Marolt: Sorry, there’s a good chance you’re average | AspenTimes.com

Marolt: Sorry, there’s a good chance you’re average

Roger Marolt
Roger This

More than 70 percent of us are overweight or obese, but only about 36 percent of us think we are. I am wondering how many of those who think they are actually are not. Yes, we have body-image issues, but not only in the way that is widely publicized, so to speak.

This was reported by Christopher Ingram in The Washington Post on Dec. 1, at the beginning of the gingerbread-eating season. Perhaps it will be enough to convince people to quit after nibbling a couple of sections of frosted picket fence instead of devouring several walls and the chimney. I have my doubts.

The trend does not look good. According to the report, as recently as 1990, only 56 percent of Americans were considered to be overweight or obese, and fully 48 percent thought they were. A quarter-century ago, not only were we healthier, but also pretty much knew who we were fooling (e.g. not ourselves).

Weirdly, though, this doesn't appear to be a food or health thing. It's not even an outright dishonesty thing. It's delusion. We honestly don't believe we are fat in spite of overwhelming evidence. And when I say "we," I mean that in the most singular form possible, as in each individual in the collective citizenry of this country, and most likely the rest of the developed world, too, recognizes that everyone is basically overweight, except for professional athletes, movie stars and themselves.

It is a mistake to count only calories here, though. Easy research turns up all kinds of studies that point to our societal delusion of self-superiority. The fact is, most of us see ourselves as being more skilled, intelligent and physically attractive than the rest of the world sees us.

A couple of researchers, Nicholas Epley and David Dunning at Cornell University, have done several studies proving that most of us think we are above average. They demonstrated that, given pictures of themselves, some modified and others not, people almost always chose beauty-enhanced pictures as the ones they thought were the untouched ones. As to pictures of others, they had no problem picking out the actual untouched photos that reflected reality.

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They conclude, "Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that people on average tend to think they are more charitable, cooperative, considerate, fair, kind, loyal and sincere than the typical person, but less belligerent, deceitful, gullible, lazy, impolite, mean and unethical — just to name a few."

But, that's not all. An article in Scientific America by Ozgun Atasoy, titled "You are less beautiful than you think," reminds us that 93 percent of drivers rate themselves as better than average, 94 percent of college professors believe they do better work than their peers, stock pickers almost universally believe they are smarter than the market, and more people than not say they are less susceptible to catching the flu than others.

Given all this, should it be a surprise to anyone to learn that other studies have shown that most people say they are more likely than others to provide accurate self-assessments?

The upshot is that everybody, according to themselves, is above average, which you fully understand, being smarter than most, is absolutely, positively, indisputably statistically impossible. All said and done, taking into account all the things we do well and all our offsetting deficiencies, each of us is probably what everyone around us would consider to be what is commonly known as "fairly normal."

About the only place this doesn't apply is on the ski slopes. In that odd microcosm where style is mostly encapsulated in insulated costume and the latest gadgetry while skill is purely a subjective measure, there are only two types of skiers — first-timers and experts. Perhaps this is why we love it.

Yet, the implications of overreaching narcissism in just about every other phase of our lives may be a much bigger deal. It would seem that believing we are really cool, beautiful, fit, funny, benevolent and wise, while everyone else sees the regular schmucks we actually are and then treat us with the commensurate lack of awe, might cause internal stress, anxiety and even fear down deep in the place behind the bowels we shove reality into. As some famous person, whom I cannot recall, once nearly anonymously said, "Oh, how little we would care what others thought of us if we only knew how little they actually did."

Wouldn't it be ironic if the people who honestly assess themselves as being nothing more spectacular than merely average are the happiest?

Roger Marolt remembers the good ol' days when a "C" was not a bad grade and average intelligence could produce interesting conversation. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.

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