“I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself…”
This is what I found myself unconsciously repeating last week as I stood in front of the mirror trying to brush knots out of my wind-wrecked hair. I was saying it out loud, while looking at myself, and I didn’t even realise I was doing it until about the fourth repeat. ‘What the hell is that about?’, I thought to myself. I don’t hate myself? I don’t particularly love the woohoo thing my hair is doing today, but I don’t hate myself. Or do I?
I am happy to say that I’m comfortable with most aspects of myself as a person. I know I am a confident woman. But when it comes to what I see in the mirror I really struggle. I berate myself for not being thinner, not having smaller pores, for having cellulite, for having fine hair. And pretty much anything else you can think of.
Related: How posing in my underwear cured my body confidence crisis
So, catching myself repeating that to myself was almost like an audible representation of what goes on in my brain, one that I accidentally let it slip out. I logically and reasonably know it is extremely negative and damaging to talk to yourself like that. So it made me think about, firstly, why my unconscious mind let those feelings be verbalised and secondly, what I could do to stop them.
Women’s relationships with their bodies and how they look in general is complicated. The idea of the unachievable body image persists, and the lack of diversity in body image role models makes it difficult for everyone to feel included. Personally, I like my feet, and I think I have good skin. That’s where my love of my body and physical self ends, pretty much. And I know I’m not the only one.
Now, you might think that being focussed on the physical is shallow or vain or immature. I fully realise that I’m lucky to have agency over my body, that it’s healthy and that I can rely on it for so much. But I don’t think I’m the only person who struggles daily with their reflection in the mirror. Instagram life/body/hair/nails/tan comparison, anyone?
REFRAMING THE INTERNAL CHAT
I heard someone say the other day that the person we talk to the most is ourselves. If you really think about it, we are constantly having the internal (and sometimes external) chats with ourselves during all of our waking hours. Every thought we have is a sentence we say to ourselves about something. If positive affirmations have an effect on our self-esteem and self-worth that lovers of them say they do, think of the damage that a negative internal dialogue must be having.
Related: After two cancer diagnoses, I’ve finally regained my body confidence
Some of us pay close attention to it, some of us can even manipulate it (you know when you internally convince yourself you NEED the Zara dress even though you’re utterly broke? Yes, that’s self-manipulation), but some of us let it run away with itself from time to time – as I did in the mirror that day.
I did some research and decided that the best way to keep my thoughts about how I look from running in such a disastrous direction from now on was to become more aware of them and what they’re at. I’ve never been one for mindfulness (adult colouring books appeal to me because I like colouring, not because I reach a higher spiritual plane) or meditation, so instead what I’m trying to do is:
When I feel a negative thought about how I look coming along:
1. Acknowledge that it’s negative
2. Find the logic in it (there usually isn’t any) or find why I’m thinking it and what caused the thought
3. Reframe it as (a) something I can work on, (b) something positive, or (c) just resign myself to the fact that it can’t be helped so why worry?
It’s a constant challenge. When you’re used to looking at yourself and thinking all bad things, it’s not easy to say to yourself, “no, your ankles don’t look chunky in those shoes” and replace it with “those shoes are fun and who cares about your ankles!” But I’m trying it, and sometimes it works. And sometimes is better than not at all.