TW: body image & body dysmorphia
‘I hate the way I look’, ‘I look fat‘, ‘Why do I have to look like this?‘ are all comments I’ve said to myself when I’ve caught an unfortunate glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. In fact, I’ve often drawn many more criticisms about my appearance than just those three comments, and I think it’s fair to say a lot of people do the same. Sadly, it’s a growing trend, as the world worships idolised images of men and women that conform to a strict sense of “beauty”. Men with abs, girls with an hourglass figure, large lips, chiselled jaw; the list of attributes that now constitute “beauty” are endless.
As an effect of this, in my head, I could never be happy with my appearance until I reached a similar level of “perfection”, or at least that’s what I thought. On coming to University for my second year and moving into a house where half my wardrobe is a massive mirror, I’ve learnt to normalise my reflection and begin to appreciate the parts of my appearance that I often used to overlook.
Growing up in a house with very few mirrors meant I was never accustomed to seeing my reflection all that much. As a child, I didn’t particularly care about my appearance until I hit puberty when I became obsessed with the way I looked in an unhealthy way. Although I never considered myself “attractive”, I always wanted to look more like those in my year that were deemed “attractive”, in the process quashing my own identity.
For a short while, I checked myself in the mirror constantly, did my hair in certain ways, even shaved part of my eyebrow in one instance; all of which wasn’t reflective of who I was, but left me with a semblance of confidence and even happiness. Although this stage was something I grew out of when I deemed that “genetic beauty” wasn’t on my side, it led me to adopt a much more unhealthy trait – I refused to look at myself in mirrors.
In my house, that wasn’t particularly hard. My mum did her beauty routine in a small mirror that she kept in her bedroom, the same as my younger sister, and as for the other mirror that hung above the sink in the bathroom, I would just sit on a stool below the mirror so I didn’t see myself. Of course, I couldn’t avoid reflective surfaces altogether, but whenever I did catch a glimpse of myself, a criticism or deep-seated disgust at my reflection was never far behind. Because I had conditioned myself to never look into the mirror willingly, the only feelings I could attach to my reflection were the negative ones that enforced my strange phobia in the first place. It had been this way for 6 years.
That changed quite recently at University when my new bedroom made my reflection an inescapable fact. Every morning I would wake up to see my reflection at some point. I can see it while I study, if I do some gaming or if I’m just moving about the room – it is always there.
Of course, at first, the old negative thoughts about myself haunted every moment I spent in my bedroom, and I quickly favoured doing stuff in the kitchen so as to not have to face them. Yet, over time, I began to confront my reflection. As I started seeing myself more often, my internalised criticisms lessened in frequency and I began to peer past what I deemed “ugly” about myself. I still had the same wonky eyes, the yellow teeth, the inability to grow a beard and the thick jet black hair that I can never style, but I began to notice what I liked about the way I look as well. I was noticing how my smile lit up my face in an instant, the pleasing dark brown of my eyes, and even relishing in my accomplishment of how much weight I had lost but seemed to have failed to notice.
The idea of complimenting your own appearance may sound a bit vain, but it was cathartic for me, as the “bad” and the “good” battled it out in my mirror. I wasn’t overwriting my insecurities, but I was normalising them and giving myself the chance to see something good about myself. In a short space of time, I’ve learnt to no longer instantly shy away from my reflection, but to embrace those moments with myself for the good and the bad I can see.
Do I consider myself attractive now? No, not at all, but I’m okay with that because I’m happy with the way I look. I’ve learnt I don’t need to be attractive to be happy, and this is a conclusion I learnt by confronting the reflection I had taught myself to fear. That’s not to say all my insecurities are gone, nor do I think they will ever go completely, but in the process of normalising my reflection, I’ve learnt there’s more to my appearance than the things I used to consider “bad”.