Revising Your Self-Portrait
What Do You See In Your Mirror?
We don’t consider most commercial campaigns to be uplifting, profound, or even a potential life-changer. But the good folks at Dove have done it again with their moving “Real Beauty” spot. In this ad, we meet a real-life forensic artist who sketches two pictures of each woman he meets – one is based on that woman’s own description of herself, and the second is based on descriptions given by other people. And as it turns out, it’s all in the details: As we see one woman describe her chin as “jutting” and “big,” another person described it more kindly as a “nice thin chin.” One woman focuses on her “chubby face” while a man describing her talks about her “nice blue eyes.” The reveal at the end is a powerful one: We see each pair of sketches, side by side. We can tell that the two portraits are of the same person, but the one based on other people’s descriptions are significantly more flattering. It’s heartwarming to watch these women realize that their negative self-talk and critical self-images have had a real impact, and that maybe, as the ad indicates in the final frame, “You are more beautiful than you think.”
Why Your Self Portrait is Important
This got me thinking about the importance of creating a physical inventory, and revising your self-portrait. How accurately do you see yourself? And how can you befriend any areas of satisfaction? I got some inspiration for this exercise from the book Self-Esteem by the great Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Patrick Fanning. As McKay and Fanning point out, if you can revise the way you describe yourself, you can create a more accurate image – and, if you’re willing to stretch your mind, a more positive one.
Time To Begin
Start by taking several large sheets of newsprint or strips from a roll or butcher paper and taping them to the wall. They should cover an area at least as wide and high as your body. Remove as much of your clothing as is convenient; then, with your back to the wall, trace your body with a wide-tipped marker. Trace as close to your body as you can for accuracy. (With a little care, you can do this by yourself, although you might find it easier to do this exercise with a friend.)
The impact of the tracing comes from the fact that it’s not the familiar mirror reflection that we look at every day without really seeing. The traced image is novel. It doesn’t move; therefore, it allows you to step back and view it objectively.
Now spend some time looking at the proportions of your body tracing. That’s you! Does it seem “too” anything? What impression would you have of a person with this shape? Would it be the same you’ve been carrying of yourself? Or does it seem like a reasonable size and shape for someone to be? Get specific with your thoughts, and write your comments directly onto your image on the wall.
Stop The Personal Attacks
Remember, the problem lies not in having weaknesses or flaws; the problem is in the way you attack yourself. So try to find ways to describe your weaknesses nonpejoratively, without disparaging or downgrading. Here are some guidelines for revising your negative thoughts about your body:
- Avoid negative-sounding adjectives like ugly, flabby, and the like. These words are like tiny pebbles in your shoe.
Skip terms of taste and opinion and replace them with objective descriptions:
Instead of too tall/too curly, for instance, write 5'10/tightly curly hair.
- Don't be dramatic: "My skin looks like I've been living in a cave."
- Don't be vague: "My legs are in bad shape."
- Alternatively, ask yourself how someone whoe liked the attribute would describe it.
Check Your Baggage: How many of the items on your list seem objective but are actually thinly disguised traps of judgment? Think about what assumptions might underlie these factual descriptions. Maybe you would describe yourself, very factually, as having small breasts. On the surface, it’s just a fact: They’re small, and that’s fine. But what beliefs and preconceptions about breast size are working on a subconscious level to make you feel dissatisfied with this fact? If you were to consciously examine the question, do you honestly believe that larger breasts make a woman significantly happier – or smarter, funnier, wiser, or more lovable? Or that anything external, for that matter, has that much power over whether a person can live a satisfying, successful life?
Get To Work On Your Subconscious
The subconscious assumptions gain far too much power over our thoughts if we don’t examine them. A recent study actually showed a higher rate of suicide among women who’d had breast enhancement, suggesting that obtaining a desired breast size did not bring happiness to the very women who’d believed that it would. So open up that baggage and see if you can’t lighten the load.
List Your Body’s Strengths: Now add some strengths to your image on the wall. Write positive messages about different parts of your body and what they can do. “Killer tennis serve.” “Great kisser.” If you’re a perfect spoon-fit with your partner, or a good tree climber, write those down, too.
Once you’ve finished, spend some time rereading and thinking about your descriptions, absorbing the whole picture that’s emerging. I’ve got a pretty good feeling that you’ll come to the same conclusion as the women in that Dove commercial. Because chances are that you, too, are more beautiful than you think you are.