I am writing in defense of the mirror! A Today Show segment highlighting Autumn Whitefield-Madrano's blog on HuffPost on mirror fasting, struck me as odd. More than odd, actually -- it is a form of denial, the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand! Don't pay attention or don't look and it doesn't exist.
I can still hear my Nana's voice: "Leigh, stopping looking in the mirror, it will make you vain!" She had those old-fashioned views. Every summer as a little girl when I came from New York to Michigan to stay with her, the first thing she did was change my cool 70s hippie middle hair part off to the side, and throw out my black dresses and shirts. "Little girls shouldn't wear black, it brings bad luck."
As if just by looking at yourself in the mirror you could become vain! In fact, to her vain was a four-letter word. She was from the hearty stock, a working woman back in the 40s while my mother was little. The original Rosie the Riveter, she had no time for frivolities. Although I never really believed that, because why would she bother with her full-length girdle if that was the case!
Nevertheless, she instilled enough guilt in me that it took me quite a while even with the unconditional, supportive love of my mother to be happy with myself and love myself. And that journey did begin with my mirror!
So all this talk of mirror fasting echoes of Nana Irene, but I feel it is sending the wrong message to young girls. Because we can't blot out all reflections of ourselves, or we will have to cover up completely. We need to use the mirror as a tool that reflects and allows us self-reflection.
We need to let women know it is only their reflection they need to be concerned about! Don't look into anyone else's mirror. There shouldn't be any comparisons to magazines or runways. We need to stop the quest for "the" perfect ideal of beauty and find our own perfect ideal of beauty, both inside and out. Look into your mirror and pick out one thing you love about yourself, and start your reflective journey into self-affirmation!
We need the mirror as a tool to instill confidence in young women. A Glamour magazine poll found that 97 percent of women have a negative body image, with on average 13 negative body thoughts a day about themselves. That's about one an hour when we are awake! Ladies we are in some serious need of self-loving, and it all can begin in the mirror.
As women, we put ourselves last behind everyone -- friends, family, sometimes even our pets! We are the caregivers to all, and often this selflessness can be to the determent of our health. I have seen many women patients in the ER who run themselves ragged from being pulled in so many different directions. For years they have not taken care of themselves both outside and in, and now they reaping what they have sown in the form of a stroke or heart attack. In fact, often they even argue with me that they don't have time to be admitted!
By looking into to our mirror and saying that we love ourselves we can begin the journey. You need to say to yourself you are worth the effort. The pride you take in yourself and your appearance says you care about yourself and it is reflective of your health. There is science behind the "bad hair" day. If we look good, then we tend to feel good about ourselves, and that, in turn can translate into health.
My premise of health from the outside-in is that the things I do to help enhance my appearance to stay thin and fit, such as exercising and eating healthy, also obviously positively impact my health. From my own experience I find the days I run around doing everyone's else errands without time for myself, in my sweats with dirty hair pulled back are usually the days I self-indulge in junk food and have a harder time motivating myself to workout. And as a celebrity-crazed nation with an obesity epidemic, we obviously aren't heeding the message we doctors give about beautiful, pristine arteries, so why not focus on the outside if people will listen to that? Then the inside will fall into place.
Of course, as a physician and a woman I am cognizant of not becoming obsessed with my looks. But really, who among us multitasking working moms even has the time for obsessing about that? I am giving you permission to take some time for yourself. Spend a little time primping and pampering. Vanity is a virtue when it comes to your health and if the journey begins with the your mirror, so be it!
Follow Leigh Vinocur, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/doctor_leigh