How to Avoid the Comparison Trap

Recovery Warriors How to Beat the Comparison Trap
I’ve always loved clothes. And fashion magazines. And trashy TV and celebrity gossip and “Who Wore It Better.” All of these things are an escape for me. When I plop on the couch with a magazine or read about the latest celebrity wedding in my dentist’s waiting room, I forget about work, chores or whether my dentist will say my flossing technique needs work.

The danger of these escapes, however, is that they can all be triggers. Whether it’s the clothes in my closet or stacked on a dressing room chair, I know sizes and mirrors can make an otherwise enjoyable experience a source of anxiety.

Photos of models on a catwalk or celebrities walking through New York can make leisurely (and relatively mindless) magazine browsing a bottomless pit of comparison.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this conundrum over the years, asking myself if I should reject these things – fashion and celebrity gloss – in order to minimize triggers and anxieties. “But I like these things, and they are not inherently bad,” I tell myself.

There are some things, in the course of my recovery, that I’ve had to give up in order to stay on a correct path. I’ve had to remove otherwise innocuous things — certain activities, people and places — for certain periods of my life. Some are back in my life, and some I don’t expect to ever let back in. This is the nature of my recovery — a process, a retooling, of what works for me and what serves my pursuit of wellness.

I gave up gossip magazines years ago, telling myself the risk outweighed the reward. I have since started reading them in line at Target, or waiting at the gynecologist, but I won’t buy them or page through Us Weekly in Barnes & Noble. I don’t think buying them would put me at risk anymore. I’m just not that interested.

Back to today. I read fashion magazines on the couch while my boyfriend watches baseball. I go to Anthropologie and try on clothes and send pictures to friends asking for advice. I shamelessly keep up with the Kardashians.

These things have risks, and I am mindful of those potential pitfalls. If I know I am tired or stressed or in a self-effacing mood, I won’t pick up the June issue of Glamour. If I’m having a bad hair day, I might not head to Anthropologie, not wanting to take the risk of going into “Clare, you need to fix this” mode.

I’ve also studied media literacy, and it’s been hugely beneficial. Organizations such as About-Face have helped me understand the tricks and tools my beloved magazines (and their advertisers) use to manipulate images to fit a very narrow idea of beauty and an equally one-sided definition of success. I understand that advertisers pay big money to place ads in magazines. They want to sell their product, whether it’s a diet soda, a new cleaning product or an espadrille sandal, and in order to make bank, they will tap into our vulnerabilities and beliefs about what we should be/look like/eat/drink/do.

Armed with this knowledge, if I feel my escape into the June issue of Real Simple veering toward comparison, I remember that the pristine closets and airbrushed cheekbones are not always what they seem.
The point here is that I find what works for me. Just as some of us have different beliefs when it comes to recovery (“Can we ever be truly recovered?” “Are we always ‘in recovery’”? “Do we believe in full recovery?”), we may have different ways of getting or staying in recovery (or recovered :-)). If you feel that fashion magazines only bring you distress, ditch ‘em. There are plenty of other ways to relax and enjoy your downtime.

The key, in my opinion, is understanding what fulfills you, what restores you, and what will keep you on the path of health and wellness.

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