Dysmorphia, self-love, myths and the magic of mirrors

‘I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected,’ Paulo Coehlo: Goddesses of the Forest

Since being a little girl, I’ve loved fairy tales, myths and fables… haven’t you? I was frequently caught red handed as an eight year old; head under the covers long after lights out, with a torch, nose-deep in Enid Blyton’s Tales of Ancient Greece. 

As I grew older, my fascination grew. Not so much with the stories I read as a child, but the older, darker folk stories in which I realised there were deep, dark warnings… and not just for children.

Last week, I spoke at the Bavard Bar in my new hometown in theUK; an event to entertain audiences in a TedTalk-style evening, with a few asides of games besides. I wove a few of these old myths into my talk as it’s a light evening; not one for delving too deeply into issues such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an anxiety condition impacting on between 1-3% of theUK population, according to NICE figures. Or the ferocity of inner critics, which effects far more men, women and children each time they look in the mirror.

As I’ve travelling through Europe, and then North, Central and South America over the years, I’ve put together quite a collection of local folklore books. I discovered that they told me so much about the people who lived in those countries today. If you want to know a culture, look to its ancient vision of life, god and its explanation for how the world came into being.

You’ll also start to notice that often the psychological and ethical issues we face today (and carry on like we have just invented them) have been echoing in the past for millennia. 

For instance, those stories by The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are mostly based on ancient folk tales. But certain elements, often sexual or violent, were erased from the versions these authors published. Probably to meet the moral tastes of 19th century European parents.

In the older versions of Rapunzel our heroine is cast out of the tower with her two children. The children? A result of her relationship with the prince who came to visit. Sex before marriage? Hmm… out!

And take the Queen in Snow White… is she a raging narcissist, pathologically jealous of her stepdaughter? Or is she a woman lost in self loathing as she stares into the mirror? Does the mirror literally speak, or is it her own inner critic she hears condemning her to torment? Whatever her crimes, in the original tale she is the cabaret at Snow White’s wedding, forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until she drops dead. Seems a little extreme a punishment for an attempted murder conviction.

Dark mirrors

In the Snow Queen we can get so wrapped up in the story of Kai and Gerda, we forget how the sliver of glass that turned a boy’s heart to ice came to be. The glass, just a speck of a speck, was a minuscule fragment of a vast spellbound mirror, created by a demon who wanted to reflect wickedness and envy, jealousy and meanness and all the sins that you might imagine, and many more besides. The mirror shattered, thwarting the demon’s plan to shine the mirror into the face of God, but tiny bits of it fell to Earth, washed into sand which in turn became glass, used in spectacles and mirrors, and forever distorting our vision.

So yes, the trouble that comes from judging ourselves by our reflections has been around for a long time.

Narcissus, of course, fell in love with his own reflection and wasted away by a pool; perhaps a metaphor for what happens when we don’t look deep enough. His future was predicted by a blind prophet, a man with only inner vision; a telling paradox.
Like many of us I spent a lot of time, while I was growing up, criticising the woman I saw in the mirror.

I met my partner when I was 18 (we were a six-month pash back then, but we got back together when I was in my Forties; it’s a long story) and while as a student then I was quite convinced I was ‘fat’, although as my observant partner has said more than once ’you were stick thin and you never ate’. It took me a long time to see that whatever the scales showed, whatever the mirror reflected, I was seeing myself as ‘other’ and the bottom line was I didn’t think I was enough. Thin enough. Pretty enough. 

Using mirrors for good

Oh yes, there’s another way to use a mirror. Hold it up to your face. Really close. Or walk up to the mirror so you’re almost nose to glass. Now look deep into your own eyes…. Ah yes… that’s where you really are.

Because when you look into your pupil, you see deep into yourself. You can catch a glimpse of your inner self; the part of you that is deeply you. They talk about the eyes being the windows of the soul; perhaps they are, perhaps that is your soul you see. But it is certainly a deeper way of seeing your self in the mirror, that is for sure.

And perhaps that’s where self love can start from, because the inner critic somehow struggles to speak when confronted with the depths of the self.

Transform your experience

Inspirational speaker, Lisa Nichols, has an exercise using this intimate use of the mirror. One that can transform your experience with yourself because it you start a deep conversation at this level – nose to mirror.

Look yourself deep in the eye and tell yourself; ‘I am proud of you for’ and think of anything from your life for which you’ve accomplished a moment that gave you a glow. Even if you’re struggling to get our of bed in the morning, the act of doingAnd you can go way back to childhood, because you have 7 of these to find. Now repeat this on ‘I forgive you for…’ and let go of that self-judgement you’ve been holding on to. And one more… ‘I commit to you that…’ Now repeat daily. Lisa Nichols swears this prescription for self love was one of the practices that saved her from being medicated for depression.

I’ve tried it. I recommend it to clients too.

You will find it an emotional connection and you may surprise yourself. Healing our relationships with ourselves and turning that relationship into a life-long love affair, has to be a worthy goal, doesn’t it? We are certainly in a relationship with ourselves for a very long time; and turning mirrors into a force for good in our lives has to be a powerfully positive step in our self love journeys.

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