As women, it’s hard for us to not feel constant pressure to look perfect. Bouncy hair, juicy lips, flawless skin, flat abs — every time we look in the mirror, this is what we are supposed to see. But why aren’t we ever encouraged to look in the mirror and peer a bit deeper? Why can’t we ever accept ourselves fully, “flaws” and all, inside and out?
That’s the idea behind famed model and body-diversity advocate Iskra Lawrence’s new documentary series, The Mirror Challenge, which premiered June 5th. Airing every week on Facebook, each 15-minute episode follows Lawrence as she helps real people look in the mirror and reflect on how they view themselves.
In each episode, Lawrence stands with a participant in front of the mirror and asks them to reflect on their insecurities. The participants make eye contact with themselves in the mirror, and list what bothers them about themselves (internally or externally). For instance, in the first episode, the participant bares her stretch marks, a major insecurity of hers. From there, Lawrence offers positive encouragement and advice for self-care and self-love.
Theoretically, any of us can take the mirror challenge — we can each look in the mirror and study our flaws, but we do not have to let them pull us down. The challenge is about learning to embrace our flaws, and recognize that they are a part of us. We can still love ourselves, even if we have stretch marks, wild hair, acne, have been bullied, etc.
Lawrence is uniquely qualified for her role: She has over 4 million followers on Instagram, where she promotes body positivity, and was Aerie’s first #AerieReal role model. She appeared in a number of lingerie campaigns for the brand in unretouched photos. Since then, she has spoken at numerous events (including TEDx) on the importance of self-care and rejecting unrealistic beauty standards.
We chatted with Lawrence about where the idea for The Mirror Challenge came from, what to expect from the show, and how she dealt with her own “mirror challenge”:
HelloGiggles: How did the idea for The Mirror Challenge come about?
Iskra Lawrence: It was something that I actually used in my own life when I struggled with eating and body image issues and body dysmorphia. I felt like I had to redefine how I viewed myself so that I was worthy of food and love and self-care and all of those things, and for me, that started with the relationship I had with myself in the mirror because the mirror had often been a weapon for me. I’d often used it to measure myself, grab my fat, look at my body with disgust, and so I thought if I spent all that time doing negative things, maybe I needed to spend just as much time doing positive things in front of the mirror.
So for me, that was my challenge, hence “the mirror challenge.” I challenged myself to…[focus] on things I [liked], finding acceptance in all the things I thought were wrong with my body, and finding out that I was so much more than my size or not having a thigh gap or all those things, and really redefining that self-worth and value.
HG: How do you use the mirror challenge in your own life? What advice do you have for people who want to try it at home?
IL: It’s something that should continue to evolve. The mirror challenge should evolve with how you view yourself. The first time you do it, it’s going to be the hardest. And then you’re given this tool that you can then implement…when you just have five minutes for yourself, or if you find yourself looking in the mirror and your initial instinct is to find a flaw or an imperfection. Those really were constructed by the media, there was never anything wrong with the way you looked, you look like you and that’s good enough.
But your mind will often take you to those places, maybe it’s because a bully said something to you about your nose or maybe you saw it in a movie or in the media where something has been photoshopped or teased about or said on the front cover of a magazine, “Oh, look at that celebrity’s cellulite” — and then you find yourself looking at your legs thinking, “Well, my cellulite must be gross too.” All of those things have just brainwashed us.
I use [the mirror challenge] to really understand that, and then one by one tackle those issues and realize consciously that’s what I see when I look at my legs, that’s what I see when I look at my arms, why do I think that? Oh, because my legs were retouched before.
Does it matter that someone else thought that they would be more beautiful at that size? No. Now let me view them how I should be viewing them, which is that they are strong, that they enable me to do fun things like run and squat and be active and all those wonderful things.
So it really is like a training session, and you get better and better at it. You can use it even for just brightening up your day. One of my girlfriends, she had an awful flight and was tired and a bit grouchy and moody, and she got in front of the mirror and she did the mirror challenge, and she was just like, “I’m grateful today because the sun is shining,” “I’m grateful today because I drank my favorite coffee,” and you can use it to uplift yourself and not just have it be about your body or your self-esteem. It can be gratitude, it can be so many other things as well.
HG: Were you nervous about appearing in photos that were not retouched? What motivated you to make that decision?
IL: Yes, that is quite a nerve-racking thing because you’re told, especially as a model, to be a perfected version of yourself. You’re meant to be this ideal: smooth, tall, slim, flawless skin, all of these things that you’ve never actually been in real life. So it definitely is a scary thing when you’re like, “Wow, these photos are going to be out there on the internet, you can’t try and retouch yourself to fit this perfect ideal.”
But at the same time…I didn’t have a problem with my forearms until I received a picture back and someone had photoshopped them half the size. That was the first time I looked at my forearms and thought, “Oh, are they too big? What’s wrong with them? Are they manly?” I had all these questions that had only stemmed from that photoshop and so I knew that I would be able to have more self-acceptance if I saw more images of myself that were just of the real me.
I think it’s so sad now that we live in a day and age of social media where we are seeing heavily retouched photos that are meant to [show] us going about our real day. I think most of us [know] that if we open up a very fancy magazine, it’s a fantasy, it’s an illusion, we can understand that some of it’s going to be photoshopped and airbrushed. But when we’re opening up our Instagram, we see that’s our second cousin or the girl that lives next door and she’s photoshopping herself using Facetune and all these things that tweak what should be just a picture of her eating her fruit salad in the morning.
It’s a real different level — it’s confusing, to be honest — and it’s more damaging I think because it’s really infiltrating our lives 24/7. So The Mirror Challenge, I hope, will re-educate people around that and make people realize, regardless of how many followers or how many likes you get, if you don’t feel yourself represented or don’t feel like your life is perfect, when you look in that mirror, you can see the worth and value in yourself and no one can take that away from you. No one needs to like it or comment on it, so I think that’s going to be something really special that will come from this show.
HG: You are quite active on social media. Who do you like to follow on Instagram? Who do you recommend we follow for more body positivity?
IL: You have to follow one of my besties, her account is @nourishandeat. She is such an advocate for mental health and eating disorder awareness and recovery, and she just dedicates her whole platform to it. Every day she’s thinking of these really powerful posts, and they’re so moving. She’s vulnerable in every post, she’s sharing pieces about herself, about her journey. It takes a lot, and she’s so strong. She’s studying now to be a psychologist so she can actually go into treatment centers and help people with eating disorders. It’s really wonderful, so I definitely encourage you all to follow her.
HG: Women are often pressured to be perfect (not just in their looks, but in their entire lives — career, relationships, family, etc). What advice do you have for women to overcome this challenge and accept themselves for who they are?
IL: Well, actually, in three words — the mirror challenge. It’s really where you can start to take the control back and start deciding where your value system is. Unfortunately, for women, as soon as we get to the age where we start consuming media and film and even a lot of books or nursery rhymes and songs, we have the messages that the most important thing for a female to be is attractive and to find, quite often, a rich man.
I feel like it’s on us and it’s on mothers and fathers to help teach young people growing up that their value isn’t just about being pretty and cute, they can be so much more than that. And letting people know that being loyal, creative, working and ambitious, strong, whatever it may be is valued. It starts in front of the mirror, it starts with how we’re talking to ourselves and then how we talk to each other. And if you’re in a friendship group, or even within your family, if you can start celebrating the fact that people are more than just their physical appearance and that they are their personality and charisma and accomplishments and all those other wonderful things, then hopefully, eventually, we’ll change the narrative of why people are so special, because they are who they are and not just what they look like.
HG: Why should we watch The Mirror Challenge?
IL: I really just want the people viewing the show to know it’s very much for them, too, and I want their participation. I want them to get involved with #mirrorchallenge and post their own stories and experiences and how they felt after they did the mirror challenge in their mirror as well. Because the more voices and the stories we hear, the more representation we see doing this, it will only help other people who haven’t seen that before or haven’t felt good enough, they will realize they are.
This interview has been edited and condensed.