Speak to Silence: Junior Zoe Deyoung combats comparison

By Susie Seidel, Parkway West High School

With a soft smile and slight roll of the eyes, junior Zoe Deyoung recited the commonplace quote, “comparison is the thief of all joy.” As young people today, we hear it all of the time: be confident, don’t compare, be yourself because everyone else is taken. While in a sense we know these things to be true, we can’t help but roll our eyes like Deyoung, knowing that avoiding comparison is drastically easier said than done.

As a result of teenage insecurity, we find ourselves comparing our looks, clothes, possessions, personalities and likability to that of our friends and peers. Unfortunately, these thoughts don’t end when we get home or have time to ourselves. Due to social media and limitless communication, conscious and unconscious comparison never stops, and we find ourselves always feeling empty and inferior.

Courtesy of Zoe Deyoung
This photo allowed Deyoung to come to the understanding that your physical appearance is not what people remember her by, and that she is remembered by the way she treats others.

These feelings heavily distorted Deyoung’s body image and mental health from a young age. Growing up as a dancer, Deyoung spent hours a day looking at herself in the mirror and comparing what she saw to dancers praised on social media.

“As a 9-year-old, I would see that ideal dancer body type of fit but not too strong, long, lean legs and a fit stomach and long arms. I just didn’t have that body,” Deyoung said. “I just saw a wrong shaped girl that couldn’t do the steps everyone else could do because I was shaped wrong.”

As the years progressed, Deyoung continued feeling inferior to her peers. She constantly compared herself to photos and videos of other dancers and compared her size and what she was eating to those around her. While overcoming this remains a battle, Deyoung has come to understand the importance of recognizing disordered thoughts and actions as well as working to make changes.

“I still catch myself body checking. Everytime I look in the mirror, I always catch myself doing it, and I really need to be more conscious about the way that I treat myself and the way I talk to myself,” Deyoung said. “When I was constantly checking the way I looked, I was holding myself back; I could see I wasn’t growing.”

When Deyoung changes her perspective to focus on dancing artistically rather than dancing physically, she performs better and improves her confidence.

“The moment I stopped caring about the way my body looked, and I cared more about how I felt in the things that I was doing, I could see an immediate change in the way I was dancing. That’s the only time that I really feel beautiful:when I am moving in a way that feels right to me,” Deyoung said.

While personal changes have benefited her, Deyoung owes her endurance and deepened strength to her faith.

“Of course turning my perspective in dance played a big role, but I was only able to do that because the Bible told me that I was created perfectly in the way I am,” Deyoung said. “God numbered the hairs on my head. He knows everything about me, and everything about me is perfect to Him. And so hating myself is hating directly what God created, and that’s just disgusting in my opinion.”

Photo illustration by Susie Seidel
Differing posts of dancers on social media showing how dancers are not limited to one body type. Deyoung intentionally only follows dancers she identifies with to prevent comparison. “You need to take out the negative things that you’re seeing on your feed, and you need to fill it up with people that look like you, or who make you feel proud about who you are and lift you up,” Deyoung said.

Deyoung now dances freely while being conscious of body checking and being aware of who she sees and looks up to at the studio, in everyday life and on social media. While social media is often one of the greatest contributors to insecurity, Deyoung instead makes sure the accounts she follows help her to feel inspired rather than insecure. Small differences like this add up and can make one feel more proud and comfortable in their own skin.

This is also done by understanding your significance and beauty lies far beyond your exterior; it is the kindness, joy and genuinity that brightens an individual. It is then that we come to realize that our physical appearance is the least important aspect of what makes us beautiful.

As a reminder, I am a senior in high school and am not a medical professional. For serious concerns, please seek help from a trusted adult, doctor or call the eating disorder hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on March 12, 2020.