Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How To: DIY Mirror Confrontation Therapy (Kate Upton & Sports Illustrated, Take Notes)

Mirror Confrontation: Like this, but with a full length mirror (flip-flops optional).
Thanks to MaleFeminist for posting this beautiful image!
Next in my series of Bodacious Body Image Activity Wednesdays is a DIY version of "Mirror Confrontation," a therapy exercise often used in eating disorder treatment. Some folks describe this activity as "Body Exposure," while others call it "Mirror Confrontation" therapy. I prefer "Mirror Confrontation," not only because this exercise helped me to confront mirrors again after my no-mirrors project ended, but also because "Body Exposure" sounds a tinge exhibitionist and makes me imagine freezing to death in Antarctica - stark naked, of course.  (Note to self: post my rant about Kate Upton's controversial Sports Illustrated photo-shoot in Antarctica some other day... Brrrrrr!)

The term "Body Exposure" reminds me of this Kate Upton SI cover. Don't get me started!
Anyway, mirror confrontation therapy is designed to help people confront the reality of their bodies, while reducing self-objectification. While all versions of this therapy involve standing in front of mirrors repeatedly and for prolonged periods of time, my DIY-able version involves some guided thinking; one must look into the mirror and describe his/her body as precisely and neutrally as possible, while carefully avoiding subjective and negative statements. 

Here is an example of a precise and neutral description: 
"I have straight blonde hair, brown eyes, and a mole under my right nostril." (all true!) 
"Oh, and I also have a rounded belly that sticks out a little bit." (true again.)
Here is an example of a subjective and negative statement:
"I am a big fat ugly unloveable loser." (see the difference?)
Over time, and with repetition, "mirror confrontation"will help you view your body - and the different parts of your body - as neutral facts rather than as subjective signifiers of your moral character and/or entire identity!

How would SHE/HE/IT describe your body?
(1) SOMETIMES it helps to imagine yourself as a curious and judgment free child. Alternatively I like pretending that I am a space alien visiting Earth with abolutely no sense of cultural mores about attractiveness. (Oooh! Oooh! How about "curious and judgement free alien child"?? I digress...)

(2) IF a subjective and negative judgement pops into your head during this activity, write it down, followed by a neutral and precise statement you can use to challenge that thought the next time it shows up! (For bonus points, I like adding, "and who the hell cares anyway?!?" at the end of the neutral statements, i.e. "I have a rounded belly that sticks out a little bit and who the hell cares anyway?!?" Try it.)

Okay, so now go for it! 

Let me know what you think.
For those of you who try it once, would you do it again?
Anyone willing to share their notes?


  1. that's great. when I was in a treatment for anorexia, they told me not to look at the mirror.. but what I found the hardest is to look at the mirror without judging me. being realistic, you can't avoid mirrors. you can get rid of the ones in your house, but you can't control the outside world. you can try not to think about body issues, but you can't control what other people will say to you about your body. We have to learn to face it.

    I just remembered a dream I had when I was in my worst times, when my own body image was totally detached from reality. I remember I dreamed of myself looking at a bevelled mirror. I remember I was looking at my body "split in half" because of the bevel. one half was fat, the other was emanciated. and I couldn't understand HOW that could be possible. I didn't know which one was really my body. Those were very difficult times, because I just had to believe the rest of the world and forget about my own thoughts about my body... still today I have a hard time realizing if I'm keeping a healthy weight or not. I have to rely on my boyfriend and family to tell me if they think I've lost weight, to avoid relapse.

    1. Pequenia - I was obsessed with the mirror when I was symptomatic, but I know a lot of women, like you, avoided mirrors. I also have a lot of dreams like that! Mine are usually about food dramas, or feeling stuck inside of too-tight clothing...

  2. this is so interesting - as one who physically can't see in the mirror i recognize in some ways this is so freeing! Looking forward to your book!

    1. Thanks Becky! I find that some of the same tools used for appearance work well for other areas in which we self-judge. My therapist from college used to say "If you were your own cherished child, how would you treat yourself?" I still use that advice to be more forgiving and to take care of myself.

  3. I really like this idea and may have to try it out this weekend.

  4. Just the idea of doing this is difficult for me to wrap my head around. I wonder if I can describe myself neutrally. I have used such horrible words to describe myself in the past and see myself in very negative terms. I think it might be painful to do. Perhaps that's exactly why I might need to do it.

    1. Mary - If the "get naked in front of the mirror" sounds too intimidating, you can practice the exercise with just your face, or even just a single body part! Give it a shot and see how it goes.

  5. Cannot WAIT for your book! As a fan of yours with too many "fans" of my own who really don't know a thing about who I really am inside, but don't hesitate to make snarky comments about any perceived change in my appearance, I am looking forward to gobbling up the book and sharing it with an associate who drives me crazy complaining about her "fat" butt among other things. Thank you.

    1. Oh you're so kind. I hope the book is useful for situations like what you described. I find it helpful to post a sign at my desk or in my kitchen that says "No Fat Talk Here Please!" That might help with the co-worker.

  6. im so so happy you posted this!!!! i am ok with my body. HOWEVER i beat myself constantly about my action. my internal dialogue is basically "you suck and are a complete failure at life". i should really try this and write down things get me down during the day in a neutral light.

  7. Hello interesting post / blog/ book. I the mirror issues you had related to weight or body issues specifically? Or will it also be useful to those of us with 'ugly' syndrome ie dismorphia? I avoid mirrors like the plague and have for 2 yrs, now I've developed a full blown fear of them, so much so my poor hair hasn't seen a stylist for too long. Would your book help?

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