Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mirror, Mirror off the Wall

You know those drinking games where you take a shot every time someone says a particular word or phrase? What would happen if you played that game with yourself, and took a shot every time you looked in the mirror? Every time you determined your self-worth by what you saw in that oh-so-important looking glass? How drunk would you be by the end of the day?

I don't ask to judge, but rather to point out that flaw in myself. Like a bathroom scale, the mirror can hold the power to make or break your day, to make you feel like a star or wonder what is wrong with you. No matter how I feel when I wake up in the morning, that cunning mirror has the ability to tell me I am wrong. Oh, you thought you were having a good day, it mocks? Oh no no, I am the one who decides that. Step right up and allow me to judge your worth. And dutifully, I bare all and turn from side to side, asking for a price tag to be stamped upon my body. When this is over, I step into the shower, at times energized and proud, at other times demoralized and ashamed. It is silly, really, this power I have given to a piece of glass.

When I read about a woman who had decided to go without mirrors for a year, I was intrigued and thought it was a wonderful idea. This was a few months ago, and as I recall, I looked at her blog, decided to put a towel over my mirror, and promptly took it down within a day. It was never my intention to go as far as she did, but I thought it would be nice to be mirrorless for a little while. My resolve lasted about as long as it took me to take a shower and need the mirror to see how my curly hair looked when it dried. Needless to say, I forgot about the mirror challenge and went about my life.

Two weeks ago, I went to Santa Barbara for the week to camp with my family before my sister's wedding. I spent a week basking in the sunlight (hello, vitamin D!), jogging by the ocean, and just relaxing. It was glorious. And something interesting started to happen. Something, dare I say it, transformative?

There were mirrors in a few of the bathrooms, and I found myself initially using those stalls. After all, I wanted to see how I looked and make sure I was presentable. But after a few days, I started to noticed something. I went for a jog every morning with my sister, and when I came back, I would feel refreshed and strong. Knowing that I could run four miles had me feeling pretty damn sexy. And then I went in the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Hmm. Sometimes the mirror confirmed my feelings and sometimes it told me I didn't look as good as I thought. But I quickly began to realize it didn't matter.

After a couple of days, I began to choose the bathrooms without a mirror. It came in a moment of clarity, as the most obvious of realizations often do. I looked the same to the outside world no matter what I saw in the mirror. They simply saw me, and most likely with much less judgment than I gave to myself. So the only reason to look in the mirror was to give power to something outside of myself. I realized I had a choice. I could base my beliefs about my appearance on what I happened to see at any given moment in a piece of glass. Or I could just ask myself how I felt. And I realized that my feelings of beauty, or lack thereof, had more to do with my actions during the day. Had I worked out? Had I eaten food that made me feel good? Had I smiled and been happy with my friends and family? Luckily for me, I was on vacation, and so the answer every day was, yes. Of course, being back in Seattle now, there are days that I sit in front of a computer for hours, or days when I am grumpy and snap at my housemates. Those are the days I don't feel so beautiful. But on those days, I do something different now. Instead of looking in the mirror and critiquing every flaw, I do something that makes me feel beautiful. I get outside and go for a run (on those rare days when it's not raining), I go to the gym, or call an old friend and chat. I meditate or bake, knowing that I will not feel the need to subject myself to the mirror's fickle rating scale if I dare to eat a cookie. I find ways to be beautiful, rather than lamenting my lack of porcelain air-brushed perfection.

And I'll tell you what the first thing I did when I arrived home was: I took down my mirror. And I haven't missed it one bit.


Cheryl Harris said...

Love it. When we moved into our 1st house there were mirrors all over and they came down quite promptly!
And mirrors are never a good judge of beauty anyhow

Stephanie E. said...

For what it's worth. I think you are beautiful.
I have the same issues. I have red hair and pale skin and I look like no one in my family. I was teased as a kid for being so white. I try to embrace my looks but I have lost so much weight lately that my almost 41 year old face is looking older as I get thinner. sigh. Thanks for the honest post. It's nice to know I'm not alone. :)

gfe--gluten free easily said...

How very interesting, Iris! I'm really glad this strategy is working for you, and I'm sure it will help many. Here's the odd thing ... I LOVE mirrors. I don't always look into them as I pass by, but I like them because they reflect light and, therefore, brighten a room. Looking into a mirror usually makes me smile though ... I try to always smile at myself and say something nice to myself. So maybe I've gone the other way with mirrors. And now I wonder if anyone else reading loves mirrors, even if they are not beautiful or vain. (I am certainly neither.) Again, interesting discussion for sure.


Melaina said...

So motivational and inspiring! True words of wisdom :)

Iris said...

Shirley, First of all YOU are beautiful! Don't think otherwise! But certainly not vain. :) And I enjoyed reading about your take on mirrors...I go back and forth myself, and I'll admit it is partly vanity. When I'm feeling beautiful, I love looking into mirrors...perhaps I just need to be better at smiling into them and saying something nice, as you do. But I have noticed that without the mirrors, I pay much more attention to WHAT my body can do that how it looks, and I'm loving that right now!

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Great post, Iris. Very inspiring. I don't have the same love-hate relationship with the mirror as I do with other "measures" of my body - the scale, for instance? but I can definitely see how it can be a negative influence in one's life. I am with Shirley in that I love them in my home for decorating. And I've found that I spend less and less time in front of the mirror, scrutinizing. I use it to get ready in the morning, and then if I'm in the bathroom at the office, but then, only to make sure nothing is stuck in my teeth and that my skirt isn't tucked into my underwear or something embarrassing like that.
In a similar vein, however, I've decided to take a month away from the scale. I am not a daily weigher, but it controls too much for my comfort. I'm only a week into my no-scale zone, so it's crossed my mind to weigh myself several times while in the bathroom, but I'm hoping over time it will be freeing. After all - our reflections and our weight do not determine our self-worth or our health!

Deanna said...

What a great post. I'm not sure I have the same issue with mirrors. I can judge my body by the way clothes fit or how much belly I can grab, etc. And, I'm never going to get rid of clothes or chop off my hand so it can't grab belly. ;)

But, I love the sentiment of focusing on what makes you feel good - a lesson I know but don't put into practice enough myself. Must get on that.

So, thanks for your honesty and openness. :)


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