Self-care starts in the mirror.
Self-love is rooted in your reflection.
Self-compassion is not linked to a number.
If you find these sentences strange and confusing, I understand. I have worked in the fitness industry for decades. I have been told I’m too big, not big enough, and everything in between. Often, a person’s first concept of “fitness” is about what it looks like, on the outside. And that is often tied to making oneself smaller. And once that outside form is achieved, and they like what they see in the mirror, the promise of happiness and wholeness will automatically follow. And stick.
What if our mirrors are distorted? What if how we see is distorted? The scales we step on, terrified to look at the number, never tell the whole story and never will. What if true fitness meant meeting yourself where you are, without finding a place for “improvement”? What if there was nothing to fix? Think of all the magazines that promise a “better butt,” or “a new and lighter you,” as if losing X number of pounds or having a six pack will automatically transform your life and find you basking in glorious self-love (cue unicorns and rainbows). It won’t.
Self-love is an inside job; physical fitness can be part of this, and sometimes this does include weight loss, but you cannot enjoy anything about the external landscape of your body if you neglect your interior fitness. The way you see you; the way you frame your experience is the only thing going on in this inner landscape, where you are the only resident with voting power, or any power at all.
Exercising self-care and self-love are part of being emotionally fit; like physical fitness, it takes intentionality and work that can sometimes feel harder than the hardest class I might create for you at Peloton. Self-love and self-care have nothing to do with your weight, your waist size, your wallet or your age. These numbers do not define you. They do not know you. They do not own you. As I often say in my Peloton rides: You are bigger than a smaller pair of pants.
Your happiness fitness, aka your freedom, is rooted in a far different metric: how you see yourself. Only you can do that work, but you already know how it feels, this true freedom, because you felt it as a child.
One brisk Sunday morning on the Upper West Side, I was barreling up Amsterdam Avenue. Having worn the wrong coat for the weather, I was wholly focused on plowing through the throngs of parents and strollers and brunches.
A crowd had formed a few steps ahead of me. Annoyed that I had to stop, I noticed what everyone else was staring at. A little girl with tangled hair and sugar-stained hands dancing in front of a massive mirror leaning against the door of a frame shop. Without a hint of self-consciousness or a single backwards glance at others to see how they were seeing her, she flirted with her own reflection. Eyes wideful of wonder, she saw only herself. She bounced and twirled and laughed and pointed and talked to herself in that mirror. Her parents stood by taking pictures, capturing her sheer electric silliness, her JOY, laughing, smiling, reveling in her unicorn magic.
I couldn’t help but stop and watch. And in that moment I no longer noticed the cold. She was fire. She was wonderful! Not just for her parents or anyone watching, but most importantly, she was clearly wonderful to herself.
I could read the thought bubble above her head that said, I AM AMAZING! I CAN DO ANYTHING! And other things that we hope children hear in their heads, and truly believe.
And then I thought to myself: how long will she have this freedom? At what point, and how, will something crack the glass and disturb the innocence between her eyes and her reflection?
I know. It sounds so morbid.
But I do not know a single person who hasn’t had this battle in the glass.
Whether it is the words from others that we can’t shake- or our own words turning harsh, when does our joyful reflection, fracture? How long does she have until what she sees is framed and distorted by opinions, cruelty, or hurtful words? How will the glass in the mirror crack over the course of her lifetime?
Our freedom, so natural, so human, can be so quickly dissolved. We stop seeing the magical creature in the mirror. We forget that we have this unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime body, and that we’re meant to enjoy it, not hate it, starve it, abuse it, or constantly seek to make it something “better.”
As I watched this girl twirl happily, I thought about how I engaged in my own reflection. Did I look myself in my eyes? Or did I look through a blurry filter composed of others’ unasked for opinions? What caught my attention? Was it my stomach, my neck, my hands? Did I categorize it, chastise it, seek to change it or label it? Sometimes the mirror seems to have a mind of its own, as if it could change quickly from one moment to the next. One day, it’s all good. Another day, we feel devastated. The mirror becomes an unreliable narrator, one that we trust and fear too much.
As I continued down the street on that chilly morning, leaving the girl to her joy, I thought about how every mirror we look into, form a collective mirror.
Because no matter the frame on the mirror, or where you find it or place it, in passing by the storefront or standing in a dressing room, it is always and forever truly only one collective mirror. Because in it, is us.
And we decide how to see what we are looking at.
And we ponder, especially if we do not like what we see, whether it’s a ‘good’ mirror or a ‘bad’ mirror. Is it the lighting, is it crooked, bent or distorted or dark? Or are we.
The distortion is somewhere in the space between something we read, something someone said, something we saw in a magazine or on a billboard…
It is seeing our lovers’, or someone other’s eyes linger a moment too long on a part of ourselves we cannot see, that has the capacity to unhinge our confidence
and make what actually, factually is in that mirror appear distorted, deformed and twisted…
stirring words in our heads that sound like doubt.
Those thighs are too wide
And ‘no’ to those knees that rub and where is my thigh gap? Am I supposed to have that?
And how do I punish myself for not fitting in the frame.
No one is immune from feeling the fear that if we were a little less ourselves (20 pounds lighter; a few inches taller; better proportioned), we might be more loveable. If we just looked a little bit different (had a “better” butt; a smoother brow; a smaller waist size), we might be acceptable and worthy, and then we can be happy.
We can be happy now, when we see the true reflection, and free ourselves of the mirrors and metrics that don’t tell our story.
I invite you to politely – or not so politely – ask the other people and words and judgements in your mirror to go away. Erase the numbers and the lists. Write down the thing someone said about you that made you feel shame and then burn it. Only you belong in this mirror, the person who, like that little girl in the street, understood that we are born loving our bodies and when we can recapture this self-love we enjoy fitness from the inside out. We are free.
This interior mirror reflects your inner landscape, and who you are from the inside out. There are no “weird shadows or “bad angles.” It’s not the belly, the skin, the scars, or even your allegedly unfortunate feet. It’s not your missing limb or twisted spine. It’s not your BMI or your BMW. This mirror does not reflect the words you heard in the bar, the thing the kid said on the bus, words shouted at you from the passing car, words on the way home from school,
words from a stranger in an elevator, on an escalator, in the dorm, on a date.
Words about the size of your thighs, words that are tied around your waist like a corset tight laced,
Those words, from wherever they came, have no place
Wipe all of that away and stand heart naked with your exquisite miraculous unicorn self. There is no metric for how wonderfully magical you are.