The mirror is a double-edged sword

This isn’t the post I wanted to write this week. I have wanted to write about it for some time, but didn’t feel ready to do so. I still don’t. But unfortunately, that’s the point. Most people struggle with body image to some extent, regardless of age, gender, or even what you actually look like. It’s a common insecurity, and certainly not one I’m immune to.

Other than the occasional frizzy hair comment, I never got picked on in school for how I looked. Unfortunately, a lot of other people I know have head to deal with that. For the record, bullying for any reason is cruel and harmful and shouldn’t be tolerated — if you see it happening, please do the right thing and speak up.

That said, for most of us no one has to directly say anything for us to be self-conscious about our appearance. It’s all around us in Hollywood and advertisements and the usual culprits. But sometimes it’s even more inescapable. In college, I basically lived in a sunny little bubble where at least 3 out of every 4 people look like they could be a model (and at least 1 in 15 actually is). By my junior year, I noticed that it had started to wear on my self-image and confidence pretty significantly.

I’m the kind of person who really likes the word “moderate” when it comes to diet and exercise, so that I can enjoy myself while also taking decent care of my body. This means I don’t have dessert every day, but when I do, I have whatever I want. It means not killing myself with an exercise routine I can’t maintain, but making sure I do exercise somewhat frequently.

But at least for me, that isn’t always enough. I might feel good or at least decent about the way I live my life, but that doesn’t always correlate to being happy with my appearance. I’ve struggled with acne pretty significantly since middle school and now actually have a prescription for it (this week my skin still isn’t behaving). I have a love-hate relationship with my hair. I like certain aspects of how I look, but am annoyed or embarrassed by others.

And that sucks. I hate noticing flaws in the mirror and hate every time I wish something about me was different, like my torso being better proportioned to my legs, or not having flat feet, or my many scars and constant bruises. To some extent, that’s just how it goes. But lately it’s been easier to nitpick than I am comfortable with.

I absolutely do not say all of this for a pity party or to fish for compliments — I say it because I’ve only found two things that help and I’m hoping they can help someone else.

The first is taking care of your body. Eating well (at least most of the time), exercising semi-regularly, and doing things like conditioning your hair and washing your face really do matter.

The second takes a different approach, and actually works at breaking the build-up of negative body image. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative, follow the thought up with things you like about your appearance. Maybe it’s just one thing, or three, or five. But being nice to yourself makes a difference, and weakens the critiques. When I noticed the dip in my self-image junior year of college, I would stand in front of the mirror at least once a day and point out three different things I liked, like my eyes or my shoulders whatever. And as silly as it sometimes felt, it helped.

Ultimately, it’s your body and it’s super awesome that it, you know, keeps you alive. So find a few ways to appreciate it. What tips have you found most helpful with managing body image? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and trust me that you look stellar today.

(Photo credit goes to my best friend Megan T.)

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