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The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating Acceptance and Self-Care

NEW LESSON: WINTER 2010

Mirrors can become a tool of self-acceptance. Learn how to use your reflection in a way that helps you build a more positive body image.

Ah... the mirror! What do you see when you look at your reflection? Does it lead to self-recrimination or even the next diet? Do you allow yourself to look at yourself in the mirror, or do you just take a quick glance at your face on the way out the door? The mirror can be your friend or enemy. If looking in the mirror leads you to yell at yourself or call yourself names, then it negatively affects your self-esteem. Furthermore, speaking to yourself in a harsh manner creates anxiety, which always puts you at risk of overeating. Using the mirror to berate yourself is never a helpful act.

On the other hand, getting to know yourself through the use of the mirror can help you to build an environment of acceptance that will increase your physical and mental well-being. Knowing how your body looks and letting go of judgments will help you at other times, such as when you see your image reflected back in photos or on video. Being able to look at yourself in the mirror, without self-recrimination, is an important aspect of self-acceptance.

When you look in the mirror and use words such as "disgusting, "too fat," or "yuck" to describe yourself, you are judging and contributing to a negative sense of yourself on the inside. Think for a moment about what you typically tell yourself when you look in the mirror. Now, imagine looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you like the way you look. How would your day become different?

Of course, you cannot simply decide to change the way you feel about the image you see reflected back in the mirror. But you can begin to do something about it. Start by looking at your face, and over time, work your way down to the rest of your body. Rather than using judgmental terms to describe what you see, try to think of yourself as an artist who must use objective terms to explain a body shape. You might notice that you are smooth in one place, round in another, and angular somewhere else. The key is to get to know what you see, without yelling. If negative thoughts begin to intrude, stop looking in the mirror for the time being. If you consistently work on looking at yourself, you will find that over time, your relationship with the mirror moves from a negative, anxiety-provoking experience to a more neutral, and perhaps even positive, event.

You may discover that while you develop the capacity to feel good about your body image in the privacy of your own home, the minute you walk out of your door, the negative thoughts return. This occurs because of your perceived judgments from others, whom you decide must be thinking something negative about you. You may be placing your own negative thoughts onto them, and then assuming that they are thinking these things about you. However, it is also important for you to remember that to the extent that other people do have negative judgments about your body size, they too have internalized the messages from the culture and are likely to have their own negative thoughts about themselves. As you feel stronger about your own body image, keep in mind that you do not have to take in or internalize the negative messages of others.

Activity: Mirror, mirror on the wall

When you feel ready to work on this aspect of self-acceptance, take the following steps:

  1. Purchase a full-length mirror if you do not already own one.

  2. Find a time and place of privacy.

  3. Begin to look at yourself, starting with the top of your head.

  4. Slowly work your way down, using descriptive words to tell yourself what you see.

  5. The second you catch yourself using negative judgments, gently tell yourself to stop.

  6. Repeat daily.

  7. Stay mindful of any changes that occur over time.

People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.
– St. Augustine