Reflecting on your flaws

"Mirror exposure" therapy may help women's bad body image.

Published February 24, 2006 6:17PM (EST)

I have hated mirrors my entire life. They are instruments of constant self-monitoring and occasional self-flagellation -- the blackheads, the reappearing roots, the ill-fitting gym shorts -- oy! So it is with great joy that I read about a new study that uses them to actually encourage women to make peace with their bodies.

So-called "mirror exposure" prompts women to view their reflections and describe what they see in a nonjudgmental way so they can change their negative perceptions, according to a Reuters story. "Instead of looking at herself and saying, 'I have a big belly,' a woman might note that her lower abdomen is rounder than her upper abdomen," lead study author Sherrie Delinsky of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston told Reuters. Researchers followed 45 women ages 17 to 31, whose obsession with the weight and shape of their bodies affected their feelings of self-worth. Half were asked to stand in front of a three-way mirror and objectively describe the areas they liked and disliked. (They were also told to stay away from the scale or mirror at home.)

After three sessions, the women reported better self-esteem and were less depressed than a comparison group, who participated in traditional talk therapy with a counselor. Delinsky hopes the therapy can also help women with eating disorders.

This is such a fabulous idea, I'm going to try it at home. "My name is Sarah. On the back of my legs, just below my buttocks, I see uneven, dimpled flesh. And on the front of the thighs I see strong, defined muscles that I've developed from running ..."

Wow! Wouldn't that be amazing to see "uneven, dimpled flesh" as just "uneven, dimpled flesh" -- not value-laden "cellulite"? And small breasts as small breasts? And big asses as big asses? They could just be parts and nothing more. Fat could be viewed some day as "stored excess calories" -- not something so terrifying it makes young women have to be in studies to improve their body images.

That would be a peace movement, indeed. Now, you go ...

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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