Ask Dr. Elia: Does the mirror lie?

Published: Tuesday, April 5 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Everywhere we turn there seems to be an advertisement promoting the latest miracle pill or exercise regiment that will produce amazing results.

The pictures that accompany these types of promotions usually show a perfectly shaped woman or a perfectly built, Greek god-type man. The amount of money being spent on advertising to create the illusion of these types of bodies is astronomical. Unfortunately, it must be working because consumers are buying the whole concept: the idea that a great-looking body means happiness, better relationships and, especially, finding love. All you need to do is look like these models, and your life will be great.

Unfortunately there is a downside to all this hoopla about having the perfect body.

First of all, most of us will never look like that, but, more importantly, this obsession leads to eating disorders, poor self-esteem, depression and even feelings of not wanting to be here on this earth any longer. I realize this may sound overly dramatic, but I can assure you that it is real. If I don't like what I see in the mirror every day, it will affect every other aspect of my life. Consider that there are people who consciously avoid even looking at the mirror when they get out of the shower for fear of what they will see.

Imagine having someone tell you every day, "You're fat and ugly," or "Look at you. How disgusting!" Obviously we don't have anyone like this in our lives — or do we? The inner critic is wreaking havoc in many people's lives, and I'm convinced that what we see in the mirror does not accurately reflect what we really look like.

Body-image distortion is a very common phenomenon. People will nitpick every possible physical imperfection without comprehending what they actually look like. Part of the homework assignments I give to those struggling with their body image is to get in front of the mirror and tell themselves the following: I love my body and I will take good care of my body.

This is not some kind of narcissistic mantra; it's an honest attempt to formulate a healthier relationship with whom you see in the mirror.

Needless to say, initially many fail at this assignment. With tears rolling down their cheeks, they say, "I can't do it, or it's not true," but with continued effort, minor miracles can happen with just this small exercise. Unless we change how we view our imperfections, our self-esteem will continue to suffer — and we can't afford to berate ourselves long term.

Focusing on all the amazing things are bodies do for us, which we often take for granted, can also enhance our view of our bodies. In the end, it is not about having a perfect body; it's about having a loving and healthy relationship with our body. Having a more balanced view of our lives based on the relationships we create, the amount of service we provide and the love we extend to others has a lot more to do with our self-esteem than our physical appearance.

The world may tell us otherwise, but our spirit cries out. Be kind, be sensitive, be loving. In other words, apply the often-neglected second part of the commandment, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

In so doing, we will discover that loving oneself is a pretty good idea, even with our imperfections.

Dr. Elia Gourgouris is a well-known personal and business coach. He is also a nationally known speaker, relationship expert and author of “The Multi-Platinum Marriage: Going from Surviving to Thriving.“ Elia's column, "Ask Dr. Elia," appears Tuesdays on MormonTimes.com. He can be contacted through his websites, LDSCoaching.com or www.AskDrElia.com, or by calling 303-523-6396.

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