Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I wonder what it would be like not to dread having your picture taken. Not to dread looking in a mirror for fear that what you saw would fail to match up to the way that you hoped you might look. Even better, to live in a world in which there were no photographs, no mirrors, so that the only way that you would know what you looked like was from the reactions of other people around you. So that you would never know whether you were ugly or beautiful as such, but only whether people were happy to see you, which they would be, because you'd be smiling at how happy you were to see them.

I have this image of myself that I carry around in my head. Well, actually two images. One is the image of myself the way that I know I would look if only I could always look my best. That is, the best that I have ever been in my life, not fat, not tired, my hair styled nicely, perhaps wearing make-up, nice clothes, definitely cool shoes. I don't know if I would need to be any other age than the one that I am now; I can adjust the image to fit how I would like to look being older or younger. But there is a me in there whom I recognize as the one whom I would like to be. She is confident and self-assured. She doesn't look dumpy or ridiculous. Very occasionally, someone (usually my husband) manages to take a photo of her. She is me, not, I don't know, some gorgeous actress whom I fancy myself to resemble (or wish that I did). But she is very rarely the woman that I see when I look in the mirror and whose image then overlays the one that I have of what I really look like from the inside. Which makes me sad. Because I'm not ugly or fat. Except when I look in the mirror.

I have a theory about why there are so many women out there who are heavier than they feel that they would like to be. They are fighting the images of themselves that they see in the mirror. See, mirrors don't reflect reality; they distort it, warping the interior images that we have of ourselves and showing us someone else, our worst selves, not the self that we know we are when we are hanging out with friends or making love. And then, because the mind abhors dissonance, we make ourselves into those fat, ugly, unlovable women that we see in the mirror, when if we had never looked, we would never have believed ourselves to be anything other than the beautiful, lovable, drop-dead gorgeous women that we actually are. But because we see ourselves in mirrors and photographs all the time and those mirrors and photographs show us women whom we see as fat (because, let's be clear, mirrors and photographs LIE), then we eat more than we need to so as to become the fat women that we think, thanks to the lying mirrors and photographs, that we are.

But why don't we like what we see in the mirror? More importantly, why do we believe what we see in the mirror over what the people who know and love us actually say? Not "You're hideous," but "I'm so happy so see you!" Why do we believe a reflection on silver over the reflections of ourselves in another's soul? My dog, as I am sure you all know, is gorgeous. She is the most beautiful dog I have ever seen. Strangers stop me in the park to compliment me on what a beautiful dog she is. And she is happy to see me every morning of every day. You can see it in every wriggle of her body, every wag of her tail. Which must mean that, to this beautiful dog, I am beautiful, too--otherwise why would she be so happy to see me? And she's just a dog. What about my husband, my son, my friends? They look just as happy to see me as she does. Okay, they don't usually wriggle about it, but they definitely smile. Why don't I believe their smiles over the image that I see in the mirror? Why don't I trust that maybe what they see is the beautiful woman I carry inside of me, the one that I know I look like when there are no mirrors or cameras around?

If only I knew. If only there were a way to convince myself that I am the woman whom my husband sees when he looks at me, not the woman whom I see when I look in the mirror. Because, you see, I don't really feel all that ugly or fat when I just look at myself for real, not in a reflection. It's only thanks to the mirrors and cameras that I "know" what I look like to others. Which, of course, I don't (know, that is). Because they would never smile so much to see the woman that I see when I look in the mirror. Perhaps, indeed, I am the only one who can see her. And if that is so, is she really me--or only my evil twin?


  1. I don't have much problem with mirrors, but I cannot abide having my photograph taken. I always look horrific in pictures. I have a friend who is a professional photographer, and I told her about my photo phobia. She said it actually takes a good bit of skill to take a truly flattering picture, even of a very attractive person, and that there are a multitude of ways for photographs to distort, to be unflattering. So, the problem isn't me, and it isn't you. The problem really is the pictures, or, better, the photographer.

    My solution--if people must take pictures of me, I refuse to look at them. I actually even stole a picture from my church's impossible to avoid main hall bulletin board because I looked so terrible, and it send me into a spiral of self-loathing every time I saw it.

  2. I believe you absolutely! I am sure that this is why the best pictures that I have of me have been taken by my husband. He understands lighting and angles and that you have to take lots and lots and lots of shots before you get the right one.

    A few months ago, I saw an article in a magazine in the dentist's office (thus I have no idea what it was) in which a photographer did nude black-and-whites of a number of ordinary women, all of whom--curvy or not, younger or older--came out looking absolutely gorgeous. Good photography is definitely an art, not to be taken for granted!


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