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“When I Don’t Look In The Mirror” – Cross-Country Skier Hannah Halvorsen Speaks Out On The Importance Of Body Positivity

By Hannah Halvorsen | Oct. 22, 2020, 11:41 a.m. (ET)

Hannah Halvorsen competes at the FIS Cross-Country Skiing World Cup in January 2019 in Dresden, Germany.


I can remember looking in the mirror in sixth grade and thinking, “if only my forehead was smaller.”

At age 12, I really thought my forehead was the main obstacle between me and a good life. It’s ridiculous, I know. I totally get that in theory, but I have continued to do it for years. 

When I think back to some of the things I have wanted to change about my body, it would be comical if it hadn’t made me feel so bad about myself, but it did. The part of my body that I don’t like has changed many times, but the philosophy of “if I looked different, I’d be happy” has remained the same. 

But when I started confronting this philosophy head on, I realized that happiness might not have anything to do with changing how I look and a lot more to do with where I look.  

I think I can credit society for some portion of these subconscious thoughts. I think a lot of us can agree that social media often emphasizes the value of how we look. For me, it creates this deep association between looks and identity. Looks and value. Looks and happiness. 

At this point in my life, I know that it’s not true. I know that even if I could change the way I looked, it wouldn’t make me feel any better. But I still slip back into that mindset at times. I still look in the mirror and wish I could change something. 

The contradiction is when I think back to moments throughout my life where I felt really happy. Fun things like crust cruising (skiing off the trail on frozen spring snow) in Desolation Wilderness with my high school ski team or sledding on trash bags down an alpine run in Switzerland with Hailey Swirlbul or big things like delivering my younger siblings and being the first person in the world to hold them. 

I’ve had a lot of moments of pure happiness as I’ve recovered from the accident I suffered in November 2019. 

I realized that happiness might not have anything to do with changing how I look and a lot more to do with where I look.

Almost a year ago, I was hit by a car while walking across a street in downtown Anchorage. I fractured my skull, had a traumatic brain injury and had to have reconstructive surgery on my left knee. Since then, I have spent my time and energy recovering. 

Prior to my accident, I was in the best shape of my life and was excited to see what I could accomplish that ski season. I was only a few weeks from flying to my first race when I was hit, and I never got a chance to try to reach my goals of racing for a top ten at Under 23 World Championships. 

It’s been a lot of hard moments between the physical pain of the injury and the emotional pain of losing last year’s ski season and not being on the road with my teammates. But along the way, I’ve had these moments of powerful unbridled joy when I reach a new step. 

When I was able to walk for the first time. When I was able to go back to practice and see my teammates again. I could keep listing for a long time all the moments of happiness, but the thing that sticks out to me is I can’t think of one moment that had to do with a mirror. 

Not during this accident or throughout my life can I recall a moment where I looked in the mirror and thought “I look good today so now I am happy.” 

It’s not that every time I look in the mirror, I feel bad, it’s just that looking a certain way isn’t my primary value in life. It isn’t what makes me happy or proud. It isn’t where I find meaning. 

For me, meaning comes from working hard towards my goals, spending time with the people I care about or seeing a beautiful place. 

Mirrors aren’t going away anytime soon, and for practical reasons we need them. Have you ever gone to the bathroom during dinner at a restaurant and realized you had food in your teeth? I bet you were happy for mirrors at that point. 

I’m not saying never look in a mirror. Just look other places too. 

If I look in the mirror, I see my body. I see what I look like. I see if there’s food in my teeth. But when I don’t look in the mirror, I see my life, the people I love and the amazing places I get to race and train. 

It’s when I take a moment to stop looking at the mirror and look at my life I realize where happiness has been the whole time. It’s been right there in front of me.

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Hannah Halvorsen

Cross-Country Skiing