Avoiding the Mirror

By Melissa Sledge

I love my job. Meeting new people and partnering to accomplish their goals is fulfilling in ways I never anticipated.  However, the life of a Fitness Professional is more than just planning workouts. I often refer to what I do as soul work. It may sound new age-y, but hear me out.

We move around life in bodies we expect to perform and function at full capacity. Whether or not we take care of this body, by feeding it real foods or planning intentional movement in the form of exercise, we expect our bodies to withstand our treatment of it. But like most things, our choices add up and we find ourselves either happy with the results of our actions, or greatly frustrated and possibly disgusted. Disgusted seems like a strong word to describe how you feel about your body, but give it some thought. What do you think or say when you look in the mirror? Do you find yourself narrowing in on the areas that you don’t like about yourself? Or do you avoid the mirror all together because you’re resolved to thinking that there’s no point because you already know you won’t like what you see. 

I have a client that is over a year into her weight loss journey. When I first started working with her, I noticed that when performing exercises in front of the mirror, she would never look at herself. The first few times it happened, I didn’t think anything of it, but the third time, while correcting her form, I instructed her to look at herself in the mirror. She looked for 2 movements, and then her gaze moved just above her reflection. “I’ve noticed you don’t look at yourself in the mirror,” I said. She scoffs “I don’t ever look at myself in the mirror.” This comment struck me and lingered in my thoughts for days.  

Before my own weight loss journey, I had a hate-hate relationship with my reflection. I wanted to lose weight. I knew what I looked like before I had gained the weight and I wanted to get back to the previous version of myself. But try as I might, I found myself doing the opposite of what I needed to do in order to lose weight. If I had a bad day at work, cookies and ice cream were my reward for surviving a terrible day. Then, while changing into my pajamas, I would look at myself in the mirror and the sadness would return because I wasn’t any closer to getting the new body I so desperately wanted. 

The most memorable mirror moment I have was while trying on clothes in a dressing room. At this point in my life, I was exclusively wearing flowy dresses because they were more forgiving and didn’t disappoint nearly as much as structured pants.  But on this day, I was going to try my luck with shorts. Standing in front of three long mirrors, I turn my back and quickly begin trying on my shorts. Not because I was in a hurry, but instead because I did not want to stand in front of the mirrors any longer than necessary. The first pair of shorts fit but made me suspicious about the ability to sit down without splitting them down the back. Pair number two offered the same result, and I couldn’t even button pair number three. I took off the third pair and stood there staring at myself in the mirrors. One front view and two side angles– just in case the first one didn’t provide a complete picture of what I looked like under the florescent lights. 

I stood there looking at myself. At first with dismay that I had let myself go, but this quickly turned to disgust. I was in such disbelief that I took pictures. Front, side, and back. I’m not entirely sure why I took the pictures, but I felt compelled to do so. Almost to record what I hoped would be the last time I would ever see myself in this state. I left the store that day, without shorts, defeated, discouraged, and reminded, yet again, something would have to change. 

I refer to my career as soul work because how one feels in their skin directly impacts how they navigate through the world. When we’re confident, we feel invincible and able to tackle anything that life might bring. When we’re insecure, laughter from a nearby group might make us feel as if we are the source of laugher. How we feel about our bodies frames how we dress, the activities we choose to participate in, and even the desire for physical intimacy. I call this soul work because the pursuit of health and self-love is not just about checking a box, but is directly connected to our identity.  Who you are, what you offer the world, your friendships, and relationships are all packaged in a body you didn’t choose, and yet one you’re responsible for nurturing. Rather than avoiding the mirror or criticizing your reflection, I encourage you to challenge yourself to not only change your self-talk but take actions that better support caring for your body in new ways. Your reflection may not look like you want it to, right now, but with the collection of healthy choices, you will make progress toward the internal and external transformation you seek. 

As for my client that avoided the mirror, her relationship with her reflection has changed. Her feelings about her body continue to evolve, which is expected after losing 100 pounds.  While she still continues to learn to love the skin she’s in, she’s changing in ways that surprise even herself. That’s the funny thing about soul work, we discover new aspects of ourselves that might have always been there, but we weren’t ready to look.