I am a visual learner. Often this serves me well. There is an amazing thrill that I get out of arranging flowers in a vase, viewing art in a museum, or taking a walk in the woods.
However being a visual learner has its downsides. Scary movies or images on the news leave me traumatized for years. Without a map, I quickly loss my way. And if I listen to a person talk without watching their mouth, I have great difficulty remembering anything that was said.
But one of the most difficult problems with taking in so much information visually is the focus on my outward image. There are countless mornings that I stand in front of the mirror and stare at myself. Whether because of a red bump on my face or fat on my legs, I end up feeling utterly disgusting in my own skin. How can I go through the day when I look and feel like such a worthless brat?
That is when I need to stop myself and challenge those thoughts. Worthless brat? Since when did being ugly make you worthless or a brat? Why is that when I dislike something about my body, I jump to self-hatred? I am not alone in these vicious thoughts; women often degrade themselves because of their “ugly” bodies. This longing for a perfect body does not make much sense logically. After all, if I forget one answer on a test or accidentally step on the tail of my cat, am I worthless? Do I need to be perfect at everything?
Well, in my mind, yes but the healthy answer would be no. No one is perfect! So why do we expect our bodies to have no flaws? Is it the culture that teaches us this dangerous lie? Friends and family who unknowingly encourage negative body image? Doctors pushing everyone to become more fit? Perfectionism sinking its nasty teeth into our minds to warp our thoughts?
All of these play a role in women’s (and men’s) hatred of their bodies. However there is another reason that people struggle with accepting their looks. That is this scary but very prevalent fact: We look to the mirror for our identity.
As a visual learner, I realize this especially in myself. Growing up, I longed to be a Disney Princes with long glossy hair, huge bright eyes, a gentle but dazzling smile, and (of course) a slender fragile body. Looking in the mirror, I saw an awkward girl with boring straight hair and an obnoxiously loud laugh. I took this to mean that I was an unlovable annoying child who always got in the way.
Later on in my teens, I turned to food for comfort. Looking back now, I realize that I struggled with compulsive over-eating. However at the time, I just hated myself every time I looked in the mirror because I felt so fat and ugly. All I was good for was helping others and being sweet. I dreamed of the day when I would lose weight and be able to be loved for who I was instead of simply taking care of others.
Yet, when I turned anorexic my first year at college, I still hated my body. Although I lost a lot of weight, it was never enough. I needed to be smaller, to disappear from sight because I was unworthy to be alive. The social life and love I thought would come with my weight change never happened. Instead, I isolated even more as I continued to starve myself. Just a few pounds more, I kept thinking.
But the truth of it is this: the mirror lies to you! No matter how much weight you lose, how white your teeth are, the shade of your hair, or the freckles on your face, you will never be satisfied with yourself if you let the mirror dictate your identity!
So this is my challenge to every woman, man, boy, and girl: please stop asking the mirror who you are. It only shows a shadow of who you truly are deep down. Finding your identity is a difficult process but turning to your mirror for the answers only prolongs the painful process. Instead, let your identity define what you see in the mirror – the sparkle in your eyes shows your humor, your half-smile shows your tender heart, your calloused fingers show your love of rock climbing, etc. Try with me, even if only for one day, to tell the mirror who you are instead of it ordering you around.