What is a mirror?
A mirror is a simple household item.
We all know it.
We all look into it every day of our lives.
Mirrors have been part of our lives since the day we were born.
We know that the mirror reflects whatever is in front of it.
A chair, a bathroom, a body. Our bodies.
What do we see in the mirror?
But, actually, it’s not quite that simple.
Small children and many animals have no idea that the image in the mirror is a reflection of their own bodies.
What they see is the body of another child, of another cat.
Over time, we learn to understand the image in the mirror.
Technically, we know that what we see is real. Apart from the fact, of course, that everything is ‘the wrong way around,’ since the mirror image shows the left side of our face as if it was the right side and so on.
We can see that the objects in the mirror are accurately reflected.
And so is our cat, even if she will never understand that.
But when it comes to looking at our bodies in the mirror, we often can’t see what is really there.
The reason for this distorted body image is not a faulty mirror. It is a distorted mindset.
And if you are suffering from an eating disorder or any other body image disorder, you may well see a body in the mirror that no one else would recognize.
Most commonly, distorted body images tend to be negative.
People see themselves as unattractive.
And what is unattractive is mostly determined by the culture and society we live in.
This means that what we see in the mirror is not the accurate reflection of our actual body.
What we see is another shape superimposed on our own.
And what draws our attention the most is how we differ from that shape.
What we see when we don’t really see ourselves in the mirror, is how much our own bodies are different from the image of a perfect fashion model. An image that has probably been retouched to come even closer to the idealized version of the body celebrated by our society.
And then, our brain exaggerates those differences.
Does this mirror make my bottom look too big?
A lot of the time, a distorted self-image will focus on a particular part of the body or face.
Some people feel that their breasts are too small or that their thighs are too big.
One of the most common misperceptions is that our bodies are too fat.
For people suffering from anorexia or bulimia, this can lead to a permanent distortion.
Even a very thin body can still be perceived as overweight, and no amount of reasoning will correct the false image in the mirror.
A society obsessed with being as thin as possible almost inevitably creates this distortion of body image.
Obsessed with a nose that is not really there?
Others can get obsessed with the shape of their nose (one of the most popular modifications in plastic surgery).
And the more we focus on that nose, the more misshaped it will seem to us.
Our brains will show us something that nobody else can see.
The image of the nose is distorted by our perception that there is something wrong with it.
After all, our eyes don’t feed their information directly into our perception system.
What we see is always interpreted by our brain.
And in this case, the interpretation can be very far from reality.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
In more severe cases, this misperception, caused by our body image, can lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a serious mental health issue that often accompanies an eating disorder.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder means that thoughts about a perceived body imperfection become intrusive and obsessive to the point where they impact your ability to function in daily life.
It can take some time to treat BDD and to get back to a more realistic view of your own body.
With the help of an experienced therapist, our brains can be re-trained so that they will stop distorting what our eyes show them.
Take the first step…
If you are ready to address your own issues with what you see or do not see in the mirror and how they are affecting your life, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT