Y’all, I am sooooooooo glad to leave 2016 in the dust.
As much as I want to leave 2016 behind and forget it ever happened, there are a few other things I want to leave behind as we embrace a new year, too. Chief among those? Negative self-perceptions. Using self-hatred and self-denigration as a motivator. Poor body image.
I know far too many women who believe that looking in the mirror and saying negative things to the reflection is a motivating force. They believe that self-denigration is the kind of “tough love” they need to help propel themselves forward toward actually doing the work they so desperately believe they must do. What I also see, years down the road, is that these women often become the women who leave me e-mails like this:
Anytime i look myself in d mirror, i cry.
I look in the mirror and all I see is how my upper body is huge, I have a double chin. I want to smash it every time.
I don’t want to look in the mirror anymore. I just don’t. I almost want to have them removed from my house!!!
Honestly, I searched my e-mail for the phrase “look in the mirror,” and got 396 results. Three hundred. And. Ninety-six. That’s almost an e-mail a week for the entire 8 years I’ve been blogging.
Years and years and years ago, I saw an episode of a TV show—one of those fitness-focused reality shows, I think—where the host told everyone to bring photos of themselves as young children to the meeting, and they obliged. The host then asked each person, one by one, to hold up the photo, then recite the things they say about themselves to the photo. It was extremely difficult to watch these grown adults talk about how “fat and lonely and ugly” they are to photos of themselves as kindergartners, optimistic and excited to explore the world.
At the end of my post I asked, “If you wouldn’t say it to your toddler child or your younger self, why say it to yourself as an adult?” You obviously know how hurtful these words can be, why say these things to your reflection? Why tarnish what it means to look in the mirror, and turn it into such a negative and hurtful experience?
We have to talk about something I refer to as an “internal tape.” It’s the things we repeat back to ourselves to guide us throughout our day. You can fill your internal tape with quotes from Jeezy, or Audre, or anyone in-between… or you can fill it with self-demeaning and self-devaluing language that not only implies you deserve this treatment from yourself because you’re not perfect, but that you also deserve the treatment you get from others because you’re not perfect.
Neither of those is true.
Not only do you deserve to be treated well because you’re human, but you deserve to be treated well—treated well by yourself and by others—because treating yourself well is how you get on the right path, the path that ultimately leads you where you want to go. You don’t get there—and, even if you did, you certainly couldn’t stay there—by treating yourself poorly and believing you don’t deserve proper time and attention.
Tough love doesn’t work. I’m sorry, it doesn’t. Not for the long haul. “Tough love,” to me, is the lazy man’s attempt to try to manipulate you into doing something instead of approaching you as a thinking human being worthy of care, and not caring about how it impacts you. Those of us who grew up with “tough love” used as a motivating tool often learned that this is an adequate way to get a desired result.
I get it, but guess what? Approaching yourself with empathy, respect, and a desire to grow is a far more successful path. It will win out, every time. (Do you really think people would be so prone to self-sabotage if their internal tape replayed positive feedback?)
A week or so ago, on my IG stories, I talked about the challenges some women experience with looking in the mirror. Weirdly enough, I did it while I was putting on my makeup to go to Eddy’s office holiday party. I know that the language surrounding makeup is always that of self-hatred—”You don’t need all that stuff,” “You must not like your own face if you’ve got to put all that stuff on the face you’ve got”—but I actually look at it very differently.
First of all, no matter how much makeup is on your face, it is still your face. It is still your reflection in the mirror, no matter how many colors or lines or shapes you put on it. When your move your mouth, whether it’s adorned in pink or red or blue, the reflection in the mirror moves, too. When you blink, the reflection blinks. It’s your face, colors or not.
Secondly, playing in—or seriously taking up—makeup can sometimes be just the thing to break the habit of having a negative internal tape. If all you can focus on in your mirror is arm fat or a hanging tummy, give yourself something else to look at. Look at the beautiful colors you put on your face. (Hello, color therapy!) Look at which colors make you shine—hint: all of them!—and find ways to make other colors pop. Find ways to blend what works for you with what makes you happiest, and step out the house struttin’ like a boss.
Makeup artists frequently host classes, offer private services, and are often available at individual makeup stores for assistance. With the help of a professional, you can find techniques and tricks to help you look differently at the reflection you see in the mirror—not because it’s a completely different person looking back at you, but because it breaks the habit of playing that negative internal tape you’re so used to. And, if you can’t find anything else to smile at when you look in the mirror, this will help.
I struggled with this once, myself. I didn’t have a negative internal tape, but I didn’t have a positive one, either. I hired a makeup artist to help me understand my face, and he ultimately gave my a new internal tape—I was no longer comparing myself to other people, I was looking at myself and appreciating what I saw—while also teaching me how to play up what mattered most to me while treating myself with care. Not only did I need those tips so my makeup could stop looking so dry and oily, but I needed to hear about my face from someone who knows faces.
I hear you talking, though—shouldn’t I be able to appreciate my bare face, though? And yes, you should. But you might not be there, yet, especially if the aforementioned quotes are the things you say or think about looking in the mirror.
Learning how to appreciate your face when you look in the mirror changes the way you talk to yourself, and the way you think of yourself. Because, even when you set down to start your makeup, you have to look at yourself and play up your favorite features—you have to have a favorite feature! Your bright, beautiful brown eyes? Your gorgeous lips? Your stunning nose? Your heart-shaped face, complete with your sharp widow’s peak? Do you have all the cheekbones? What are you going to highlight? Will you smile at yourself—something you might not otherwise do—when you nail it?
A pro can help you—and is what I generally recommend, despite believing YouTubers can be a great help—because sometimes, that negative internal tape can come back. If a product doesn’t work for your skin type, doesn’t give you the look you’re after, or if it’s just a crappy product and behaves like it, you might find yourself blaming yourself. And you don’t deserve that.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you’d be surprised. Approaching yourself less from a position of animosity and more from a position of possibilities opens you up to an entirely new world. I’m generally not a person who recites mantras to myself, but I believe in setting intentions and then honoring those intentions through my actions. Like, showing myself that I’m worth the time and attention it takes to pamper myself and relieve stress through something as fun (or serious) and personal as makeup, makes it easier for me to justify breaking away from something more important in order to do something essential like, say, working out.
Starting with giving yourself a reason to look in the mirror like spending a little time in your makeup kit, it warms you up to mirrors in a way you might not’ve been before. Soon, you realize you don’t need a full stage face to be satisfied. Before too long, you look in the mirror at your bare face and smile, too. That is, after you put on a bit of moisturizer and lip balm. #NoAshy2017