“I wish I had her legs.”
Whenever I see or hear a woman making a statement like this in envy of another woman’s body, I cringe. When the “her” in question is a celebrity, I double-cringe. Ladies, we’ve got to stop comparing ourselves unfavorably to each other, and this is an especially fruitless endeavor with the famous among us.
We already know that when it comes to our emotional self-esteem and physical self-image, comparing ourselves to other women is destructive, right? Right? I know, ending the constant comparisons that we tend to torment ourselves with is easier said than done. Much easier. But when it comes to comparing yourself to celebrities, there are a few reasons why it might be a bit less difficult to break the damaging habit.
When we see a gorgeous celebrity sister slay on a magazine cover or in a video, we’re less likely to lead with the comparison response as we are when we pass a beautiful stranger on the street or when Tammy From Accounting With The Tiny Waist And Flat Stomach breezes through the office. By virtue of even being on that magazine cover in the first place, we often register that there’s a level of removal between Them and Us.
Social media, having altered nearly everything about the way we live today, has also had its subconsciously salty way here as well. It’s one thing to understand you might not have perfect lighting and hours of hair and makeup to make you look flawless, but it’s quite another to see a superstar’s “candid,” “personal” pics on Instagram. Sincere appreciation of your fave’s beauty can get tainted by the comparison virus because after all, your selfies don’t look like that.
The very first thing to note is that a number of celebrities have reached the status they have at least in part because of their looks, and possessing extraordinary beauty or an astonishing physique is a job requirement. It’s no happy accident, nor is it some wild coincidence that people in the spotlight tend to be visually fly af.
A few weeks ago we were hit with a one-two punch of devastating media gorgeousness when Misty Copeland and Serena Williams covered Essence and New York Magazine, respectively. All over social media, their beauty and the magnificence of their bodies was, appropriately, shouted from the digital rooftops. But there’s a difference between admiration and idolization, and “She looks gorgeous” can swiftly become “I wish I had her legs” and then “My legs are so gangly” until finally just “I hate my legs.”
In the cases of the phenomenal Ms. Copeland and Ms. Williams, their bodies are the physical result of being remarkably gifted and skilled athletes. Naomi Campbell’s divinely long legs are both a genetic blessing and job requirement, as is Chanel Iman’s smile. I don’t mean to objectify these women, or reduce them to only their parts or their physical shells. But when it comes to certain well-known enviable bodies, if you can think of physical attributes as either bullet points on a resume or the visual manifestation of years and years of athletic prowess, it’s easier to appreciate without the self-hate.
Simply put, you’re not Serena Williams. Even if you know that intellectually, and even if a “I wish I had her legs” Facebook status is just a throwaway comment that you didn’t mean literally, words mean things. There’s enough out there that could get us down on ourselves without us consciously or subconsciously turning a superstar’s shine into our insult.
You don’t shine like Lupita shines.
If you feel at all insulted or shaded at minimum by that sentence, I invite you to read it again without the added layer of celebrity worship that so many of us view the world through.
You don’t shine like Lupita shines because you shine in the special, unique way that only you can shine. Celebrating all of the individual shininess of each of us need not include dulling the magic of anyone else, nor is self-deprecation a compulsory part of rejoicing in another’s glory.
I look at Lupita’s radiance and I feel inspired. I feel impressed with her beauty, talent, and poise, and I also feel that they have nothing to do with me in a direct way. The inspiration, whether it’s to aim for an award-winning career status or simply slap on another coat of moisturizer, is something that resonates within me as aspiration, not competition.
The motivating drive to achieve like your celeb fave, whether it’s in career, romance, style, etc, may begin with the textbook definition of “comparison,” by measuring or noting the similarity or dissimilarity between your circumstances, which is an almost subconscious, constant, and sometimes necessary behavior. But as soon as you compare yourself unfavorably and come up lacking against some competition you’ve created in your mind, you create circumstances that keep you mired in self-sabotaging negativity.
Some of us are in so deep when it comes to putting celeb lives ahead of our own that the notion of possibly even outshining a Lupita or a Misty is laughable notion. Now, for me to encourage you to abstain from unfavorable comparisons only to turn around and do it to them, even to make a point, would be hypocritical and rude. I’ve already said here that I don’t objectify celebrity women, and being in the spotlight does not take away their individual humanity or agency in my eyes.
I only want you to consider removing that pedestal perspective from your life, if you’re someone who subscribes to that line of thinking. And if that feels too existentially far away, let me give you another reason to cut the comparisons: when you’re looking at footage or an image of a celebrity, you just never know what’s real and what’s fake.
Photoshop happens. We all know this. Decent quality digital image retouching capability is now available for every single one of us to download on our smartphones, so just imagine what the pros are working with. And those “candid” shots you see on social media? Whether they’re properly lit before the fact or digitally altered afterward, you just don’t know exactly what you’re looking at, so why bother with comparisons?
If you find something aesthetically pleasing or you’re into something an artist puts into the world, you can absolutely express that without putting yourself or anyone else down, even a little, even in jest.
The other thing to know is that lots of people in the public eye have had “work” done. Often it’s precisely because they’re in the public eye, as I stated earlier. As a professional actress for nearly 20 years who is decidedly not famous, I’m not interested in spilling anyone’s tea, but I have been privy to information about treatments and “procedures” that most people have never even dreamed of.
There are celebrities who say loudly and publicly that they would never go under the knife, meanwhile, they’re getting ultrasound facials or skin resurfacing with a fractional laser. These are treatments that create wounds deep into the skin’s dermal layers (the ablative lasers also vaporize the skin), are administered by medical professionals, usually require prescription medication and perhaps even anesthesia, and carry hefty price tags. Sounds like an operation to me, but lots of people cling to the distinction between surgical and non-surgical procedures and draw a firm line at incisions.
There’s laser-assisted tumescent liposuction, permanent makeup that operates at a far more subtle level than in the past, and every kind of facial you could ever imagine. The Kardshians like to show us certain procedures on their reality shows, because they traffic in that sort of faux “transparency,” but you usually don’t hear of your fave celeb having a gingivectomy (restructuring of your gum line using either a scalpel or a laser) or any number of other procedures that are happening at any moment behind closed doors.
And that’s OK! I’m not someone who believes that everyone should be unmasked about every procedure they’ve had or will have, and I have no problem with celebrities (or anyone) maintaining their privacy, especially when it comes to one’s body. I’m not throwing shade in anyone’s direction, I just want you to know that if you can’t possibly know what exactly is going on in a picture or a video, that’s all the more reason why you can’t take it to heart or let it affect you personally.
Do you. Shine on, and be the best you you can be. Celebrate you, and leave Beyoncé out of it.
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