When you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, it can take a huge toll on your health and happiness. Here, experts reveal how to combat self-criticism with self-compassion to feel good in your own body.
Sink shame and befriend your reflection.
The mirror magnifies our internal dialogue, says expert Tara Well, Ph.D., identifying what she calls the “trifecta of self-cruelty: I’m old, fat, ugly.” While you may think the best way to quiet your inner critic is with self-affirmations, she cautions against them. “If we try to be too positive too quickly, negative thoughts come back with a vengeance — it’s like trying to cork a bottle under water.”
Instead, she advises gazing in the mirror with no goal other than to check in with yourself. Practicing this mirror meditation 5 minutes a day for two weeks dramatically decreases stress. “Women can see how cruel they’re being, helping them shift toward self-compassion.”
Make a ‘map.’
Take 10 minutes to imagine a “body heat map,” with situations that make you feel shame in red, and those that boost your confidence in green, advises body-image expert Virgie Tovar. Address urgent red zones first by, say, distancing yourself from someone who constantly talks about weight or cutting back on social media sites that drive you to compare yourself.
As for green areas, ask yourself what makes you feel good in your body, like taking walks. “Visualizing how we feel about our body as a colorful map heightens awareness, helping us pinpoint ways to cool the red and pump up the green.”
Picture feeling good.
Insecure about swimsuit season? Think back to when you were a kid, when the pool was a carefree experience, says Tovar. “You can always access that part of yourself.”
And instead of focusing on how you’ll look, picture how you’ll feel at the pool: “I’ll never forget how the sun felt on my stomach the first time I wore a two-piece.” Let yourself ‘embody’ this experience by reminding yourself that everyone deserves that feeling.”
Our relationship to our body is intimate by nature and requires vulnerability, shares Tovar, who hosts “vulnerability fashion shows”, in which women wear outfits that make them feel self-conscious. “Some of them simply tuck in their shirt — so many women have never done this because they’re so self-conscious about their stomach.”
At these workshops, everyone claps and cheers each other on, creating an infectious confidence- boosting atmosphere. “You can create that energy for yourself,” promises Tovar. “Put some music on and have a show just for you.” Having fun with fashion and wearing clothes that were once scary takes away their power and empowers you.
Your body is a miracle.
It’s a cliché because it’s true: Your body is extraordinary. “Instead of saying, I hate my legs, identify what they do for you: I can bend down and lift my grandchild,” says psychologist Mary E. Pritchard, Ph.D. “Taking time to appreciate your strengths lifts your confidence.”
Let yourself be seen.
Do one thing that scares you, urges Tovar. “If you’ve always said, One day, I’ ll wear that bright pink lipstick — wear it today!” We often catastrophize: If I take that risk, the world will end. But what really happens is, suddenly, you’re visible to new people. “The return on investment of allowing yourself to be seen is immeasurable — saying, This is who I am, without fear, opens a world of possibilities.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.