It’s safe to say that a model sees her own image more often than most people see theirs. Whether that image is in a mirror, on a phone screen, or in the pages of a magazine or catalog, she knows what she looks like. Ask a model if she has a “best side”, and she will tell you that she does. It’s important for a model to know her best angles, most flattering poses, and movements. As her career goes on, she becomes a well-oiled machine, in terms of becoming more comfortable with the fluidity of her movements. Watching a seasoned model move and flow on set can be as enthralling as watching a seasoned dancer move and flow on stage. It’s enviable and inspiring to those who watch.
Because they are typically seen by others as objects of beauty, it’s not uncommon for models to be considered ‘narcissistic’ – a word that comes from the Greek mythological character Narcissus, who fell in love with his image when he saw it reflected in a pool of water, and then stared at himself for the remainder of his life. Part of a model’s career involves seeing her image and managing that image by spending some time in front of the mirror. But does she really see herself? Did Narcissus? Who, among any of us, really sees ourselves? Could it be that Narcissus was looking at himself for so long because he was hoping to discover something deeper than simply what he was seeing with his eyes?
Maybe not. In any case, what you see when you look in the mirror is a paradox: It’s you, but, well, not really.
When I went to my modeling agency for the first time at fifteen years old and was asked to look at myself in the mirror, I had a difficult time doing it. I was suddenly shy and afraid to look at myself. But, why? Even as a teenager, I wanted to know why.
I wish I had discovered Louise Hay’s “Mirror Work” before that time, but the important thing is that I found it, eventually. Louise, a Metaphysical, self-help guru who came up with the concept of The Mirror Principle in 1984, started her career by counseling people who were living with AIDS. During these large group gatherings in the late 80’s, she gave hand mirrors to the attendees, asking them to look into their own eyes and say, “I love you”. Sound silly, or even narcissistic? Try it, and you might be surprised by what you think and how you feel.
One of Louise Hay’s many books is ‘Mirror Work: 21 Days to Heal Your Life’. Mirror Work involves not only looking directly into your own eyes in the mirror, but also saying loving things to yourself, called Affirmations, as you do. In the book, Louise teaches that our experience of life mirrors our relationship with ourselves, and that doing Mirror Work is one of the most loving gifts you can give yourself. She says that the intention “is to connect with the inner child within you who has been neglected for so very long”. I didn’t discover this book until the late 90’s, and at that time I didn’t really do the mirror “work”. I read the book, understood the concept and thought it was sweet, but it seems that most people don’t usually look into their own eyes and say good things to themselves until their lives reach a certain degree of unbearable (if ever), which was when I decided to incorporate Mirror Work into my own life. (continued below)
Believe it or not, it takes bravery to do this exercise with true intent. You’ve seen your image in the mirror many times before, but this way of looking at yourself is very different. It’s the opposite of superficial. It’s about being curious and willing to see what’s beyond your physicality, what’s beyond your “meat suit”, if you will.
Ruth Ozeki was curious and willing. A current Professor of Humanities at Smith College and a Zen Buddhist priest, she did a mirror experiment and published a book about it in 2016 entitled ‘The Face: A Time Code’. The experiment: looking at her face in a mirror for three hours straight, and documenting her experience as she went through it. Similar to Louise Hay’s process, what was revealed to Ozeki was more than merely what she saw with her eyes. She remembered the story of how she got that scar on her cheek while sledding as a little girl, and memories of her father, because she inherited his forehead. Thoughts came to her regarding cosmetic surgery - whether or not she’d consider it, and why. I particularly love a realization she had: “An actor’s face is a mask, a screen for our cultural projections; it both is and isn’t her own. So when we suspect and actor of having had plastic surgery, we denounce her not only for trying to deceive us but also for tampering with a face that has become partly ours.”
A model’s physicality is and isn’t her own, either. Like an actor’s face, a model’s could be considered a mask, too. Can it be true, then, that everyone’s face is a mask? Why are many – if not, most – of us unwilling to see what’s beyond that mask? What if it’s more beautiful than the mask itself, whether you're a model or not?
If I had known when I began my career as a model that cultivating a relationship with myself, the real, inner me, was as important as taking care of the outer me (my “meat suit”), I believe that my life would’ve been more beautiful much sooner, and my career wouldn’t have felt quite as intimidating early on.
As models, because our bodies are our business, we must, must, must take care of our whole selves, inside and out. If we don’t, we are more likely to “sell out”, say yes when we mean no, succumb to rejection, and place others’ opinions of us as more important than our own. For these reasons alone, placing more value on our outer selves than our inner selves makes life difficult, at best, and downright dangerous, at worst.
Plus-sized Supermodel Ashley Graham obviously knows Mirror Work well. She has said, “I remember thinking, ‘If I don’t love the woman that I look at in the mirror, I am never going to be successful.’ That was the moment I had to start convincing myself to look in the mirror and start saying, ‘I love you’. …This confidence is not something that happens overnight. I have been working on it for a long time. I look in the mirror and do Affirmations: ‘You are bold. You are brilliant. You are beautiful.’ If my lower pooch is really popping out that day, I look at it and say, ‘Pooch, you are cute!’ “
Runway Supermodel Erin O’Connor said, “In my job, I am portrayed as a misfit, a grandiose high fashion lady or an unearthly creature. At home, it’s important I can look in the mirror, strip away the disguise and be comfortable with who stares back.”
Visual Artist Mickalene Thomas said, “The mirror is a powerful tool because it forces you to deal with yourself on a deeper level.”
Actor Queen Latifah said, “When I was around 18, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re either going to love yourself or hate yourself.’ And I decided to love myself. That changed a lot of things.”
Rapper / Songwriter Megan Thee Stallion said, “Confidence literally starts from yourself. You have to go look in the mirror at yourself. If you don’t like what you see, you’re going to give off that energy.”
Actor Salma Hayek said, “If you’re feeling blue, lock yourself in a room, stand in front of a mirror, and dance – and laugh at yourself and be sexy. Dance the silliest and ugliest you’ve ever danced. Try to recover your sense of humor.”
Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street said, “Nobody needs to prove to anybody what they’re worthy of, just the person that they look at in the mirror. That’s the only person you need to answer to."
Singer Ani DiFranco said, “I’d rather be able to face myself in the bathroom mirror than be rich and famous.”
Yoko Ono said, “Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you’ll start to see a big difference in your life.”
The great Maya Angelou said, “We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding., according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay – and rise.”
As you can see, many wise women do Mirror Work, whether they call it that, or not. I encourage young, beginner models to do Mirror Work (book is available in paperback and audio. Also, do a YouTube search for “mirror gazing guided meditation” if you’re really interested). I suggest that they do it before they think they “need” it, because when they do need themselves – and they will – they will already know that discovering strength and beauty inside takes care of anything that happens outside. Of course, we can’t do this all in one day or even in ‘21 days’ as Louise’s book title states, but getting curious and being willing is actually all it takes to embark on a long and loving journey of caring for yourself, and getting to know the Beauty within. Being willing is the key. Yes – as a model, learn your best angles, learn to pose and to walk that runway, experiment with makeup and beauty products, exercise and eat well. But doing all of that with the knowledge that what’s inside of you is even more gorgeous and graceful than what’s on the outside is when you can truly enjoy all of that. Honest beauty shines through from the inside, out - how ever trite or cliché that may sound - but you have to nurture and foster that within yourself in order to bring it forth. You can't give out what you don't have within. Build up yourself as you build up your portfolio. Youth may fade, but true Beauty gets more pronounced with time, if it’s acknowledged. When we tell ourselves our truths, in the mirror or otherwise, that is a form of Beauty. Which reminds me of the final stanza of a poem I love by the nineteenth century poet John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:
“Beauty is Truth, Truth, Beauty.
That is all / Ye know on earth,
and all ye need to know.”
How truly beautiful is that?