Carnival mirror MarylinThis article was inspired by my good friend Michelle.

Our image of ourselves is a mental construct based on our life experiences, our beliefs, and our self confidence. It would appear that our physical appearance is of only minor concern when dealing with how we think we look.  Yes, our lives and influences shape the way we see things, including ourselves.

Firstly, to explain a bit of brain functionality to do with seeing. When light is reflected off of an object and enters a persons eye, it leaves an image on the back of the retina.  Light sensitive nerve cells in the retina transmits this information into the brain. But that is not the end of the story because all of our brains are wired differently, based on our genetics, nutrition, and our experiences.  So the way that the brain interprets this information will depend on many different factors, not just based on the actual reality.  To demonstrate the power of your brain in altering images, consider that every image received on the back of the retinal is actually upside down and quite curved. The brain changes the image and puts it all into correct perspective.  Clever brain, huh?

eye operationSo, you can think of it this way.  A digital camera (your eye) takes a photo of an object. The information is loaded into a computer (your brain).  The digital information is  now manipulated by computer software (your mind) to show the object perhaps in different shades of colour, larger or smaller, or different shapes, depending on the programming.  Get the idea?  Your mind is shaped by your upbringing.   It’s like Photoshop, only pre-programmed.

When you look in the mirror, what thoughts come to mind?  If it is something like, “I look fat”, or “I am a bit flabby”, or maybe you are just too scared to take a good look, then your self image may be in trouble.

Now, I know what your probably thinking.  I am fat, or I am short, or I am too skinny (yes this can also be an image problem), and nothing I think is going to change that, but these thoughts are only what you perceive yourself to be, not neccessarily what you physically are, and besides, the physical is less important, it is only your perception of reality that counts.

eye colour perceptionAdd to this the fact that what you see can be perceived differently dependent on your point of reference, and or what it is associated with, whether that is colour, lines, shape or texture.

Would you believe that the girl in the picture has the same eye colour in right and left eyes?  Because the left side has a red reference colour, the perceived eye colour is blue, while the right side looks grey, however when bringing the two eyes together they are clearly the same colour.  If you don’t believe me, copy the image to Paint  or similar program, and cut and paste one of the eyes to compare. It still freaks me out every time I do this.

Fireman illusionOr this picture of the firemen. Which one is taller?  Get your ruler our and measure. They are all the same.

Perception is definitely not reality!

All this contributes to our self image, but we can use these same tricks to change our thinking and the way we see ourselves.

Have you ever wondered about people whom have severe body image issues, Eg anorexics, and how they can see themselves so far removed from reality?  This from a recovered Anorexic.

I remember as a teenager I had a serious bout with Anorexia, which is a similar type of distortion. I was running an inner program that said “you are fat” and so when I looked into the mirror, I saw a fat person, even though I was deathly skinny. The image I saw in the mirror was warped but it was a projection of my inner reality. Part of my healing from Anorexia involved changing my “inner reality” so that I could see my reflection more accurately.

How can the mind skew the image so much?  And, if that is possible (as it apparently is), could it then be used in a positive sense?   Why could we not change our thinking to see ourselves differently?  Is it possible to change our “programming”?

Is it possible to see ourselves as more attractive, thinner, fitter, or even taller? Maybe so.

Re-programming your thinking is going to take some time and effort, but the reward is always worth the effort.

1. For you to change something, you first have to believe it is possible.

Using positive affirmations about yourself is never going to work if you think that the image of yourself in the mirror is a “fact” and unchangeable.   You will have to actually recognise and accept that your thoughts and your self image are not facts, and that they are changeable.  If you have trouble with this, relate back to the Anorexic example.  Understand that we all have an image of ourselves which is governed by our thoughts, not neccessarily by reality.  Once you believe this to be true, then changing your self image becomes possible.

2. Seeing yourself in the best light.

I remember working with an attractive slim young lady who would often be concerned about her “protruding” belly.  Now, if I was allowed to show a photo of her you would die laughing at her non existent bump!  But, when assessing herself, she would either look at her belly in the mirror from side on, or just look down. For this exercise, point of reference is very important.  If she would just look at herself from front on in the mirror, she would see the “super model” figure that everyone else sees she has.

When ever looking at yourself in the mirror always position yourself such that you look your best.  This may entail standing back from the mirror, focussing on your best body parts (instead of your worst), standing at a particular angle , or even having a wider mirror or reference lines in the background.  There are lost of strategies depending on your particular issue.  Getting this kind of visual feedback re-enforces your positive affirmations about your appearance.

3.  Keep your self talk positive, especially when looking in the mirror.  Check your negative self talk, and dismiss it as mere “perception” and not at all reality.   Hehe.

One of the funny things about getting your mind right about your self image, is that once you see yourself as ok, or “pretty damn good”, it motivates you to do more, to present yourself better, get fit, or lose weight, all re-enforcing again your new self image. So the better you feel about yourself the better you end up looking.  Great bonus, huh?

So, create your own “carnival mirror” in your mind and feel great about yourself, and even look better!