It’s not a compliment-fishing exercise, but rather the elicitation of an assist to help me evade any potential spiral of negativity. Because showing up somewhere alone can make anyone feel vulnerable, and doing it while wearing the wrong dress or over-application of blush can feel extra-awful when you don’t have a baseline level of self-confidence at a given point, like when you’re, say, fresh off a breakup.
If I ever need a self-esteem boost to get out the door—even after I doll myself up in any number of flattering LBDs—I send a picture of myself to a friend, or practice “friend-mirroring.”
That’s why I started practicing friend-mirroring when I can’t see clearly. And, I’ve concluded, everyone can benefit from adopting a similar habit of their own.
The power of letting someone else reflect who you really are
The Velvet Underground released “I’ll Be Your Mirror” first as a single, then on the semi-self titled album The Velvet Underground & Nico. The lyrics—Lou Reed-penned and purred in Nico’s heavy German accent—encourages the listener to see themselves truthfully: “I find it hard to believe you don’t know/the beauty you are/ but if you don’t let me be your eyes/ a hand to your darkness so you won’t be afraid.”
I alway thought Reed and Nico were onto something, because many of us really do tend to be our own harshest critic. According to Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, one big reason this happens is because many are extremely self-focused when it comes to physicality: “A characteristic that is perceived as undesirable will often be over-amplified in the person’s mind,” says Dr. Manly. “For example, a person who believes that their hips are too wide may amplify that single characteristic when evaluating their outfit, whereas a friend or partner will see the entire outfit—and the person—when giving feedback. In truth, none of us are able to perceive our looks or way of being in a truly objective way.”
So, volleying a selfie to a trusted pal for a friend-mirroring practice might help you to see yourself kindly. Because generally, those who love us are able to see our beauty for what it is and communicate that.
How adopting a friend-mirroring practice gave me a self-esteem boost
On my first big night out after my most recent breakup, I made sure to pull out all the style stops in order to help me feel as comfortable as I hoped to be emotionally and psychologically throughout the night. But after putting on my velvet babydoll dress with sheer long sleeves, I looked in the mirror and lost my confidence. So I sent a selfie to my friend Leah, and awaited a big veto on the dress. When that happened, I told myself, I’d cancel my plans and call it a night.
What actually happened, though, was that she sent me a string of thumbs-up emojis followed by enthusiastic texts that read “It looks great!” and “You are out for blood tonight.” I re-read that last text, then re-read it over again. “F–k yeah, I am,” I whispered to my iPhone.
“When we receive feedback from someone we trust, we can feel much safer and secure—whether it’s about the clothes we are wearing, hairstyle, or even a certain behavior.” —psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
Grateful that I stumbled upon a ritual for gassing myself up, for the next two weeks, I routinely sent a selfie to different friends before going out, whether it was for a work event, drinks, or even a date. Amid this low-confidence blip of my post-breakup reality, their responses—laden with silly heart-eye emojis and messages like “You look absolutely gorg” or the reassuring, “No, that’s PERFECT”—helped restore my sense of self to being someone who great about herself. And Dr. Manly says this makes sense, psychologically.
“Given that we are not very objective with ourselves—we truly cannot see ourselves as others see us—it feels great to have independent feedback from a friend,” Dr. Manly says. “When we receive feedback from someone we trust, we can feel much safer and secure—whether it’s about the clothes we are wearing, hairstyle, or even a certain behavior.” That’s not to say there won’t be edits, because a great friend, whom you trust, will be honest. (Sometimes that means letting you that you look amazing but it feels more like a red lipstick night than a pink lipstick night.)
And the friend-mirroring practice doesn’t need to stop once you feel self-assured. Now, officially over my breakup, I’m secure with myself and also confident about my outfits, but I still like sending those selfies. The reminder that I am wonderful and there’s a whole world out there waiting for me to experience it is a self-esteem boost that never gets old.
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