In my late 30s, I began to feel less confident about aging. My physical body was changing, and, I’ll admit, I did not fully embrace these changes at first. I cringed at the few gray strands that grew in around my perimeter. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the physical appearance; I wondered if my age would be perceived as a negative trait in other spaces. What will everyone else think? I also felt the pressure to uphold “Black don’t crack.” I’m supposed to look 25 forever, right?
I’ve always said positive affirmations aloud, but when my therapist recommended that I say them in front of a mirror, I hesitated. I do mirror work with my children, but I wondered if it would make a difference as a 40-year-old woman?
What is mirror work?
Quite simply, mirror work is saying positive affirmations to yourself in front of a mirror. Christiana Ibilola Awosan, Ph.D., a New York–based marriage/couples and family therapist, confirms that this simple practice invites us to lovingly embrace our full selves, just as we are. That’s especially important for Black women, whose encounters with society at large too often offer little in the way of affirmation.
Dr. Awosan also assigns positive mirror talk to her own clients, and has seen noticeable improvements.
According to AARP’s most recent Mirror/Mirror Survey of Women’s Reflections on Beauty, Age, and Media, at least one in three Black women face age-based discrimination. And Black women 50 and over, in particular, face weight-based discrimination regularly, which can have negative effects on their mental health.
“Black women clients have reported changes in their self-esteem after incorporating mirror talk, particularly more awareness of the types of messages they are saying to themselves. At first, many clients think it’s awkward or may even preface the practice with negative statements like, ‘But I don’t see anything positive.’ But after a few sessions, clients begin to realize how powerful focusing on the positive can be for their mental health,” Dr. Awosan says.
Mirror, mirror … in the media
In 2021, performer Lizzo shared a body-positive video of herself on social media. In the viral clip, which has more than 3.5 million views to date, the “Good as Hell” songstress stood in front of a bathroom mirror and repeated positive affirmations to her midsection. In the caption, she states, “I am radically learning to love myself. Even if it means talking to myself every morning.” Lizzo, like many other Black women, has been using mirror talk to look past society’s rigid beauty standards in order to connect with her most authentic self.
Even if you’ve never tried it, mirror talk is all around us! You may have seen mirror talk in popular media. If you are a fan of HBO’s Insecure, you are familiar with actress and producer Issa Rae’s infamous “mirror moments.” Rae escapes to mirrors for comfort and reflection, and to give herself a boost in tense situations. These pep talks usually leave Rae with a renewed sense of confidence and vigor.
Tabitha Brown, an actress and global influencer, is also a firm believer in mirror talk. In an interview with OWN network’s Ladies Night In, Brown emphasizes how unapologetically intentional she is about regularly practicing mirror talk. One of her go-to affirmations is “You are enough.”
The advantages of positive mirror talk
Engaging in positive self-talk can go a long way! Mirror talk, specifically, has many psychological and behavioral benefits. Based on psychology and neuroscience research, mirror talk helps increase awareness of the self and shift from self-limiting beliefs to optimistic thoughts about our appearance and overall well-being.
And because it can be a daily challenge not to internalize pervasive cultural bias and microaggressions, cultivating self-affirming practices is critical. According to AARP’s most recent Mirror/Mirror Survey of Women’s Reflections on Beauty, Age, and Media, at least one in three Black women face age-based discrimination. And Black women 50 and over, in particular, face weight-based discrimination regularly, which can have negative effects on their mental health. Some sisters also report unfair treatment due to ethnicity; cultural identity; national origin; race; skin tone; age; gender, gender identity or gender expression; sexual orientation; disability; social class; name; accent; religion; or other aspects of who we are. At the same time, the study affirms that we place a high value on inner peace, wellness and taking time to care for ourselves.
For this reason, Dr. Awosan also does mirror work herself. “I repeat, ‘You are beautiful. You are amazing,’ daily. I also have a [tooth] gap. From the time I was little, people were always suggesting that I close my gap. And I did, but it recently opened back up. Instead of trying to fix what’s not broken, I now focus on admiring it. This gap is something unique to me and I love it.
Tips for getting the most out of mirror talk
Tanzye Hill, a 38-year-old Nashville, Tennessee–based doula educator and Black maternal health advocate, finds that mirror talk works best for her when she first wakes up in the morning. “I begin my day with nurturing my inner self through mirror talk. It sets the tone for the entire day.”
Dr. Awosan agrees. “We all lead immensely busy lives, so what I’ve assigned as an integral part of mirror work is writing affirmations on Post-it Notes. Clients place the notes next to their bed or on their mirrors. It’s an easy way to remind yourself to say the affirmations frequently. … I also recommend mirror work during morning routines, while brushing teeth, applying makeup or doing your hair. The affirmations are right there, and it helps to set the tone for the day.”
Keep in mind these additional tips from mental health experts for incorporating regular mirror work:
- Slip a compact mirror into your purse. Touching up your lipstick? Smile approvingly at yourself. Quick trip to the restroom? Gaze into the glass and reflect on what makes you special. If you’ve got a door you can close, say it loud and proud. (No mirror? Put your phone’s camera setting on reverse.)
- Create a catchy slogan to get yourself hyped up, suggests Dr. Awosan. “In Yoruba culture, the name ‘Ibisanmi’ means ‘being born fits you.’ Not only do I emphasize this phrase to my clients to get them inspired, it is the name of my business. There’s nothing missing or lacking — who you see in the mirror is perfect exactly as you are.”
- Give yourself permission. The Mirror/Mirror survey findings show that among Black women 50 and older, there is still some hesitancy of presenting our full selves in workplace settings. Positive mirror talk can help give you permission to show up as your authentic self. Nose ring? Pink hair? There’s no limit to your physical style and beauty.
- Contemplate the “wow” of now. Appreciate who you are at this moment. Don’t compare yourself and your looks to how you once were, or how you hope to be someday. “I want to emphasize that clients understand what is true about who they really are. Be kind to yourself by replacing society’s untruths with your own narrative. I am beautiful just the way I am,” adds Dr. Awosan.
I’ve been practicing mirror work regularly, and it has made a world of difference. I still have a ways to go, but I appreciate myself fully and unapologetically these days. I love the woman that I am becoming. So, if you’re stuck, jump in front of a mirror, and speak affirming thoughts to the person you love the most: you.