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Reflect on this: Find ways to make a mirror work for you

April 28, 2014 at 8:24 AM ET

Image: Young woman looking at mirror
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When it comes to judging our reflection, sometimes we’re our own worst critic.

From before Narcissus, right up until the Year of the Selfie, we are a species smitten with our reflections.

Most kids learn to recognize themselves in the mirror by the time they’re two. In the animal kingdom, this ability is rare: Only a handful of the smartest animals — dolphins, elephants, great apes, magpies — interact with mirrors the way humans do.

But when it comes to judging our reflection, there’s a good chance we’re the most critical of the bunch.

Some folks confronting body image issues in their lives have tried avoiding mirrors and found that's worked. 

Kjersten Gruys, body image activist, graduate student in sociology at UCLA and author of “Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall,” gave up on mirrors for a year. She picked a great time, too — the months leading up to her wedding, and didn’t even sneak a peek on her wedding day.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, author of the blog The Beheld, went on a self-imposed mirror fast for a month.

“I thought far less about looks this month than I normally do,” she wrote in a post summing up her experience. “I didn’t feel better or worse about my appearance; I rarely felt pretty or unpretty. I just didn’t care as much.”

Hiding the reflecting surfaces all around the house may work for some people, but it’s not something Vivian Diller, New York psychologist and author of “Face It,” will recommend to everyone.

“Mirrors are one of the basic interactive experiences in life, starting with reflections in water,” she says.

Yes, we may be doomed to endless fascination with our images in the glass. But how we feel about what we see can be under our control.

“Holding on to an internal dialogue that’s positive is the first step to using the mirror in a positive way,” she said. “I tell women when they look in the mirror they might consider how they talk to a good friend,” and that helps soften even the most critical of in-your-head voices.

Or, you could cheat. Companies like SkinnyMirror sell looking glasses that are designed to return a leaner-than-normal reflection.

But Diller tut-tuts. “How you manage a reflection to me is more important than having an illusion of who you are.” In other words: “If you have big hips, then find a way to make big hips work for you.”

But there’s no harm in letting physics come to your rescue. A few simple design and decoration tricks can bring out the best version in your reflection.

Fred Albert, a design writer at the home decoration company Houzz, shared some tips with TODAY:

“There’s nothing more annoying than a bathroom with exquisite finishes and a beautiful mirror — and lighting that makes you look like a cast member from 'The Walking Dead,' Albert says. "Lighting is critical to getting a proper reflection.” Fix lights at eye level, flanking the mirror or mounted on it. Avoid overheads and fluorescent bulbs, he says.

Wall colors make a difference, too — and all four of them in the room, since light bounces off them and onto you. “Warm wall colors (think pinks and reds) will offer the most flattering light, while cool colors such as green will make you look like you stepped out of the road company of 'Wicked,'” Albert says. 

With dressing mirrors, a long narrow piece works best. But those that lean at a strong angle may result in an “unflattering distortion.” Albert suggests mounting these on a wall or positioning them almost vertically on the floor. 

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