Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Fairest One of All?

I had a scary moment the other day. I stood in front of a mirror and saw myself -- not just metaphorically, not just in my head, I really saw -- as built. My muscles were huge and I looked good. Then, without blinking, I saw myself as scrawny, lanky, and hunched over. I watched as my muscles became flabby. Like I said, this wasn't my imagination. I actually saw it happen in the mirror.

Which of those two images were the real me? I don't know. It's obvious I can't accurately perceive myself. It's like when you hear your voice on a recording and it doesn't sound anything like how you hear it. Everyone else is seeing and hearing a different you than you are seeing and hearing. And it probably goes beyond that. Everyone else's understanding of you as a person is probably different than your own understanding.

This is scary, but it's also a relief. First, it's scary because it means all the work you put into presenting yourself a certain way is largely futile. Second, it's empowering to know that your sense of self can be manipulated even if there's no change in your external circumstances.

In other words, beauty actually is in the eye of the beholder.

Manipulating Your Body Image


After my scary moment, I stood there staring at the mirror for a while to see if my body would go back to being muscular. It didn't. Then I tried a bunch of different things. I tried smiling. It didn't change how my body looked. I did my hair. No change. I realized I was probably taking the wrong approach. I needed to change my thinking, not my appearance. That was the whole point, anyways, right?

So I tried speaking out loud, "Damn! You look good!" The image in the mirror kind of flickered, and then went back to flabby-state. (I want to re-iterate that I was actually seeing these changes happen in real time. ) I went more specific: "Your muscles are huge! Look at those bulging biceps!" I didn't really believe what I was saying at first, but the more I repeated it, "When the heck did you widen out so much? Those triceps are actually visible!", the more I started to believe it.

And as I started to believe it, I could watch in the mirror as I turned into the Hulk.

Here's where it gets weird. I did start to feel better about myself, more capable of doing things, stronger. But that makes sense. There's a plausible mechanism for that change. Where it gets weird is when my housemate Joe walked into the bathroom and said, "Dude, when did you get jacked?"

Maybe I was jacked the whole time, but it took me noticing it for others to notice it. Maybe I started standing taller and my muscles showed. I really don't know. I won't claim to understand that part.

The Takeaway


It's all in your head. Everything is in your head. If you think your life is too busy, you'll feel stressed out. If you think you're ugly, you'll hate yourself. If you think you're stupid, you won't bother trying to learn. These are all self-limiting beliefs. To reverse the cycle, just do the action. Relax. Love yourself. Study.

Obviously there's still a continuum within beauty, but I don't think it's relevant to composing an image of self for a couple reasons.
  1. 99.99% of us are attractive in some ways and ugly in others. 90% of us are probably attractive enough that, if we take care of ourselves, there's nothing to limit us from any achievements.
  2. You are what you are and you just have to work with what you've got. It may not be fair, but life is glorious and you're wasting it if you spend any time at all hating yourself for things you can't control.
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My new life project is simplifying my day and slowing things down so I can appreciate what I have and focus on what I'm doing. I'll have an update on my progress once I have a better idea of how to go about actually doing it.