Social media has a way of highlighting our collective tendency to compare ourselves to other people. It’s often said that social media is a “highlight reel,” meaning that we end up comparing our regular, standard, everyday lives to the cleanest, prettiest, proudest and most polished moments in somebody else’s. Nobody’s life is perfect.
However, comparison to other people on the internet (or in real life) isn’t the only type of toxic comparison we can fall into. We also tend to compare our current selves to previous seasons of life that we remember to be “better” or maybe were different in a good way from times that today, seem worse or have a greater degree of struggle. In eating disorder recovery, this behavior is especially tempting, when we may feel the temptation to look back on certain seasons when we were thinner or fitter or whatever else, forgetting that when our bodies looked different during our “sick” seasons, we were exactly that: sick and struggling.
In clinical practice, I often remind my patients that the seasons they’ve idolized in their minds (most typically, periods of life when they weighed less) were not as wonderful as they seem now, when we look back with rose colored glasses. The inner self-critic (i.e. “eating disorder voice”) tells us that everything was perfect back then, when our bodies looked different, when the reality is that we felt miserable, were physically ill, and often profoundly struggling on an emotional and spiritual level.
I recently saw a picture of myself from a few years ago, and I was startled by how youthful I looked despite it being just a short distance in the past. I also noticed that I really liked the outfit I was wearing, and thought to myself, “Oh, I should do my hair like that more often!”
All of a sudden, I realized something else too, though.
I remembered the day the photo was taken, and how I had been dealing in that moment with a moment of low body image that was actually triggered by comparison to another person in my life. It was so ironic that I looked back on that day with such fondness for my physical appearance, completely forgetting that my internal experience did not match the smile on my face. I’m grateful that the moment of poor self-image in that photo paled in comparison to the utter self-loathing I had experienced during my days of disordered eating, but it was an important reminder that we too easily forget reality when we look back with nostalgia. Today, looking at the photo, I thought I looked beautiful. In the moment the photo was taken, I felt anything but.
I find it helpful to remember that I also experience this sort of nostalgia for times in my life when my relationship with God felt perhaps stronger, or easier, or whatever else. Perhaps I was reading my bible more regularly, more involved in a certain aspect of church, or just felt strongly connected to my purpose in life. Even if today, my relationship with God feels harder, it’s because I’m undergoing a season of growth—for my good and His glory.
Change isn’t easy, especially those changes that aren’t celebrated by the world we live in (read: weight gain.) But coming through to the other side, I know that the trials I’ve been through, the hard work of recovery, and the decision to choose LIFE were better than anything I ever experienced when I was stuck in the dark days of dieting and disordered eating.