Mirrors are supposed to show us a reflection of what IS. No judgment, just reality. I'm not sure they actually work that way, though. Do we really see ourselves as we are, or can mirrors play mind games too? When I have to watch myself in a mirror, I focus way too much on how I look. Without mirrors around, I give far more effort because in my head I look like everyone else around me. Or I am much thinner in my mind than I am in real life. Or I don't realize what is bouncing, jiggling, riding up, or hanging out. In fact, I don't focus at all on what I look like, only on what I'm doing, when there are no mirrors.
In particular, with Group Core, there is a lot of lying-on-the-ground moves. Planks, pushups, burpees - where you're facing down, and gravity's pulling every saggy part as low as it will go. Then you flip onto your back for crunches, leg lifts, or Russian twists. It never occurred to me what I look like doing these kind of moves, until I handed my camera to Mat one day and said "I need pictures for Megathon and the blog." And when I looked at them, I realized with horror what he has to look at when I'm doing hip bridges, tricep skull crushers, and presses. All I can say is "dude, I'm sorry! Some days your job sucks." Gravity's no friend to the double chin, even when you're lying on your back.
Working out's not really supposed to be pretty, though. And when I focus on what I look like when I do it, I'm definitely not paying attention to form. Which is why it's a good thing that mirrors are not often around.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is at one extreme end of the spectrum, and is when a preoccupation with how the body looks, or dissatisfaction with a specific body part, interferes with your life. Most people have some part of themselves they're not happy with, but they don't fall at the disorder end of things. I don't have the disorder, but I can check off enough of the symptoms that I can admit I'm closer to that end of the spectrum than the healthy body image end. What I am never certain of is whether I am seeing a true reflection, or whether my mind is distorting the image. Is my gut really as big as it looks to me? Does everyone else get as repulsed as I do? Or, when I was well on my way to 300 pounds, did I actually notice or acknowledge how big I had gotten? I rather think my mind didn't let me see just how bad it was. I imagined myself smaller. And, in a way, that was a positive thing because it meant that I didn't limit myself as much as I otherwise might have. I still did things. I was still active if I had to be, if it meant socializing, if it was out of necessity (like every time I moved and had to carry furniture and boxes). If I'd thought too much about what my body actually looked like in a bathing suit, I never would have gotten into the pool again. When your mind lets you forget what you look like and your imagination kicks in, and you think you are stronger, leaner, faster than you really are, it allows you to perform better.
Self-perception is everything.
And reflective surfaces are a big part of that.
After a discussion and training session in pre-camp one summer, all about recognizing eating disorders (something which can get triggered when you put a group of girls together in close quarters for 2 or 4 weeks, bathing suits are often worn, boys are around, and food is hard to control on an individual level), we made one significant change in the girls' bathroom. We took out the full-length mirror. It was pointed out that girls were spending too much time checking themselves out in it. And it was placed in a spot that you couldn't avoid: as soon as you walked in, you saw yourself. So, that mirror was taken down, and replaced with a smaller mirror, hung in a less convenient spot, and used primarily for faces. (Counting bug bites!). If girls at camp need to check themselves out, they can only do so bit by bit, with small hand-held mirrors. It's one of the smartest and simplest things ever done to address the focus on body image in young children and tweens.
Could you do it? Could you go without checking yourself in the mirror? One woman did - for an entire year. A year which included her wedding! I stumbled across her blog - Mirror, mirror, off the wall - which has also been turned into a book. I feel a reading binge coming on, going back through two years of her blog posts!
Mirrors play a significant role in how we see ourselves. Over-checking can lead to some deep-seeded body image issues. A study done on ballet students found that despite mirrors helping to improve form, they also increased comparison and body dissatisfaction in dancers at high-performance levels.
From a social perspective, mirrors are not mere physical reflections; what our brain sees depends on what we believe others will see. We attach meaning and social construct to our reflection:
"In his book On Self and Social Organization, Cooley develops the aptly phrased theory of "The Looking Glass Self." Cooley's theory proposes that our sense of self is forged through our imagination of the way we appear in the eyes of others. In other words, we are fundamentally social creatures who depend on interactions with others to provide feedback, telling us both who we are and how we should feel about ourselves.
As Cooley puts it, "The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind."
It's a complex psychological phenomenon. I am finally at a point where I like who I am, even if I don't like what I see. At least there's a solution: stop looking in the mirror so much and put the effort on building up the reflection, the image, that is in my head. Fix that, and what I see in the mirror may change. Or it may simply cease to matter so much.