6 Ways to Stop Obsessing Over What You See in the Mirror

Let Go of Harmful Myths and Embrace Empowering Truths

We live in a world where we get a lot of messaging about who we should be, how we should live, and what we should look like. Sometimes that can drag us down emotionally and make us feel bad about ourselves. Other times, it can motivate us, but that motivation is often hollow or disheartening since it seems impossible to reach those standards. 

Recently, we received an email from someone who feels stuck in this frustrating struggle to be content despite constant messaging telling us we need to change. Here’s what they had to say.

“I love watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram and TikTok, and I love connecting with my friends, but I think it brings me down sometimes. I’ve noticed lately that I’m never happy with myself. I feel like I’m obsessing over what I see in the mirror, and that I’m never happy with my size or how I look. I know there’s something missing in the way I’m thinking, but I feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.”

So many of us have been exactly where they are, right? Society pressures us to look, feel, and be perfect. And we often get no satisfaction from doing it the way movies, TV, and social media suggest. If anything, we feel worse and worse. 

If you’re struggling with these feelings, you’re not alone. You can probably think back and see how draining negative thoughts about your appearance have been on your self-esteem. But what can you do instead? Don’t worry. Things can change. There’s hope. 

Being confident in our self-worth is a daily decision, but it can be a difficult journey to get to that point where you are able to choose positive self-worth every day. Taking the time to unlearn toxic beauty myths helps us feel freer, more confident, and more ready to enjoy the life we have. It can break the cycle of harmful thoughts and behaviors that come when we slip into self-hatred

How to Not Obsess Over Appearance

1. Realize Perfect is a Myth 

The goal of magazines, certain shows, and advertising we see is to show us an image of “perfection”: an ideal, that we need to attain to be happy. And being happy in these mediums is usually tied to being a certain size, having a certain appearance, or having a certain amount of money. But here’s the thing. Perfect is a myth. Think about this:

  • The person who hasn’t made a mistake, has never felt less than amazing, and has never wished things were better doesn’t exist and never has.
  • All of us have made mistakes or wanted things to be better, because no one has ever been “perfect”. Even if you could reach your idea of perfection, that feeling would wear off as soon as your standards were raised, or as soon as your idea of “perfect” changed to something different. Getting stuck in that cycle can lead to losing perspective about what is truly important in life. Not to mention, we wouldn't be able to find anyone to relate to since no one in the world has a "perfect" life, no matter how they look or behave.
  • The magazines, TV shows, and ads, are trying to sell us those images and ideals. They have their best interests in mind, not ours.
  • Those images are also highly photoshopped, covered up, and manipulated to project an image in someone else’s gaze and perspective of what “their perfect” is. 

When we realize perfect doesn’t really exist, and that the images of perfect are empty false attempts to get us to spend our time and money, we can think deeper about how to find contentment where we are, and how to have a healthier opinion of ourselves.

Listen to this call I had with Linda who's struggling with body image issues. She views her body as imperfect, always puts herself down and thinks she's not good enough.

2. Let Go of Relentless Pressure to “Look Better”

Feeling good about how you look isn’t a bad thing at all. Neither is wanting to improve things about ourselves.  But the unhealthy fixation with what we see in the mirror is an example of how our focus on “better” can get off course. What if, instead, the focus was on:

  • Feeling better physically?
  • Taking care of our emotional needs?
  • Being kinder to others? 
  • Being more present in our relationships?

How would your life be different if you focused more on these pursuits? What can you do right now to adjust your focus?

3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

For many of us, friends and family have an important role in shaping our interests, and the things we enjoy. But in the age of social media, the influence others have over us can get a little toxic, especially when we get stuck on comparing ourselves to them. The truth of the matter is:

  • Social media is designed to show people the best, most “perfected” version of ourselves. People are typically not vulnerable in what they share.
  • The result is a one-sided story that often makes us feel lacking. 
  • Social media can also, unfortunately, be the source of a lot of bullying, especially around looks, appearance, and size. 

Of course, social media isn’t all bad. It can be a great way for friends to be supportive and encouraging. It can also be a way to find resources that uplift your spirit. 

But if you can tell you’re starting to get overwhelmed and intimidated by what you see, taking some time to unplug or unfollow can be healing to your mind, body, and spirit. 

4. Think About How Wonderful the Mind and Body Are

Have you ever taken time to learn about the mind and body? When you think about everything your brain, your lungs, and your heart do for you every day, your body is amazing. 
When I meditate on the intricacies of the human body and mind, I’m reminded of a Bible verse I read often, where the writer expresses gratitude to God for being “fearfully and wonderfully made”. If you’re open to thinking about God, hopefully you can find joy in the thought that you were created specially, in all your uniqueness, out of love. 

5. Treat Yourself Like a Friend Would Treat You

Think of your closest friends, the people who mean the most to you in your life. How do they think of you? Chances are, the physical “imperfections” you get stuck on aren’t what they focus on, or even notice. How would things be different if you treated yourself like a friend treats you?

  • You would be focused on your strengths, not your weaknesses. 
  • You would be more patient with yourself.
  • You would see your inner beauty and come to appreciate the things that make you unique.

Of course, it’s not about pretending to be someone else. It’s as simple as, when you’re thinking something negative about yourself, shifting to a kinder view: and acknowledging that there’s truth in the good and beautiful things others see in you.

6. Surround Yourself with Accepting People

Speaking of friends, I’ve noticed something about the toughest times in my life, when I was struggling the most with my self-esteem. The more I surround myself with people who accept me and appreciate me, without pressuring me to be perfect, the more likely I am to realize that the most valuable pursuits in life have nothing to do with looking like someone from an ad. Of course, I didn't grow up with social media, but society has always advertised its own version of perfection.

And, though some things have changed, one thing is certain. True friends help us realize that we can care for ourselves in a variety of ways, and they are supportive and ready to listen. Your true friends are spending time with you because of who you are, not what you look like. That can be one of the most satisfying realizations in life; to have a group of people who truly care about you.
But sometimes, even with people in your life, you’re not sure who to talk to. It can feel intimidating to be vulnerable about your struggles, even with close friends. 

If you need extra support, TheHopeLine is here to help. Our HopeCoaches are trained to talk about self-image issues in a compassionate way, without judgment, that gives you practical suggestions on how to move forward. 

Talk to a HopeCoach today about the negative messaging holding you back and get some ideas about how to focus on kinder, gentler truths about yourself.

Respecting yourself does not always come easily. Bothered by past mistakes and regrets can consume our thoughts. Learn to respect yourself more day by day with these 8 must-know tips

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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