I’d been a physical therapist for over 11 years when I encountered the clinic with the most brutal layout ever. Not for the patients, but for us: Every single wall was lined with mirrors. As I watched my patients move, I spent 40 hours a week watching myself move. How does my belly look when I’m sitting versus standing? Ooh, these chairs and stools make my thighs spread out and sprawl more than those over there. These pants and outfits that made me look lumpy and bulky when I’m sitting—maybe I’ll wear something different tomorrow, or next week—but not the ones that make me look wide when I’m walking.
The constant visual feedback was inevitable and intense. When I left that clinic for another, the first thing I noticed was the decreased amount of mirrors. They still existed, but it wasn’t a 360’ view. The lack of constant visual feedback made me realize how much self-worth I was deducing from the mirrors that exist in my life.
At the new clinic, there was only one gigantic mirror, and I could have spent a lot of my day avoiding it, but I didn’t. In fact, I actually took the path that went right by this mirror to greet my patients . It wasn’t the most efficient path from my office to the front desk, but I couldn’t get away from my daily dose of, “Wow those pants make your thighs look wide”; “Ooh, that shirt clings where it shouldn’t,” and so on.
And then there was my home. Our master bedroom had a dual-mirror, sliding closet doors at the foot of our bed. Every single time I got in and out of bed I had visual feedback. Clothed or unclothed, it didn’t matter. It was there every day for 7 years.
My personal dark spots in my confidence and self worth are locked in to feedback from both the scale and mirrors, both of which require my eyes to determine how I feel about myself.
But then my husband, my dog, and I spent a year living in a van without a full-length mirror.
For the past 15 months my husband, dog and myself have lived in our converted Sprinter van. We’ve been traveling around North America, riding bikes, running, slowing down. We’ve been looking up, and around, and down at our feet and trails and grass and dirt—and not into a mirror. It didn’t take long, either: very soon after our trip started, I realized that I almost never looked in a mirror. From tooth brushing, to hair combing, to dressing, there were no mirrors to be had. The occasional use of the rearview mirror served its purpose when absolutely necessary, but overall it was a year without mirrors.
I relied solely on feel for my self worth. Did I feel like my pants were tugging? Did I feel like my tummy was sticking out? Did I feel like my clothes were too tight? At times, the answer to those questions was yes and at others it was no. Regardless of how I was feeling about myself, physically, I was acutely aware of the lack of mirrors in my life and I didn’t miss it. I’d much rather go by introspection versus a superficial source to help dictate my mood and my body awareness.
We live in a society of constant picture-taking and its attached social-media posting. Bogus fitness advice and beauty magazines appear at every turn. Our visual system is very busy feeding our brain images that technically don’t mean much, but society’s assigned immense weight to these images. Personally I’d rather use my vision to explore the nature and beauty of our earth, not the way my hips look in certain pants when I move.
I’ve struggled with body image stuff since the dawn of time. Less time with a mirror feels like a path to success for me. Now that we are back in our stationary house, those sliding mirror closet doors have a lovely curtain over them. Their coverage allows me the freedom to look inward, outward, around, up, down, whatever feels right. I now get to choose the rate at which I receive visual feedback about my body and every day I gain more control over my mood and emotions.
I’m in charge of the way I feel, and that’s the way it should be.