Why do you look in the mirror? And what’s happening in your head when you do?
Mirror time is often distracted, a place to procrastinate or drift to when you feel anxious. In the midst of a creative block, we’ve popped non-existent zits, pinched our love handles, and over-plucked our brows (yikes). We’ve frowned at ourselves and found little “flaws” that nobody else would notice. And on a bad day, we’ve given our bodies quite the critical dressing-down, leaving ourselves depressed and defeated.
The mirror doesn’t always yield a picture of reality.
In fact, we’d argue that it’s what you BRING to the mirror that matters—more than what the mirror reveals to you. Your attitude can literally change what you see.
If you’re upset, worried, frustrated or ashamed, you’re probably not gonna look at your reflection and see its beauty. You’ll project all that negative emotion onto your image, creating a hopeless illusion. No wonder “retail therapy” is so dangerous—shopping for clothes when you’re in a funk almost always leaves you with body image angst and buyer’s remorse. (The warped dressing room mirrors and cheap lighting don’t help, either.)
By contrast, when you’re already happy and you glance in the mirror, you see beauty, no matter how disheveled you are. Joy has a way of making anybody feel gorgeous. After a night of ecstatic dancing, falling in love, or connecting with a great friend, ugly doesn’t stand a chance. The day Ophira found out she was pregnant, she snapped cell phone pictures of herself in the bathroom mirror at two a.m.—no makeup, in men’s pajamas, hair a little wild. Looking back, the images are far from “glamour shots” (and might even be a tad embarrassing). But at that pre-dawn moment, she looked radiant and camera-ready.
Pia grew up a serious student of art, drawing her first nude body in high school. When she sat at the easel, her artistic eye saw the human body with its lines, curves, twists, and turns quite beautiful. But 20 years later she found she’d lost her “eye” to the voice in her head, always judging and assessing people’s bodies, especially her own. One day at a museum exhibit of classical female nudes she was motivated to view herself differently. Using a full-length mirror, she drew her nude body in its natural state and found forgiveness. But even more importantly she was inspired. Her form became a magical landscape that informed her of her humanity. She became present to the gift of her body, its true purpose, and natural beauty.
When Sharon decided to stop coloring her hair after more than two decades, a serious attitude adjustment was in order. During her first attempt to give up the (Clairol) bottle, every time she looked in the mirror, anxiety took over; she allowed herself to worry that society’s prediction she’d look like a “hag” would come true. And unsurprisingly, her reflection confirmed it. But on her second attempt, she chose to let go of how others might view her and embraced her new look. The sight of salt-and-pepper streaks extending farther and farther away from her roots no longer sends her down that body-hating black hole. Instead, her conscious choice has enabled her to love the silvery crown that reflects back at her today.
Recognizing that attitude is key, we’ve adopted a little pre-mirror practice to make sure we don’t go down a body-bashing spiral. Instead of passively checking the mirror, pause before you take a look. Check your mood. Clear your head before you peek into the looking glass. In other words, reflect before you reflect. Breathe deep and exhale those negative thoughts—or if that’s too Zen for you, go punch a mattress, write in your diary, or belt out an angry song.
Get yourself into the closest thing that resembles your “happy place,” then proceed toward the mirror. Fix your face into at least a half-grin. Studies show that people don’t smile because they’re happy; we actually BECOME happy from the act of forming our facial muscles into a smile. So fake it ‘til you make it.
Next, look yourself in the eyes. This is a conscious and intentional act, as you might otherwise zone in on your least favorite part of yourself, then start the bashing cycle. Take a moment to connect; you’re worth it. Don’t unlock your eyes until you feel calm and centered. Now, you’re ready for some affirming mirror time. Enjoy!
As body image activists, we’re a little obsessed with finding a “cure” for body hatred, which in our opinion, might as well be a disease, as rampant as it runs. The great news is that the remedy lies within us all. As we expand our consciousness and self-awareness, we’re able to make more deliberate choices, to be thoughtful and mindful when the impulse to attack ourselves strikes. The mirror can actually become a safe and friendly place, allowing love and acceptance of ourselves – and from others.
It’s all how you look at it.