Mirrors, Mirror: How We Approach Our Reflections
What distinguishes the reflection of ourselves as seen in a mirror, from the reflection of ourselves seen in a photograph is the element of control. Photographs ( those perfidious captivators of the immediate and spontaneous, those high priests at the temple of instant nostalgia) may allow for joy to be captured and memories encapsulated, but by offering up our gaze to a robot with a cool lens for an eye and an inability to recognize good lights shapes and colors from bad, we are virtually guaranteed to have an image of ourselves develop that – having been brought into being without our aid and approval – is not the one we’d chose to be recognized as fully representative of our truest, most beautiful selves.
What I’m saying is that in a photograph you’ll probs catch my nostrils at their biggest and my gut hanging over my pants, but bitch if you let me pose and and work it out in front of a mirror I’ll probably manage to stage a version of myself I’d be pleased to share with the world.
This shame bred of vanity was so vital that there were times I’ve deliberately deleted photographs of otherwise happy memories, banishing them into the cyberspace equivalent of hell along with the pixelated remains of Mike TV rather than be seen as someone I identify as less than an ideal beautiful.
At a friend’s apartment waiting on a few more members of our party to arrive before stepping out for dinner and too many drinks, I found myself propped on a spot on the sofa where I was confronted with my own image in a full-length mirror. Realizing how upset it was making me – a stupid cycle of fruitlessly trying to correct my looks followed by a rapid dismissal and disgust at my own shallow self-obsession – I asked another friend to switch seats with me. After all, this journey of loving myself is a careful one and part of it is learning your triggers. Indulging in a rigorous and socially bankrupt self-appraisal aka trial by mirror fire? TRIGGER.
I have found the more open you are about this stuff, the less dramatic it becomes – the more it opens up an easy communication, the more the whole thing becomes not a big deal. And that can be a breath-taking relief. My friend easily swapped seats, telling me that during the time she lived in Italy (the bitch!) she was perpetually taken aback at how most of the women she met there were open magpies when it came to taking in their reflection in any sort of surface with even a hint of reflective surface.
I think it’s human nature to want to check in on your face, but I think it’s a pretty American thing to pretend you aren’t doing it, a holdover from our puritanical roots, a testimony to the quietly treacherous dichotomy we all shoulder daily: to care about your looks is shallow, but to be anything other than a very specific kind of beautiful is to have failed.
During the beginning of this process (I can’t write ‘journey’ again because it makes me think of Journey and then I start singing and also a woman talking about any sort of journey makes my eyes roll back far enough in my head to make full contact with my brain stem, which while mildly entertaining, is super unfun.) right around the time I was re-learning how to relate to food and exercise (and those things aren’t done or anything, I am not perfect, I mean I am, but not in this way) I made this decision to stop looking at myself in the mirror so much, some how associating my critical gaze with the critical inner voice I had directed towards my body for so long.
It was pretty easy to do. Other than putting on makeup in the morning, it was hard to find reasons to stare at myself. When tempted I’d think, “You look exactly the same as you did when you left the house, you look just like yourself, no better or worse, how you look should not alter your mood.” When I started taking Pilates seriously (Which is about as serious as anyone can get about an exercise involving tiny, pumping arm motions – so like, not that much?) I was again spending a lot of one on one with my reflection. But this time, it was towards a very different end than quietly obliterating any self-esteem daring to rear its head. I was watching my body work, the shapes it took, the places where it faltered, the places where it was strongest.
That’s what I try to go when I furtively glance at myself in the mirror now. Not the grease on the forehead or the poorly concealed zit, the soft double chin – I look for what that body is doing, and I look often. I don’t think mirrors are any sort of enemy. They are, like a photograph, what we make of them. What they show us is, in a way (wait for it…..) whatever we choose to see. Loving and accepting your body and your face doesn’t mean a return to some sort of buttoned-up lunatic pilgrim-style sense of morality “Vanity! All is Vanity!” Look at yourself, in the mirror, in the photograph, look at you working, look at you happy, look at you living.