“I just avoided that problem until it solved its self.” No one, Ever.
This post was originally titled “Spend less time in the mirror”. It was supposed to be a post about how spending less time fussing in the mirror can make you happier and liberate you from all of your self-imposed standards and negative self-talk. It was shaping up to be a great post full of wisdom and ideas. Then I met Jane.* Jane is a middle aged woman of average height, average build and average beauty. She has a great smile, a hearty laugh and she draws you in with her caring tone and empathic eyes. She has raised two children, loved her husband and cared for her aging parents. She has pursued dreams and known heart ache. However, all of these are not the reason that she stands out to me.
As a hairdresser I have learned to have full conversations without eye contact. I have connected with people through the 4foot by 3foot mirror on my ever cluttered station. I am used to looking at every client, every co-worker and every guest in the salon through that mirror. I have a front seat to how people interact with their reflections. I have seen it all, from duck faces to side glances, to remarks about suddenly visible chin hairs. I considered all of the above normal behaviour until Jane. Jane did something I have never seen before. Jane could not look at herself. She did not interact with her reflection at all. Every time she wanted to say something she turned her head to make eye contact with me. When I politely asked her to stay still she simply closed her eyes and continued talking.
She could not and would not look at herself. Even when I passed her a small mirror to admire her new ‘do, she couldn’t glance for more than a few seconds. This broke my heart. She wasn’t comfortable to take in how her new highlights framed her rosy cheeks or how the new length of her hair slimmed her out instead of weighing her down. She couldn’t secretly celebrate that her grey hairs were made blonde again and she couldn’t step back and take in the beauty of the possibility of her new style and new found confidence.
When I was a camp counsellor, during teen girl week every year without fail someone would think that an appropriate stand against negative self-esteem was to run around and cover all the mirrors. I believe they thought it was a lesson in beauty from the inside and I believe that they had the best intentions. However, avoiding a problem is not going to solve anything, and as I much as I believe that beauty comes from within, there is a deeply physical component to it too. Giving up your mirror and avoiding your reflection is not going to teach you to love yourself more. I think, in fact, that it may teach you to love yourself less. What will teach you to love yourself more is the quality of time that you spend interacting with your reflection.
I heard a speaker years ago talk about how many people have no idea what they look like naked. There are herds of people who are afraid to face their reflections out of fear, disgust and self-loathing. I think that Jane was one of those people. Instead of embracing her reflection, no matter how imperfect it might have been, she avoided it at all costs. Are you like Jane?
Have you forgotten what you look like, actually look like? When you see yourself do you marvel at your strength, stature, and beauty? Or do you succumb to fear and listen to the voices that tell you that you are not worthy to be gazed upon? This week spend more time in front of the mirror. Not in a way that beats you down but lifts you up. Marvel at your eye colour, the shape of your nose and the lines of your jaw. Step back and enjoy the curves of your waist and your hips, the strength in your thighs and the contours of your calves. Be thankful that your body works, often without your command. Embrace it. Think back to the first time you remember being told that your body was not good enough and obliterate that memory. Don’t let someone else’s (uninformed) opinions destroy your chance for a peaceful relationship with your body.
You were made to enjoy being in your skin. Your body is not a curse, it is a bountiful blessing.
*Jane’s name is changed to protect her identity.