There’s no denying that what we see in the mirror has an impact on how we feel about ourselves as a person. But what is it about our appearance that has such a strong hold on our self-esteem? Erica Hornthal, movement therapist and owner of Chicago Dance Therapy, says what we see in the mirror is also reflection of how we feel inwardly, so being unsatisfied with the way we look can signal deeper psychological issues.
For many of us, the most interchangeable part of our appearance is our clothing, and Hornthal says what we wear can be a tell-tale sign of depression. “Oftentimes, people who don’t feel good about themselves or have low self-esteem put very little thought and effort into what they’re wearing,” she explains. Consciously wearing whatever makes you feel your best, however, can help to reverse low self-esteem, says Hornthal. “Putting effort into your choice of clothing and the way you look proves to yourself that you’re investing in yourself.” And simply knowing that you care about yourself can work wonders for your emotions.
If you have no idea what to wear that may boost your self-esteem, Hornthal says colors are a good starting spot. “Red is often considered to be a power or passion color,” she explains. “So if you’re headed to an important board meeting or a hot date, a red tie may help you feel more confident.” Hornthal also notes that blue may have a soothing effect, but warns that it can also enhance feelings of sadness if you’re prone to depression—which, if you’re already feeling apathetic about your appearance, might be something to avoid.
In addition to clothing, our hair also plays an important role in how we perceive ourselves. In fact, a Yale University study found that there are actual measurable psychological effects of having a bad hair day: A decrease in performance self-esteem (how we feel about our abilities); an increase in social insecurity; and an increase in self-criticism. On the flip side, having a good hair day can boost our self-confidence, give us an edge when it comes to workplace politics and even make us feel like we belong in a higher social class, according to a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business study.
Lastly, Hornthal emphasises the importance of posture and its affect on one’s psyche. “People who are depressed oftentimes slump their shoulders and avoid eye contact,” she explains. “Little do they know, making eye contact can make you appear to be more personable, confident and connected.” Additionally, Hornthal encourages anyone feeling bad about themselves to look in the mirror each morning and assume the power pose: Pop your chest out, lift up your chin and make eye contact with yourself. According to Hornthal, “This pose taps into deep-rooted muscles that help us activate our power centers and, thus, makes us feel more confident in ourselves.”
While it’s always good to be happy about our own appearance, we can find solace in the fact that we don’t normally have to worry about how others view us, because chances are, they’re not even looking. According to a series of experiments performed by Psychologist Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, we believe that far more strangers notice our flaws or details about our appearance than they actually do. Gilovich dubbed this the “spotlight effect,” saying, “People assume the social spotlight shines on them more brightly than it really does.” That’s because humans have an innate tendency to forget that while we’re each at the center of our own world, we’re not at the center of everyone else’s.
So next time you go out and purchase a nice article of clothing or spend an extra five minutes doing your hair, remember you’re doing it for yourself, not for anyone else—and that what’s far more important.