The mirror, the most personal of all objects, can elicit strong feelings. Most of us look in the mirror and find something to criticize ourselves on.
Some people seem to love looking at themselves, who decided it was a good idea to gaze at ourselves?
The Greek myth of Narcissus warns against falling in love with oneself too closely, and the French rhyming dictionary tells us that “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
It takes time to figure out what you look like, and even longer to develop a liking or dislike for your appearance. Whether we think we are ugly or beautiful, the self-image is deeply rooted and can be difficult to change. While some people can look at their reflection with pleasure, others experience distress when doing so. Despite the popularity of the topic, systematic investigations on how mirror gazing affects our attitudes and emotions are rare. In eye-tracking studies, it’s discussed whether personality traits such as narcissism propensity or self-disgust might influence mirror behavior (gaze duration and fixation count) when viewing the self-face compared with the faces of other persons.
Mirrors were not always so snazzy. The first known mirrors, crafted from obsidian, date back to 8,000 years and were probably used as religious items to see into the spirit world or understand the natural world. During the Copper Age, craftspeople figured out how to forge selenite, a whitish crystal, into metal mirrors starting around 4000 BCE in Mesopotamia. These metal mirrors were less clear than their stone counterparts, but they could render colors slightly more accurately.
But it took more than a thousand years before the craft of mirror-making reached new levels, when silvery mercury amalgams made them much clearer. These were still dangerous to use, but the resulting mirrors were far more useful. They were affixed to furniture and wall hangings, where they helped create image hierarchies for upper classes as they replaced the fine jewelry and other interior decorations that had previously been so prized.
The popularity of mirrors increased throughout the European Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance, when the idea of humanism arose. This coincided with the rise of class consciousness, and the desire to better know oneself became a key theme.
However, the Renaissance also coincided with a period of economic crisis and political upheavals, as countries struggled to maintain their power. The economic collapse led to a shift in social attitudes, with the lower classes adopting more negative self-images.
As these trends continued, the image of the self began to decline and mirrors became viewed as more of a curse than a blessing. And the more people were dissatisfied with their appearance, the more likely they were to find looking at themselves in a mirror stressful and unpleasant. This is a vicious cycle that can have lasting effects on self-esteem and body image, making it more and more difficult to view the reflection in the mirror without feeling distress. Luckily, there are some tricks to reduce these negative reactions and make mirror-gazing more tolerable.
Try to focus on positive aspects of your appearance. If you have a particularly nice smile or eye color, for example, you can accentuate them by focusing on these aspects when you look in the mirror.
Do daily mirror work. Resist the reflex to criticize yourself. Words are powerful and how you speak to yourself matters. When you say nice things, you will feel better. If you continue to criticize yourself, that is the feeling you will have.
Part of Igniting Your Dynamic Self is finding ways to love your best life and that begins with how you speak to yourself.
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Wendy Bjork, founder of HeartsofWellness.com/you is a pioneer in advocacy and mentorship. Wendy is leading a global revolution of women walking in purpose and peace as she illumines their path ahead with the light of HOPE: Harmony, Options, Peace & Empowerment.
She empowers women to step into their boldness, stand in their resilience and own their Truth. Through Wendy’s guidance, they are finally seen, heard and understood.
Wendy has authored two books and co-authored a third, “Fired Up!,” a #1 International bestseller. She is a regular contributor on the PriceofBusiness.com digital platforms and to the National MS Society’s Momentum Magazine. She is regularly invited on discussions, podcasts, interviews as she shares her story and hope to inspire others.
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