Perception and self-image: Is your self-image real or distorted?

The following story is based on some true events…
Max was the most famous plastic surgeon in town. It was this reputation that had brought Cindy under his knives. She had long been suffering due to her ‘big nose’. She’d decided to go under the knife a long time ago but didn’t muster enough determination up until today.

The surgery went on smoothly and Max was able to give Cindy just the kind of nose shape she wanted.

When the surgery was over, Max was excited to show her the mirror- he felt like Michelangelo. But as soon as Cindy saw her face in the mirror, she didn’t react as Max had expected, wore a disappointed expression on her face and said…

“I look just the same as before- you didn’t do a thing.”

Max did everything he could to prove to her that the surgery was successful, he showed her ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos but to no avail. Cindy still thought her nose looked big.

Many plastic surgeons have had similar experiences.

Negative self-image is often mental, not physical
A person who has a negative self-image (sometimes called body dysmorphic disorder) has a distorted mental picture of his own looks. Even if he looks fine physically, his brain deceives him into believing that there’s something wrong with his looks.

In other words, he doesn’t see the reality of his looks, but only a distorted version of it. He’s not just irrationally complaining about his looks, his eyes are lying to him.

Our beliefs and emotional states can distort the way we see reality. Ever mistook a piece of rope lying on the ground for a snake? Most probably that happened because you fear snakes. After watching a horror movie, people’s minds create ghoulish images out of harmless objects they see around them.
Some days ago while returning home in the evening, I noticed a stray dog just outside my gate sitting there comfortably. I had to shoo it away so that I could enter the house. This happened for three consecutive days.

What’s fascinating is that even though the dog stopped being there to welcome me from the fourth day onward, whenever I entered that street at the same time in the evening, my mind created the image of the dog for a brief moment in the same position as I had seen it before. Only a careful look told me that there was none.

This happened for a few days and ended when my mind was ‘fully convinced’ that there wasn’t any dog there.


Our mind does what it can to protect us from danger, even if it means creating false images, just so we can take action beforehand to avoid any possible danger.

These kinds of distortions not only happen with external objects like dogs or ropes but also with our own looks. 

A person who fears growing old will see himself older than he actually is in the mirror. There are countless examples of women who see themselves fatter than they actually are.

Have you noticed that you look a bit different each time you look in the mirror throughout the day?

In the mornings, when you feel fresh, you look fresh and attractive. In the evenings, when you’re exhausted and stressed out, you tend to look dull, ugly and unattractive.

Many people come home from work, school or college and look at the mirror, thinking, “Is that how I looked throughout the day?” 

woman looking in the mirror
When you do something great or achieve something, such as lift a heavy weight in the gym, win a sports game, qualify an exam, etc. if you happened to look in the mirror, you’ll notice that you look amazing.

On the contrary, when you’re down, feel defeated or depressed, you’ll look at an ugly face in the mirror. It’s nothing but your mind playing games with you.


Negative self-reinforcing cycle
When you have a negative self-image, you won’t see reality as it is. You’ll filter everything out that might challenge your belief and you’ll see everything that supports it. Every day, you’ll find lots of clues that will support the false mental picture that you have of yourself.

When you look in the mirror, you’ll only focus on those body parts or facial features that you believe are ‘defective’ and they’ll appear more defective than they actually are.

At the same time, you’ll forget about some good features that you may have. Your conviction of having a poor self-image will become stronger and stronger every day unless you do something to let go of your false mental self-image.

References:

Distorted self-image the result of visual brain glitch, study finds

A summary of research findings on body image

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