Monday, 21 May 2012

The Woman in the Mirror

 It’s hardly a secret that we are a world obsessed with what we look like. And we’re confronted with a multi-media menagerie of images and platforms that want to make us even more concerned about our own bodily foibles – whether it’s our funny looking toes or our broken nose that never quite aligned itself.

Gossip magazines, women’s magazines, TV shows about looking ten years younger… film stars who we know are 70 but who look 30 (and weird) thanks to excessive surgery, and the publication of an endless amount of rubbish diet books… these are just a few of the things marketed to make us hate our bodies.

Dr Cynthia Bulik tackles the issues head on in her new book The Woman in The Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are (Walker Books). Bulik is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University if North Carolina School of Medicine, and a director of the UNC Eating Disorders Programme, among her many other qualifications. And she has spent her career trying to help women who are struggling with their self-esteem, and helping them see that body confidence is not the same as self-confidence. In her new book, she transfers some of what she has learned onto the page, to help others.

The opening half of the book is particularly hard-hitting, as it takes each life stage of the average woman in detail (from being a baby, to starting school, getting married, having children, going to work, growing old etc) and really examines where opportunities exist for outside influences to creep in and distort our self-view, from a very early age. For instance, Bulik points out that even the words: “It’s a girl” (when said to a mother just moments after she has given birth) already instil in most mothers a subconscious ideal of what her new daughter will wear, how she will behave, and the kind of choices she will have as she grows up.

But if gender conditioning begins from the very first seconds of life, is there really anything we can do to change it? Well, Bulik thinks there is. The second half of Woman in the Mirror is dedicated to various CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) techniques that she has used with patients to help them reassess how they see themselves and those around them, and to build their confidence back to what it should be. The book includes case studies and exercises to help readers, and in many ways is a work book or self-help guide.

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