What do you see reflected in your mirror? Do you see a good enough, beautiful self? Or, do you see a distorted body image that causes you to be critical? Do you hear negative voices tearing you down? Do you hate what you see in that mirror? If so, your poor body image is causing you to be hard on yourself, even hateful and it needs to stop ASAP!

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” This is the infamous question the evil Queen asks her magic mirror in the classic story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She asked because she did not believe she was good enough and needed to be the most beautiful in all the land.  Her self-image was not confident or positive and her self-perception depended on that mirror.

What is body image?

Body image or self-image is the way you see and perceive the reflection in your mirror.  If you have a poor or distorted body image, it can be difficult to love yourself. Being around other people who are positive about their bodies is often enough to make you feel even more negative about your appearance. You might also compare yourself with others and come up short every time.

When poor body image distorts.

Self-image, the way you perceive yourself, is not just related to your appearance but also your intellect, your value, your talents, and your lovability. The way you “see” yourself is dependent on your ability to love yourself and accept yourself for who you are, warts and all.

A negative body image is when you struggle with seeing your true self in a positive light. The mind transforms what you see reflected in that mirror. It’s not something you can control; it just happens and seems so real.

You know you have body image distortions when you turn anything positive about your body into a negative. You always find a way to turn that accomplishment or positive trait about yourself into something not good enough compared to others.

Is your distorted self-perception the same as body dysmorphic disorder?

When it comes to your own body, a distorted self-perception can also be known as body dysmorphia. This is best illustrated when you look in the mirror and see “fat”, or someone much larger than you are. Body dysmorphic disorder doesn’t have to be that severe because it exists in a range of harshness. Regardless, it causes you to be very harsh and critical toward yourself and see things that are simply not there.

Where does poor body image come from and why are you so hard on yourself?

  1. Messages about your physical appearance usually begin in childhood.

It’s quite typical for children to have encounters that communicate messages about their value, attractiveness, or intellect. I was modeling a little while as a Freshman in high school and going on auditions. My manager advised my mother that I needed to lose weight. That statement crushed me. What I heard in that remark was not only did my body not measure up but that my sense as a person was not good enough either. Any positive self-image that had been there before now vanished with one comment.

Parents may also convey similar sentiments. Parents can frequently shame their children for eating too much food. Or coaches who want to see if you have the ability or physique to perform well. I constantly saw this with my daughter when she was in cheerleading and with clients who are athletes. Outside influence has a huge impact on your poor body image.

2. The impact of social media and the instinct to compare is killing your self-esteem.

From a young age, messages regarding your value, ability, and beauty are conveyed and internalized. Then, throughout life, social media, television, films, and overall comparisons with others reaffirm your attractiveness, acceptability, and loveability. Unless you received a truly well-balanced and educated technique of managing appropriate expectations of yourself, these comparisons will be cancer to your self-confidence and self-concept.

The message is reinforced through social media, implying that you must be perfect. It’s a trap that keeps you feeling less than others. Instead of accepting and loving yourself for who you are, there is guilt because you compare and feel that you don’t measure up. Shame will always keep the monster of low self-esteem alive.

Comparing on social media may result in full-blown eating disorders. The greatest thing for your mental health is to limit your exposure to social media and be selective about who you follow.

3. Your brain has a powerful influence on what you see in the mirror.

Interestingly, a study back in 2007 by Dr. Jamie D. Feunsner, found that your brain distorts what it sees when it looks in the mirror. Not everyone’s brains do this, but many do. Dr. Feunsner found that the brains of people who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder don’t process the holistic picture well.

The study goes on to say that the brain fails to provide context for the visual details a person is focusing on therefore, “body dysmorphic disorder may result from a general perceptual deficit.”  It will therefore be important to challenge the mental image you see reflected at you. As yourself, “what if the self-image I’m seeing is not that bad”?

4. Do you need to be perfect to battle your negative self-images?

Self-criticism leads you to feel shame. The voice, the inner critic, or who I like to call, the mean girl arrives and picks apart your body parts. The goal, perfection. If you’re perfect, you can control how people perceive you. Your happiness is now based on being perfect to avoid shame and receive love and acceptance.

Along the same lines, is the creation of the people pleaser. The people pleasers’ main motivation is to avoid shame, rejection, and abandonment. Your identity and worth are now dependent on pleasing others. But you also know how exhausting and anxiety-producing people-pleasing is, don’t you?

Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which addresses your physical survival needs, your primary emotional need is to be loved and accepted. Your negative self-image is you not accepting YOU.

To provide for your own emotional needs, you must stop being so hard on yourself.

Here are four things you can start NOW to shift the poor body image to one of acceptance and love.

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps catch the negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations. In addition to negative thoughts that plague you, there are also irrational thoughts that need to be replaced with rational ones. Rational thoughts are about self-compassion and letting go of perfection so that you can permit yourself to be human.
  2. Movement therapy. As you move and get in tune with your body, you can develop an appreciation for what your body is capable of and how it makes you feel. Your body is an amazing gift of wonderful talents and abilities. by opening up your mind in this way, your self-image can improve. It’s so freeing to see what your body can do for you instead of hating it or being mad at it for not being perfect. Your self-worth will thank you!
  3. Stop comparing. Please, I beg of you to stop comparing. If needed, shut down social media for a time being. Anything that triggers negative feedback needs to be removed until you can see those images or stories and stay confident in who you are.
  4. Self-love. I saved the best for last. The ability to appreciate and love yourself for who you are is the quickest method to develop a favorable self-image. As you become nicer and more gentle, any preconceptions your brain may be seeing will fade away. Self-love allows you to recognize that you’re human and don’t have to be perfect to have a positive self-image. Self-love also crushes that critical voice. The mean girl gets to shut up!

If you’re reading this, it’s time to stop being so hard on yourself. Your poor body image can shift and be more realistic, compassionate, and positive. The process will lead you to your mirror where you can say, “mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am good enough. I am loveable.”

Lesley Goth, PsyD can help if you struggle with your self-image. Lesley has specialized in eating disorders for over 22 years. She has created an online program for women who struggle with their self-image as well. These women learn all about how to have sustainable weight loss, do away with the distorted self, and finally love themselves. For more information, you can contact Lesley here.