Last week I posted some statistics about height and weight. Partly it’s because the statistics surprised me a bit — I thought women were taller and heavier, on average, than they are. I also thought it would be an interesting bit of data to discuss and think about.
There’s something else, though. I accepted the data when I read it. I could’ve denied it. I could have argued, for example, that women in the Seattle area are really taller than average. Or that the statistics were incorrect. Or that since many women do wear heels, their height in heels is what matters, not without.
If, you know, I had more invested in seeing myself as average height.
Humans often do focus on the data which confirms their beliefs and discount what doesn’t; it’s called confirmation bias, and reportedly emotion encourages it. Reading the Wikipedia article I came across the following:
[D]epressive patients maintain their depressive state because they fail to recognize information that might make them happier, and only focus on evidence showing that their lives are unfulfilling. According to Beck, an important step in the cognitive treatment of these individuals is to overcome this bias, and to search and recognize information about their lives more impartially.
This was something I worked on in therapy for depression, in fact—learning to look beyond my own perceptions to check my feelings with whatever facts were available. (I think that’s part of why I find demographical statistics fascinating.) This disconnected me from my feelings to a certain extent, but when you’re depressed that can be something that really helps.
I think of it like putting on my glasses (getting in better focus) or using highway checkpoints (getting an outside reading for my spedometer). My emotions and feelings of self-worth can be impacted by depression. Or fatigue. Sometimes it’s better to say “enough” and come back after a nap or some coffee or when I’ve got my glasses on.
This technique also works when you feel that being fat is the root of all your problems. Or when you are worried about what other people are thinking. Yes, sometimes they are pointing at you and saying “Look at her!”—but more often they’re not.
Yes, I am taller and fatter than average. In some ways I’m a freak of nature — most humans simply can’t weigh as much as I do. I also have white skin, curly hair, a rack of doom, a Bachelor of Science degree. Some of these things provide me with privilege, some don’t, but none dictate my worth.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
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