How accurate is our mental image of ourselves?

What we see in the mirror can be different from what others perceive when they look at us. See more pictures of emotions.
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When you look at yourself in a mirror, what you see depends on the quality of that mirror. Similarly, our mental images of ourselves help determine how we react to daily highs and lows of life. If we think of ourselves as worthwhile and valued, that quality will come across to other people. Molded by both internal and external forces, our self-image makes a huge difference in how we feel and act.

Think about how you would describe yourself to a stranger. Would you emphasize your keen sense of humor or physical features you're fond of? Or would you spend more time on supposed "trouble spots?" Your answer largely depends on your mental image of yourself.

Why does it matter how you see yourself? Keeping our bodies healthy through proper diet and exercise improves how we feel physically and enhances our quality of life. Our mental wellness is equally vital for attaining personal fulfillment. A healthy state of mind fosters a positive self-image, which then encourages balanced relationships and sound decision-making skills [source: American Psychological Association]. But a healthy body and mind don't operate independently -- we should nurture both because they affect each other.

If all of this sounds a little too Zen for your taste, consider this. In a study of teenage girls' self-image, participants who rated themselves as socially unpopular were 69 percent more likely to gain weight than those who considered themselves popular [source: Psychiatric Annals]. Other research has found that people with a positive self-image are less likely to engage in unprotected sex as well.

What are the elements that create our self-image? Focus often turns to how we compare our bodies to ideal physiques. But body image is just one part of the complete picture. Our personal experiences, relationships, choices and attitudes all contribute to the whole. It's essentially how we evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, as well as how we define our character.

To get a better understanding of this mind-body connection, let's take a closer look at one of the most measurable facets of our mental picture: body image.