I stare at myself in the mirror every day. And I’m usually naked.
It’s not as provocative as it sounds.
I’ve spent a lot of my life with what I believe to be a bit of body dysmorphia, due to refusing to look at myself in the mirror. When I did see pictures of myself, or catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window/unexpected mirror, I wouldn’t recognize myself. Is that me? Is that how I appear to the world? I would then panic about whatever body part I found completely unacceptable in that moment. This would naturally lead to me refusing to look at myself in the mirror, and distancing myself further from the skin I was in.
It was (and is) a never-ending cycle. And I don’t think I’m alone. In an age of selfies, I know I’m not the only one who tries not to notice the space I take up in the world.
About three years ago, I caught a glimpse of myself in the huge bathroom mirror in my apartment, and rather than running from the room, I deliberately undressed. I looked at myself as subject, not object for the first time. This is mine. This is mine. This is what I look like. These are my hips. These are my fingers. These are my cheekbones. This is my stomach. This is all mine.
This practice is hard. It is hard to look at yourself and hold no judgment. It is hard to love yourself as a sum, rather than by subtracting bits and pieces. It is hard to look at all of the parts that make up your physical frame and not compare them to one another. And for some of us, it’s just hard to look without holding our breath and waiting for the room to explode in flames of self-loathing.
The secret that no one has told you, though, is that it won’t. The world does not end because you recognize your own reflection. In these moments, there is no requirement to love or hate or pity what I see, merely to accept what I behold and to commit myself to my own memory.
My self is housed in this body. My self is contained in this skin. When people look at me, this is what they see. It is not offensive. It is irrelevant whether I find it “pretty” on this or any other day. I do not need to justify my body to myself. It just is. I take up exactly this much space in the world. It is not too much. I do not need to pretend I am only a floating head with a killer personality.
If you hurry by the mirror, run past windows, try to get into the shower before you have to see what you look like, I invite you to join the club. Stop. Look at yourself without passing judgment. Just stand there and accept whatever thoughts and feelings come your way. Do it again the next day. It gets easier every time. This is what you look like. How long has it been since you’ve seen you and not run away?
You are not offensive, either. You do not need to justify your body to yourself.
This is mine.