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When you see another person, a friend or a stranger, is their weight or appearance the first thing (perhaps the only thing) you notice? Do you automatically assess how they look or calculate their weight? Perhaps you have such a knee-jerk reaction that you’re unaware that you judge each and every person’s size, clothes, posture, or hair. Or maybe you know you give them the eye test and assume that’s what everyone does.
The truth is that what we notice about others (and ourselves) is unique to us. Although you might flinch at a clothing faux pas, someone else might either be unaware of or fail to think much of it. We see what we are programmed to see. For example, you and your friends might be gazing at a ship full of passengers on deck steaming into dock. One of you might wistfully think of a romantic cruise she wants to take, another might be enthralled by the panoramic scenery of puffy clouds and sinking sun, while another might fear that the ship is moving too fast and will come crashing into the dock. You, on the other hand, might be checking out the disembarking passengers, mentally ticking off their size, shape, and appearance.
If you are fixated on looks, you probably learned this behavior in childhood. Maybe you had a parent or relative, particularly one of your same gender, that was always fussing with their (or your) appearance. Or perhaps they engaged in a running criticism of your hair, outfit, weight, posture, etc. so that you learned to pay attention to these details because you wanted to please them. You became vigilante because it was in your best interest to be acutely aware of how you looked to avoid disapproval, and you made the assumption that everyone will scrutinize your looks and be critical.
This assumption is flat out wrong. While many individuals are weight, appearance and style conscious, many are not. Looking at you, they see and value different things than you do. They might be impressed with your intelligence, sense of humor, quiet wisdom, ease with people, success, or creativity. Depending on their childhood, they’ll focus on what is most meaningful to them. To greater or lesser extent, they may be aware of your looks, but not necessarily in a judgmental way. If they were not trained to focus on appearance, they may not even register yours. It depends what’s on their radar screen.
If you are someone who automatically zooms into how others’ look, try to realize that your fixation is not universal. If you want to grow healthier, remind yourself that your perception is learned, and put your energy into changing your focus. Practice defocusing on looks (yours and everyone one else’s) and see what happens.
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