Debra Chew: Healthy Body Image By Reflection - What's In Your Mirror?

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - by Debra Chew

Mirror, mirror on the wall….a well-recognized fairy tale goes.  It tells the tale of a wicked stepmother who always looks at her reflection in the mirror and expects to be told that she is the most beautiful in the kingdom.  Eventually, she looks in the mirror only to see the image of her step-daughter who has replaced the step-mother as the most beautiful and fairest one.  A fairy tale indeed….but it does make me think about reflection.   

Unlike the fairy tale, no matter how many times I look in the mirror, I will always see a reflection of myself looking back.  I can close my eyes really hard and imagine another figure, better hair and fewer wrinkles, perhaps, but when I open my eyes, it will always be my self-image or self-reflection looking back at me.  Or will it? 

Psychology Today defines body image as the mental representation we create of what we think we look like; it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see us.  And, it is a fact that since World War II, the media has increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body image as the ideal for women.  This often creates an unrealistic ‘mental representation’ for young women.  And, these days, it’s not just females who are consumed by an unattainable body image.  Harvard research reveals there has been a striking change in male body image attitudes in the last 30 years.  Males and females are taking unhealthy measures to refine their bodies in an attempt to measure up to the pictures they see in the media.  Such measures include excessive exercise, steroids or laxatives, eating and binging or not eating enough – all of which produce health breakdowns. 

Researchers are increasingly finding that a spiritual view of life and of yourself – including a less “me” focused approach – can help you improve your body image.  For example, a study in Ohio, Does Spirituality Correlate with Body Dissatisfaction, was conducted by mail on undergraduate students.  Significant findings revealed that the higher the level of spirituality, the lower the body dissatisfaction score. 

Is there a way to focus less on the material image you see and replace those seeming unsatisfactory physical traits with spiritual ones?  I think so.  In Genesis, we read, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  That means when you look in the mirror, shouldn’t you be witnessing God’s likeness?  Would that include seeing God as unhealthy, balding, overweight, or even scarred?  I doubt it.  

Just what is it about spirituality – about understanding that likeness of God in which man was made – that produces a healthier body image?  A 19th century health writer often describes God as qualities in her writing; qualities such as beauty, harmony, and strength.  

Instead of obsessing over human physical traits, ask yourself: What is God seeing about me?  Am I reflecting those qualities that I know belong to the Divine – beauty, harmony and strength? 

This approach to taking in a more spiritual view was the key to my own healing of an eating disorder some years ago.     

When I looked in the mirror during my teenage years, I saw a huge person.  Actually, though, I was extremely underweight.  It was like a stranger was staring back at me.  No matter how many people remarked how thin I was, I saw “fat” when I looked in the mirror.  No matter how many times I weighed myself, I did not believe the scales.  No matter how many people said I was pretty, I did not believe them.  Like the fairy tale, it seemed I was always using images in the media or what I saw in the mall as the mirror in which to view myself.   

At a point when my family was very worried about me, I decided I should pray about this problem. This was natural to me as I grew up in a Christian faith that encouraged me to turn to God for all kinds of troubles.    

I tried to picture what God saw when he looked at me.  I replaced all those feelings that suggested I lacked physical beauty with what I felt God knew about me.  I became more grateful and started helping others in my youth group who were struggling with their own issues.   These specific spiritual practices – prayer, gratitude, and helping others – helped me see a truer reflection of myself in the mirror.  The end result was that I was able to turn away from the purely human body image and obsession to a more God-like view of myself.  My eating and my weight went back to normal for a teenage girl.     

A popular Christina Aguilera’s song, “Reflection” says: “Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?  Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?”  The song ends with “When will my reflection show who I am inside?”  

So, when you look in the mirror, if it says back to you, “you don’t know who you are” don’t fall for it.  Look back and say “mirror, mirror, on the wall, God made me the fairest of them all.”  And mean it. 


Debra Chew is a self-syndicated columnist and writes about the connection between thought, spirituality and health.  She has been published in the chattanoogan.com, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Jackson Sun Health Magazine, and in the UK.  She is a Christian Science Practitioner and also the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science for TN.  You can contact her at tennessee@compub.org.

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