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Body Image: Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Body Image | Self Image | Diet Culture | Body Checking | Food | Weight | Eating | Stress | Therapy


What kinds of thoughts or feelings come up for you when you look at yourself in the mirror?


If what comes doesn't sound or feel very nice, know that you are not alone. How we see and feel about our body is complex. Our body image, how we each personally experience being in our body, develops from a variety of influences over time. These influences include thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, feelings and actions. No one wakes up one morning and suddenly dislikes what they see in the mirror. If you watch an infant interact with a reflective surface like a mirror you will easily observe that they are generally quite enamored with what they see. From as early as preschool age though things begin to change. We begin to pick up on how society views various physical characteristics and begin to respond to this information in order to belong. We each have our own story of how our body image came to be through influences from our past and influences currently in everyday life.


All this to say that when you look in the mirror your experience of looking at your reflection is biased. You are perceiving and interpreting through many internal filters. You could wear the same clothes, do your hair the same way etc. and from one day to the next you will likely feel different about what you see.

Assessing yourself in the mirror is something we all do to some extent. Many of us are not aware that we are even doing it. This body checking can become an obsessive behavior however and can contribute to and/or perpetuate negative body image. Historically our brain’s main mission has been to keep us alive. A big part of this has been making sure we stay safe-avoiding pain and discomfort. Another big part of that safety has been to try and make sure that we belong, because our survival was much better if we were part of a group.


Unfortunately in modern times this effort to keep us safe can cause problems for us when cultural beliefs and beauty ideals have dictated that one must be a certain size and shape in order to belong*. Body checking is one way our brain is attempting to keep us safe, but can instead lead to feelings of distress, anxiousness, anger, sadness, disappointment etc.


It doesn’t need to be a mirror either. Body checking might take the form of catching your reflection in a reflective surface, trying on the same clothing item, weighing yourself or other forms of body measurement, grabbing different parts of your body (like grabbing your belly, sides or back of arms).

How often do you notice that you check?

How does this make you feel?

Is this helpful to you living a life you want?

Tip: One thing you can begin doing now is to clean out and curate your social spaces which are within your control to do so. Is there diversity in what you see there? Humans are incredibly diverse. Do the things you see make you feel more accepting of yourself and encourage you to participate in the things that matter to you or do they lead you to feel worse about yourself and that you need to fix yourself or appear different? Unfollow, delete, block etc. the images, adds, accounts that aren’t serving you and begin to add in others that help create a better reflection of human diversity.


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