When you think about yourself in your mind’s eye, what do you see? I don’t know if this is normal, but I never seem to have an accurate image of myself in my mind. Between pictures from the past and reflections in windows and the limited number of mirrors that only extended to the parts of my body that I didn’t mind seeing, I constantly found myself being surprised at my appearance when I occasionally got a thorough, full body look at myself. Not necessarily a negative or positive surprise, just sort of “oh, I forgot.” And why wouldn’t I forget? I’ve avoided mirrors and photos for much of my life. I don’t even have a lot of wedding pictures framed and hung, because my critical negative voice always kicks in when I see myself from those angles in that dress.
I think the same thing happens with other people you don’t see every day. Without getting into all the reasons why it’s never a good idea to comment on another person’s body or size, my mother can never tell if I’ve gained weight or lost it since the last time I saw her, though that doesn’t keep her from congratulating me, but I digress.
In addition to not really having a firm grasp on what I actually look like, I was also very uncomfortable seeing myself in ways I don’t normally see myself, for example, wearing a dress, or makeup, or a new haircut, or nail polish. Seriously, I type a lot for work and the first few times my nails were painted, I had this “whose fingers are these” reaction CONSTANTLY. However, I have found that I can train myself to be comfortable with the glances I catch of myself not looking the way I expect myself to look by doing it more often. The more often I wear skirts and dresses, the less it startles me, the more it looks totally normal to me, and the more comfortable I am doing it. And this brings us to Self Love Hack #5: get used to what you really look like from all the angles in all the positions by spending time with your mirror image.
Side bar, sort of, I always used to have cleavage issues with clothes I bought, because I bought them after seeing what they looked like standing up straight in a mirror and didn’t think about what happens when I sit down: my legs push up my belly, which pushes up the under wire, which puts the boobs in my face and all of a sudden, a totally acceptable neckline on a shirt or dress becomes awkwardly cleavy. So now I do all the acrobatics in the dressing room; I sit down, I bend over, squat, lean, stretch, spin, hands up or hands down… back up, back up… just kidding (but extra points if you get the reference).
OK, back to the point, the thing that helped me get used to my appearance was putting up mirrors in places where I spend a lot of time. I started by putting a mirror at eye level right next to my desk. As I told you when I started this self love series, I didn’t necessarily know that some of these changes were going to help me change my perception of myself. The original reason I put up the mirror next to my desk is that I also struggle with dermatillomania (compulsive and obsessive skin picking) and when I was stressed out by work, or anxious about a deadline, or bored on a conference call, my fingers would scour my face for any imperfection to pick at as a distraction. I would end up creating huge sores and scars, because I’d keep going until I *got* whatever was there (usually a hair, ingrown or otherwise). By hanging the mirror, I was able to visually confirm that there was nothing to pick at, or if a hair was bothering me, I could pull it out with tweezers without putting a big hole in my face.
Aaaanyway, once I started seeing my face all day every day, I got used to seeing the double chin and mustache and freckles, I started noticing the nuances in my expression and how pleasant my face is when I smile. As I got more used to seeing my own face, my narrative started to change from being critical about certain features to just accepting them as normal and even attractive. Then I put a full length mirror in the bathroom. Reframing my thoughts about the functionality of my body, instead of focusing on the appearance, while also getting used to the appearance has helped me in a way I can barely explain.
What it really boils down to is that once I got used to what I looked like, I didn’t have to have a narrative in my head about how shocking it is and what other people must be thinking (reminder: you can’t control what other people think about you, their thoughts define who THEY are, NOT who YOU are and their perception certainly does not have any impact on your worth). Do I still have negative thoughts sometimes? Absolutely. Do I still push in my belly and tuck strategically when I’m naked in the bathroom mirror? Sure. But these thoughts don’t feel urgent anymore. I don’t obsess over them. They don’t keep me from leaving the house. They don’t make me think about how to punish myself. And they definitely don’t make me think about what I ate for dinner and all the things I’m not going to eat for ever after.
It might not sound like such a big deal, but normalizing my appearance in my own eyes, by really seeing myself in all the most “unflattering” ways, has really helped me accept and love myself, and that has been a huge contribution to my recovery.