The Biological Reason We Feel How We Do When Looking In The Mirror

Mirror, mirror ...

Last updated on Jul 16, 2018

Woman looking in mirror judging herself, biological reason we do so Iona Studio | Canva

Standing in the mirror, I notice every fine line screaming back at me like small canyons on my face.

I notice bags like camel’s humps under my bloodshot allergy-laden eyes and dark circles from not having enough sleep. I blink in dismay as I survey the damage in the mirror.

I notice that my skin is sagging more today than it did yesterday. Note to self: Drink more water. It's supposed to help that. I much prefer coffee saturated with sugar and cream, which is why I am now battling the extra pounds I also noticed in my reflection.


Turning from the mirror I sigh in sad dismay at the thought of the attractive young girl I used to be.

Then I looked up and there he was, standing in front of the same mirror looking at his reflection with a confident smile spread across his face as if he were looking at a reflection of Brad Pitt.

Standing in nothing but very tight blue boxers with his protruding belly hanging over the edge, his body is out of shape and overweight. He has a receding hairline that starts at one ear and makes a half-moon around his head to the other ear.

His double chin creases as he smiles broadly at himself in the mirror and flexes a sloppy non-muscular arm. His features are average at best. He looks older than he is. (Although he brags about his youthful appearance.)


I watch in fascination as he preens in front of the mirror like a rooster, so very proud of himself. I can almost hear him crow.

This was the same mirror that just destroyed my self-esteem only a second ago, and he was looking at himself with great pride.

How could we be so very different? How could I look in the mirror and only see my flaws when he sees perfection?

Turns out, it's more biological than we think.

A study conducted by the Social Issues Research Center (SIRC) found that “women are much more critical of their appearance than men, 8 out of 10 women looking in the mirror are dissatisfied with their appearance and more than half see a distorted figure.”


The study also states, “Men looking in the mirror are more likely to be either pleased with what they see or indifferent. Research shows that men generally have a much more positive body image than women—if anything, they may tend to overestimate their attractiveness. Some men looking in the mirror may not see the flaws in their appearance.”

SIRC found that many things could affect a person’s image and reaction when they look in the mirror, everything from "sex, age, ethnic group, sexual orientation, mood, eating disorders, what they've been watching on TV, what magazines they read, whether they're married or single, what kind of childhood they had, whether they take part in sports, what phase of the menstrual cycle they're in, whether they are pregnant, where they've been shopping—and even what they had for lunch."

This is why dating in midlife is so very challenging. Men and women see themselves completely differently.

Men dating in midlife often prefer to date younger women because they believe that women their age are not equal to them in physical looks. They think their female peers can't keep up with them physically. I call this ability to distort the facts in their favor “Magic Mirror Syndrome": The gift of being able to look in a mirror and look past the flaws and only see a golden light.


What you see on many dating websites are men in their 50s, 60s, or older, wanting to date women in their 20s, 30s, or 40s because they feel they are more on the same level in looks and stamina. (If you look at these men, you see that most of the time this is more of a product of the “magic mirror” than reality.)

The most important thing women need to learn how to do is look in the same mirror men do.  We can't let media and unrealistic ideals determine our self-worth.

However, the study did point out that “women are judged on their appearance more than men, and standards of female beauty are considerably higher and more inflexible.”

Women continuously face what society deems their "ideal" to be, in both face and figure. Naomi Wolf calls this "the official body" in her book The Beauty Myth. With so much of this imagery surrounding us, beauty becomes normal and anything less becomes distorted and ugly.


We as women need to learn to love what we see looking back at us and embrace it. We need to have the same level of self-confidence and self-appreciation for ourselves.

We should see our souls and inner beauty and let that radiate the strongest. We need to look for strengths not weaknesses, overlook flaws, and concentrate on the positive.

Learning to see a better image in that mirror will improve our personal and professional relationships and make us healthier happier human beings.

Deni Abbie is a certified Life Coach, Dating and Relationship Coach, Hypnotherapist, syndicated author, and public speaker.