths are more successful than those who are good in English”; and that may or may not be true; but either way it ignores my own personal strengths and unique capacity and instead it brings me down and leaves me feeling not good enough.

The second way is where we look at the people we admire and define what we like about them and then make plans to make changes in our lives accordingly.

For example: I might think, “I like the way that person is so generous”, leading me to notice that I value generosity and so take steps to act more generously in the future.

I don’t know about you, but I know which way I would like to use those comparisons. So, next time you see that ad and think “Maybe if I had those sunglasses I would…” try using it to identify what you value and let it motivate and inspire you to build on your strengths. After all, there is no one quite like you.

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