I have a rather unhealthy relationship with mirrors. OK, having written that I now wonder if anyone goes around bragging about her super healthy, totally functional, fuzzy-wuzzy relationship with reflective surfaces. Doesn’t seem terribly likely. Nevertheless, I’ve realized that I can gauge how I’m feeling about my body through frequency of mirror use. And I’m wondering if my habits will sound familiar to any of you.
When I’m feeling deeply upset about or disappointed in my body, I avoid mirrors altogether. The negativity whirrs softly in the background of my daily activities, and confronting my own reflection just confirms my belief that my physical self is in desperate need of improvement. Unless I absolutely have to use a mirror – for a task like applying makeup or making sure my outfit proportions are acceptable – I just don’t look. The mirror becomes my bitter enemy.
When I’m feeling confident and fantastic about my body, I don’t completely shun mirrors but I also don’t spend ages studying myself in them. I don’t need to make sure I look a certain way or confirm my beauty, and even when I’m feeling my absolute best I can’t say I do loads of preening. I don’t actively look away from mirrors during these times, but I don’t actively seek them either.
When I’m feeling unsure about my body, now that’s when I use mirrors the most. My weight, hair, and skin fluctuate regularly, and when they’re in some sort of transition, I feel compelled to check on them regularly out of curiosity. And sometimes dismay. I want the mirror to show me these strange, appearance-altering shifts, and I want to meticulously track their progress.
Articulating these patterns makes me realize that the mirror doesn’t just reflect back an image of my physical self, it gives me a snapshot of my emotional state. I cannot remember a single time when I was dwelling in the depths of the body blues and a glimpse in the mirror made me feel better. Nor can I recall a time when I was riding high on my own power and joy and then brought low by my own reflection. The mirror shows me exactly what I want and expect to see, be it bad, good, or neutral. It’s revealing very little that I don’t already know.
Other things mirrors fail to show? How other people see me. Whenever people tell me I look like X celebrity or point out a person on the street that could be my twin, I’m always thunderstruck. When I ask my husband to describe me, he focuses on features and proportions I’ve never noticed. When I look in the mirror, I see only one person’s idea of how I look: My own. And I’m just the tiniest bit biased.
Mirrors also fail to show my accomplishments, how much I’m loved, my capacity for kindness, my intelligence. Mirrors will never reflect back my goals, my strengths, my talents, or my passions. Mirrors can never capture the depth and breadth of my relationships, my untapped potential, or the vast and precious reservoir of my memories. I may look in a mirror to see myself, but how much of myself is truly shown? How much can a mirror reveal, how much does it merely reflect, and how much does it miss entirely?
Mirrors are tools and most of us must use them daily. But they should never be relied upon to measure beauty, power, or worth.
Image courtesy Rian Lemmer