What Women See

Recently I shared a photo on my Instagram story. This photo had popped up in my Time Hop from 8 years prior, and honestly, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the photo itself. I remember when it was taken; I was getting ready for a work holiday party. It’s a mirror selfie, nothing more, with a pretty plain (yet cute!) dress and nothing else fancy to note.

When I took the picture, I don’t know exactly what I thought. What I can safely assume though, is that I thought that I looked fat. Or at the very least not as thin or lean as I wanted to be. And the reason I know that is simple: of almost every picture taken of me, I almost always see it first in a light where I can only see my perceived flaws. My thighs jump out at me, or maybe my belly sticks out a little bit, or maybe it’s something small like some hairs going off in a wild direction. But the theme is always the same: what is wrong with this picture.

Looking at this picture now though? What jumps out at me are my arms. Two solid, strong, muscular arms. But looking beyond that, I also see a beauty that I can guarantee I didn’t see the first time around. The hair, messy, but looking back on it looks young and fun. My legs, which I’ve always hated, look pretty darn “normal” to my eyes now.

Yes, that was a time in my life pre-children, when I could dedicate hours every week to strength training; it was most certainly the period when I was spending the most time and energy on fitness at any point in my life. I was working hard and could see my progress, that is true. But I’m sure that alongside any progress I saw that I was pleased with, I was also picking apart other features that weren’t changing fast enough for my liking.

If I could go back 8 years and speak to this girl in the photo at that moment, I would urge her to see those arms for their strength and beauty. I would emphasize the importance of appreciation, but most of all I would want to hug her and erase all of those negative thoughts from her head. “You are strong and beautiful”, I would say. “And you are both of things, no matter how your body changes over time. Believe it now, and keep believing it 10, 20 years from now”.

And the thing that strikes me the most about this is that this isn’t an isolated experience. And based on the responses to my Instagram story, it’s also not unique to me. There seems to be some sort of phenomenon where women cannot see what is right in front of them. There is some sort of lost connection between our brains and current photos and glances in the mirror. It is nearly impossible for many women to see a recent picture of themselves and see it in a favorable light, but show them that same picture in 5 or 10 years? Almost every time, they will look upon that picture fondly. Whether for their looks, their hair, their skin or more importantly, the memories that can surface.

But is there a way that women can somehow bypass this time warp, and appreciate these pictures in the current moment? Can women learn to love and appreciate a picture of themselves without the space of 10 years in between photo taking and subsequent viewing?

It’s a strange phenomenon and I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why we do this and I don’t know how to fix it. One thing I can suggest is to take a moment every time you see a photo of yourself that you don’t like for one reason or another. Take five extra seconds to think of one thing that you do like about the photo. Try to connect the photo to a positive thought instead of a negative one, and maybe over time this practice can become habit, instead of a forced activity.

The main takeaway here is one that I think all women need to hear: You are beautiful in the here and now. Take a breath and try to appreciate what is in front of you at this moment, not just when looking back 5 or 10 years from now. You are worthy of that appreciation right now, and you will still be worthy of it as you change with age, wisdom, and time.

Whatever flaws you see in a photo or in the mirror likely don’t even exist. It’s a mirage that our brains create, for seemingly no reason at all. Fight it with every ounce of yourself until you can look at a current photo and see yourself for who you truly are, in all of your human, beautifully-flawed imperfectly perfect glory.

Wondering where I’ve been lately? Check out some of my latest articles on Medium.

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