What do you see when you look in the mirror? Exactly what you expect to see? What you want to see? Something completely different? Or perhaps like me, you see all of the above depending on the day, time and lighting? Over a 24 hour period I can probably spot about five different versions of myself every time I pass a mirror, which correlates directly with the kind of day I’m having, how good I feel about life that day, and whether I’ve had a good breakfast. Most of the time though, these versions of myself are not exactly positive, and it has little to do with the lighting.
Did you know that between the ages of 11 and 14 a girl’s self-esteem drops dramatically, just as a standard thing? If you didn’t know that, you should check out the new Always adverts about empowering young girls with their #LikeaGirl campaign. I’m digressing a bit but I promise this time it is related. I’ve written before in a number of previous blogs about my low confidence levels as a tween and then a teen, and even as an adult. That stuff never really goes away. And although I’ve just highlighted that little factoid about girls, I know that boys struggle with low self-esteem as well, just in different ways that it could be argued, are less impacted by the strict boxes females are put in that are still intrinsic to our society. But this isn’t necessarily about society or the external, it’s about the internal.
I’m no longer a geeky, spotty faced teenager, or a curious and eager twenty year old, who accepts the love she thinks she deserves, which is little if any. I am an adult; in my late twenties with a “career” and a few (more than a few) ex’s under my belt. My self-esteem takes constant hits, and they usually come from me. About 18 months ago, I felt certain about what I wanted to do with my life. I felt certain that sometime soon, I would be with the man that I loved, who also loved me. I felt certain that I had finally gotten to the point where I not only liked myself, but loved myself too. I was proud of everything I had achieved in my life thus far, and although externally everything wasn’t always hunky dory, internally I was pretty much solid. I should have known what was to come really.
It’s funny how a small sequence of events can lead to such a big change in perspective. That career I was so certain about, began to change, and that guy I was in love with, he disappeared. And then that self that I had worked so hard to love, started to turn on me. I got depressed, put on weight and tried to convince myself that I still loved me no matter what. Yet, I would look in the mirror and not recognise myself. So I changed my hair, changed my make-up and the way I wanted to appear to others; but the more I tried to change to be something “better”, the less I recognised who I was.
Then I took a break from everything and went away, to get some perspective. And when I did, I came back to more change and more uncertainty, until I was looking in the mirror and only seeing a stranger. Nothing too dramatic has actually changed about my appearance, but I know the difference, and that’s scary. The thing about all this internal anguish is at some point, you start looking for external validation; which unsurprisingly is not sustainable in the long term. A date here and there, doesn’t necessarily change those negative thoughts you have about yourself in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.
Perhaps for those of you who have ever suffered with depression, this might sound familiar. However, I think this goes beyond those struggles with mental health, into something else much deeper. For me personally, something external is unlikely to change the way I feel about myself in the long term. Yes, I could have good news (self-publishing poetry) and have a great creative day, but if the underlying feeling is always “but there’s this other side of myself I really don’t like” then I can never just bask in the happiness of a good thing, no matter how good.
I know that many say that mirrors lie but I’ve found that sometimes they can be a lot more honest than I feel comfortable with. It is a bit of a head trip though when you look at yourself in one mirror and your skin is flawless, and then you turn to a second one and you’re the witch from Disney’s Snow White (when she gives her the apple and pretends to be an old lady, obviously).
*I want to point out that my walls are not lined with mirrors, I have like two. Just saying.*
It sounds cheesy but those negative feelings about yourself really only change from the inside out. A thousand people can tell me I’m beautiful just the way I am, but if I look in the mirror and I can’t tell myself that and believe it, all those compliments are a bit of a waste. That’s not to say that compliments aren’t wonderful things (they can brighten up anyone’s day as long as they’re not aggressively sexual and weird), but they tend to give me a boost without having a long lasting effect.
To be honest, I’m not sure how you tackle those inner demons telling you you’re a bit rubbish; but I’m sure it doesn’t involve standing in front of a mirror and assessing every curve and fold that you have (tried and tested and trust me, it doesn’t help). Instead it’s about figuring out what’s making you unhappy in yourself and then working from there. I obviously do not have it all figured out yet, and sometimes mirrors really are the enemies of my world. So I tend to avoid them unless absolutely necessary (like making sure my hair doesn’t look like I’ve been electrocuted), and even then I sometimes don’t look myself in the eye. Still, it’s not as if I look in the mirror and say horrible things to myself. Rather it’s that I look in the mirror, see that stranger I mentioned earlier, and then make the following comments:
- Is this the look you were going for?
- What did you want to look like?
- You look not right, like you’re someone else.
- You should be thinner.
- You should look happier, more approachable.
- Not sure the short hair is working, you kind of look like a boy.
- How do you look the way you want to?
- I don’t think you’re going to achieve that look, because you’re not the same person you were.
The human mind is a fragile and convoluted thing, and mirrors don’t help those negative thoughts. So I say we take a leaf out of an episode of My Big Fat Mad Diary and try to say at least one good thing about ourselves in the mirror every day. It’s a start I think.
My initial aim for this blog post was for it to be about body positivity and feeling good about yourself, but I am not exactly the number one pick for motivational speeches, so instead I got real confessional and dark and stuff. So that happened; do with it what you will and I’ll remain unapologetic for my honesty. Win, win.
Image credit: mirror by Ms. Chaidez from the Noun Project