A new report has found that being super-thin is bad for models’ health. But what effect do size zeros have on the rest of us?In 2006, researchers Gurari, Hetts and Dtrube have found that looking at photos of thin, beautiful models tends to make women more concerned about their weight and less satisfied with their body. According to Kenrick and Guttierres, men are affected, too: after looking at beautiful women, men judge potential blind dates as less attractive.
Social comparisons affect us in other life domains, and can lead us to make irrational decisions. For instance, studies have found that people would rather take a lower salary and earn more than their colleagues than have more money in real terms but less than their teammates.
Buunk and Mussweiler explain that we size up other people because these comparisons can confer evolutionary advantages. Comparing yourself to others who are worse off can boost happiness by making you appreciate what you’ve got. And the urge to be better than others drives innovation and achievement. Upward comparisons can be inspiring – when the other person’s success is within your grasp. But when that success is looking like Elle Macpherson, most of us don’t stand a chance. With the advent of global media, our comparison group is vastly increased. Instead of wanting to be the hottest girl in high school, we now want to be the hottest girl on Facebook – the social networking website which recently added a function allowing you to compare your friends to each other.
We’re not all susceptible to social comparison effects, however. Unhappy folks make comparisons more often, and feel more wounded when they come out badly. They even feel better after negative feedback where another did worse than they feel after positive feedback where someone else did better. Dispositionally happy people, meanwhile, rise above it all.
So, what can you do if you’re someone who thinks the grass is always greener? Firstly, you can limit your exposure to comparisons. Secondly, regularly take the time to count your blessings and savour the good things in life. Instead of concentrating on what you’re missing out on, think about what you’ve got: in particular the friends and family who we often take for granted, but who really make the difference between a happy life and an unhappy one. To quote Marcel Proust, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Gurari,I., Hetts. J.J., & Dtrube, M.J. (2006). Beauty in the ‘I’ of the beholder: Effects of idealized media portrayals on implicit self-image. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 28(3), 273-282.
Kenrick, D.T., & Guttierres, S.E. (1980). Contrast effects and judgments of physical attractiveness: When beauty becomes a social problem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(1), 131-140.
Buunk, B. P., Mussweiler, T. (2001)..New directions in social comparison research. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 467-475.
Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K.L, & Kasri, F. (2001). Responses to hedonically conflicting social comparisons: comparing happy and unhappy people. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 511-535