Most of us associate looking in the mirror with flagrant narcissism or feelings of inadequacy, but learning how to see yourself in your own reflection can do incredible things for your self-worth and self-awareness. Learning to make peace with the mirror is really about letting yourself be seen. Our desire to be seen and reflected is one of the most basic needs. So, why do so many of us struggle with it?
Mirrors can evoke strong feelings in us – and they don’t all have to be negative. They can be incredibly powerful tools for changing our perspective and seeing parts of ourselves that we typically keep hidden from the world.
When I was a little girl, I can remember looking at my own reflection and how it filled me with amusement and curiosity. It helped me understand and express emotions; and I remember being happy to share that experience with a friend or cousin that happened to be joining in on the fun. And I can remember being at the carnival in the house of fun mirrors and finding the experience of seeing my distorted self simply entertaining.
But as I grew older, I learned to avert my eyes whenever coming into contact with a mirror. Like most, I learned to keep tabs on my body and critique it based on cultural standards of beauty. If I did happen to catch my eye in the mirror, I would go on a road trip across my body finding endless flaws and imperfections. Hyper-focused on what was wrong, I never took the time to actually ask how was I really feeling? All I could focus on was the shame.
So much of what I read about the female body image struggle (and for anyone who identifies as female) discusses some pretty consistent themes. But one I don’t think is talked about enough is SHAME.
Shame is extremely complex. It is by no means a monolithic experience, but one thing is for sure: shame eats at you until it fully consumes you. The way we internalize shame is damaging because at a certain point, it becomes you. You begin to edit yourself, until it becomes so normal that you can’t even tell that you’re doing it.
I think nearly all women feel ashamed of their bodies at one time or another. This pressure to believe that with the right combination of diet and exercise and enough will power, women can control everything about the size and shape of their bodies is BS. All it does is create this obsessive chase for some unrealistic ideal. For too many women, our relationship with our own bodies becomes hostile at an early age. Then, a lifetime of shame gets ushered in because we told ourselves we were unable to measure up to culturally defined standards of perfection. All this has done is undercut our self-worth, drain our emotional energy, and worse, weaken our personal and collective power.
When was the last time you really looked at yourself in the mirror? I mean really just stared and taken it all in? The next time you do, try not to focus on your appearance or imagine how you look to others. Simply acknowledge yourself and stare deeply into your own eyes with compassion. It can become a type of intoxicating meditation. A way to simply be present with no goal other than to be present with yourself.
The way we see ourselves can be a gift. The mirror can offer a perspective that no one else can see. Only you can see yourself that may just be too raw or too vulnerable to share with others. Truly looking into the mirror and consciously seeing yourself affords you the space to feel flooded with compassion and appreciation for all that you are, all that you do, and how hard you try. The mirror is a place just for you to acknowledge yourself unapologetically with love and worthiness by simply being.
The truth is that I’ve had this twisted and very complicated relationship with my body – all 5’3” of her. I am choosing to see a different image in the mirror – one that I celebrate on the daily – and one that refuses to allow shame to get a front row seat along the journey.
I choose to look deeply into my eyes and scream I am enough.