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.