“Girl, you look like a man. No wait, a donkey. And those premature wrinkles make you look like a blob of overcooked tempeh.”
I would never say such words to another soul, but I mentally projected them at myself when I looked in the mirror. It got so bad, I decided not to look at my reflection for weeks at a time.
These mirror breaks were refreshing, but when I returned, my self-abusive thoughts came back. Psychologist Vivian Diller in 2012 made an analogy between dissatisfaction with our looks, and addictions people have to food or to sex. While a break or “fast” can be helpful, the ultimate triumph is to learn to engage with these things in a healthy way.
I knew that I, Phoenix Huber, was the person I would grow old with. I wanted to form a better relationship with my appearance while I was still in my late 20s, so I could age happily. I figured that if I simply put on my friendliest body language and vocal tone whenever I looked in the mirror, surely I’d start to see myself in a different light?
This hypothesis seemed to have scientific support. A 2011 study found that even people without body dysmorphia got distressed and self-conscious after 10 minutes of mirror gazing. Yet according to research by Tara Well, looking “with the intention to be kind to yourself” is the key. When people do this, it actually reduces self-criticism and makes them calm.
I committed to a self-love talk in the mirror each day, for around 5 minutes. I usually do it at night, but I miss some days and that’s okay. To start, I went off these simple phrases I learned from Lisa Nichols:
- Phoenix, I forgive you for…
- Phoenix, I’m proud that you…
- Phoenix, what I love about you is…
- Phoenix, I commit to you that…
Apart from that, there is no script. I say whatever I want or whatever I think will uplift my spirits. Every mirror session is unique.
It’s been over 3 months. Let me share with you some of the magical moments that have happened along the way. I absolutely love talking kindly to myself in the mirror!
I stopped obsessing so badly over my hair
At first it was hard not to be distracted by my hair, which is my main beauty obsession. My inner critic demanded I take a closer look at my locks so I could critique them and feel miserable. Returning my focus to the self-love conversation was truly a meditation.
Once when I was having a rough day and feeling tempted to stare at my hair, I decided to give in, but have an open dialogue. While inspecting my hair in the mirror, I acted as as empathetic friend who reflected back the complaints she was hearing me think. (“I understand you feel upset about the color, sweetie, and you wish it was less streaky.”) In addition, I acted as an encouraging friend who pointed out the beauty in my hair and helped me see the positive. (“I, for one, think these streaks in the back look pretty, and look how long your hair has grown!”)
I still think about my hair constantly, but after 3 months, the obsession no longer gets as negative, thanks to the frequent flow of mindfulness and kindness.
I loved myself as a sentient being, rather than a package of looks
One morning early in the experiment, I tried to compliment my beauty in the mirror. It wasn’t working as well as I’d hoped. Even though I was praising my appearance, it still made me worry about how I compared to others, and I couldn’t help but also notice the things I didn’t like.
So I decided to take a more body-neutral approach. I thought about how I act when I see a friend. Do I pepper the friend with sugar-talk about their bone structure? Hardly. Instead, I ask the friend about their day. I take an interest in their inner world.
During one conversation, I told myself I was sorry for all the times I had objectified myself. I apologized on behalf of all the times I had been objectified by others as well.
“All this time, you’ve longed for perfect looks,” I said to Phoenix. “But it was only so you could be celebrated for who you are inside, a sentient being. That’s the recognition you’ve really wanted.”
“Your looks are like a row of flowers planted outside your doorstep. They have no effect on the value of the home within. Your looks are like clouds, that pass over the sun of your consciousness—your true radiance. I will stand in front of this mirror, Phoenix, and I will love you 1,000 times for who you are inside, until eventually it sinks in.”
“You will go out in the world today, and you will love others for who they are inside, too.”
I gave myself the support I wished I could get from others
How exactly did I “love myself as a sentient being?” Basically, I focused on my inner experience of life, rather than anything having to do with how I looked—even as I looked into my eyes.
I checked in with how I was feeling, in the moment. I checked in with how I had felt throughout the day. I acknowledged my rainbow of emotional weather. If something was wrong, I asked myself what I could do for myself to make it better. I reassured myself that my mistakes were okay, that I was still a perfectly good person. I congratulated myself for how hard I had tried, and for all the little, overlooked things I had managed to accomplish. Me, myself, and I counted our blessings together. We stayed reminded of all the potential beauty that lied ahead.
Now that self-love in the mirror is a daily reality for me, I’m a little less dependent on validation from others. I know my next self-validation is less than 24 hours away! This helps me be present with people.
I started to really like the affectionate soul who I saw in the mirror
Last year I got infatuated with an ASMR boyfriend on YouTube. His role play video inspired me, because it helped me imagine what having a loving, attentive partner could feel like. I had to stop watching after a while though. It just made me sad I had no way of sharing such deep affection in real life!
At some point in the self-love journey, I realized my mirror sessions were starting to feel like ASMR videos. I spoke softly and gently, relaxing myself before bed. I saw the caring in my own eyes. I even had formed the habit of reaching out and stroking the sides of the mirror, or giving myself the gift of a scalp massage while I talked to myself. It was almost like being my own parent, while simultaneously allowing myself the space to be a vulnerable child.
I might not know romantic love, but mirror work lets me embody the very affection that I so long for. Sometimes, I list out the names of people/animals I’m grateful for, or whom I am excited to see again soon. This helps me feel even more connected, making the mirror exercise about more than just me.
For those who enjoy loving-kindness meditation, you can even try saying the phrases out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror. “May all beings be happy, healthy, and live with ease.”
My self-love in the mirror has only just begun
There are so many different ways to engage in the mirror. The fun options never end.
One time I said hello to each of my body parts, as if waving to the neighbors. I’ve cheerled myself in English, I’ve whispered words of reassurance in Spanish. I’ve smiled at myself in silence. (Maybe next I’ll repeat affirmations in Pig Latin.)
On another occasion, I imagined I was my 10-years-older self, offering wisdom to the current me. This helped with my insecurity around aging, since I am always super young-looking in the eyes of my 10-years-older self!
My anecdotal results from these past 3 months have been modest, but promising. Spending a few minutes a day talking kindly to myself is not an overnight miracle. It does not guarantee I am kind to myself for the other 23 hours, 55 minutes, but it increases the odds! I think it’s fair to say I feel more comfortable being seen by others, than I would feel if I hadn’t been doing this. My overall self-talk, charisma, and inner peace are slightly beyond what they were before.
Here’s to 3 more months of being my own best friend, while continuing to try to be a friend to all creatures.
Also by Phoenix: Unsure About My Life Path, I Hired A Vegan Life Coach
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Photo: Harry Cunningham via Unsplash