Breaking up with my mirror


In July 2009, while promoting his film Public Enemies, Johnny Depp confessed that he hates looking in mirrors. Speaking after the film's European premiere in London's Leicester Square, Depp said: "If I could avoid a mirror when I brush my teeth in the morning, I would."

I live in a house with a large mirrored wall in my formal dining room. My children are drawn to this mirror, posing dramatically in front of it, contorting themselves into impossible poses and examining their muscles, stomachs and twig-like biceps. I walk past this mirror and feel an overwhelming urge to examine my feet, the tuft of dust drifting across the floor, even the ceiling towering above. Anything except my own reflection.

There's a certain skill I possess for averting my eyes when confronted by a mirrored or otherwise reflective surface. While most people would stop, transfixed, and examine their reflection, I scurry past. I only look when I absolutely have to, such as when I'm getting my hair cut. And when I see myself, I'm not exactly pleasant to my body. Ugh, I think. When will I get rid of these rolls, this cellulite, those post-pregnancy stretch marks? Is that a double chin I see? I really should do something about this hair. And oh my GOD, is that a pimple forming on my chin???? GOOD LORD, I'M A FREAK. Then later, when I'm emptying the dishwasher or driving or folding the laundry I'll continue to give myself a hard time about what I saw - sometimes for hours or even days.

As a child, I spent hours in my mother's room, watching as she dressed for work, weekends, and evenings out with her friends. I also observed as she applied her makeup, silently stalking much like a lion planning a kill. She twisted and turned, examining herself from every angle, critically appraising her figure. Sucking in cheeks. Jutting out hips. Arching her neck. Bending and kneeling and analyzing. Look at this, she'd hiss, pointing to an imperceptible flaw. I used to be skinny, she'd lament. I wore a size zero wedding gown, and now I'm fat. Fat. Fat. I'd perch on the corner of her bed, or bathroom cabinet, and silently observe her examination.

The message I got during those scathing moments with my mom was this: The mirror determines your worth. The mirror tells you the truth, defines your mood, and lets you know if you're acceptable or not. Research shows that 80% of American women check out - and disapprove of - their reflections minutes after waking. On any given day, 45% say they are dieting. Scarier yet, a 1992 study found that 46% of girls 9 to 11 say they are "sometimes" or "very often" on a diet, and experts agree that the numbers have probably increased since then.

Among women over 18 looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least 80% are unhappy with what they see. Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection. Most of us have heard that anorexics see themselves as larger than they really are, but some recent research indicates that this kind of distorted body-image is by no means confined to those suffering from eating disorders – in some studies up to 80% of women over-estimated their size. Increasing numbers of normal, attractive women, with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders, look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.

Sometime in the last two years, I told myself to stop falling into my reflection in the mirror. I could not have an innocent relationship with it. I could not trust it to give me an accurate reading of my appearance. I did not know how to objectively glance at myself and not turn such an activity into a emotional collapse. SoI rely on my waist-high bathroom mirror when doing my makeup and choosing my clothes. I don't analyze my outfit photos. Indeed, the only times I am forced to examine how I look is when I scroll through this blog.

Now I ask you: What's your relationship with your mirror? Are you comfortable with what you see? How often would you estimate you examine your reflection each day?


13 comments:

  1. If I go past a reflective surface I tend to check and see if I am all pulled together, if my hair is starting to come undone from one of my experimental updos or if my eye makeup is askew due to my continually watering eyes. If I find I disapprove of my appearance, which does happen, I try not to let it get to me. I'm doing what I can with eating and exercising. I'm getting older...that's a fact. It's hard not to let the wrinkles get me down but I'm working on it. I have a 6 year old daughter and 7 year old son. If I have one of my "I'm so fat" days I don't voice it. I tell them I exercise to become strong and healthy, not to get skinny. With kids, I think you definitely need to watch what you say. They have enough bad role models in the media. I want to be a positive one for them.

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  2. I have a semi-complicated relationship with mirrors. I used to judge my self worth based on the number on my pants tag. Then I met my spouse. Now when I look in the mirror I typically see what he does...a sexy, curvaceous , much-loved-woman. I feel beautiful. However, there are women I see during my day that are thinner/better dressed/more stylish than I perceive myself to be and when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror after those moments I see nothing but flaws. So, I try hard to fight the battle of comparisons. It does nothing for my self-worth or my mirror image.

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  3. Whenever I think of a mirror, the phrase "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" runs through my head.
    Since I started blogging, I realized that what I see in the mirror is not necessarily what I look like. I suspect that even the most beautiful super model can look in a mirror and not like what she sees reflected. As you get older, every wrinkle, crease, and flaw seem to be worse than the day before.
    We have to stop beating ourselves up and realize that how we look is not a measure of our worth. Looks fade with age. Even those who have plastic surgery end up looking like caricatures of themselves.
    I know all of this in my heart, but it is easier said than done to convince myself that what I see in the mirror is not me but a mere reflection.
    Thank you for providing such thought provoking posts!

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  4. Thank you for writing this. My daughter is 4.5 years old and lately I find her looking at herself in the mirror A LOT. Right now she is mostly smiling and I hope she will remain that way. Your post reminds me to be happy in front of my mirror, so that my daughter will remain happy too.

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  5. I adore looking glasses especially the antique variety. Have them around my house and in the bathroom of course. I love to see my face in the looking glass; it allows me to re-invent myself daily. It inspires me.

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  6. You know how a lot of people will eat when they're bored or tired or stressed or unhappy or confused or *insert emotion here* because they can't or won't define the actual feeling that they have and instead call it hunger? I'm the same way with my mirror - at least, I used to be. I would see dark circles under my eyes and instead of seeing tired I saw ugly. When I'd break out, it wasn't hormonal, it was ugly. If I was feeling bloated during my cycle it wasn't water retention, it was fat. But I've learned to put an actual name to what I see: tired, stressed, hormones, etc. In addition to that, I believe that I was uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God, and between Him and my husband, every part of me is loved fully and well. Some days I have to remind myself of that more than others, but I know that it's true and that helps when I come up against the mirror.

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  7. As always, this post is so elopquently written and touching.
    My relationship with the mirror and my body is a bit bi-polar- there are days when I love what I see and there are nights when I'm disgusted by the same image. Having a supportive and loving husband helps, as does taking daily outfit photos which emphasize my best side, but mostly I have to remind myself not to look too closely (and never turn around- the mirror does not love my backside). I have two mirrors in my bathroom: one is full-length and the other is waist-high and sits over the sink. For our anniversary my husband bought a new full-length mirror (our old one had chipped and shattered) but unfortunately the one he brought home was slightly warped and truly made me look short, squat, frumpy and fat! Thanks, honey. In those weeks before he returned it I came to terms with the fact that what is reflected back is not a true mirror image- it is often distorted by imperfections in the mirror or in my own mind. Now we have a new mirror and it's distorted in a more favorable way that makes me look taller and thinner, which I much prefer, but still it is a constant reminder that the mirror isn't the best judge of size. And the camera isn't either. For me, the best judge is the look in my husbands eyes as he watches me walk across the room.

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  8. I do exactly the same thing as you. I can't abide seeing my reflection when I catch it in a shop.

    I know it sounds ridiculous but I like to be 'prepared' to see myself e.g. hair brushed, lips glossed, so I look my best. I'm aware that's a sad fact but I only like to see myself at my best.

    www.blahblahbecky.co.uk

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  9. mirror mirror,,, hate you/love you... I have this type of relationship with it, am used to have mirrors al over my house, my mom had them al over our little apartment she said it make the space look biger, so i got used to seing me all the time.

    Now in my early 40's is more like hate,, because i don't love my reflection on it most of the time, not because it showes the grays in my hair, or the wrinkles in my face,, but because it reflects the signs of my hashimoto's I don't always have the energy or the will to fix myself pretty, to put make up or to fix my hair, clothing is always my hubbys teeshirts and my leggins. The reflection of all this most of the time it feels like a stranger is wearing my body, am got used to my reflection being totally diferent. Al do is not like this all the time, but enough for me to avoid them when ever posible.

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  10. I used to know a guy who was like Depp in avoiding mirrors, but he was going prematurely bald at 24, so I know that must have been hard on him.

    I have a dismorphic problem with the size of my nose. I've had more than one drawing teacher in college tell me - without realizing my issue with it - that I must be overestimating the size, because they said I always drew it larger than my otherwise correct facial proportions in self portraits.

    I had a couple of girl bullies at school tell me that I had a huge nose when I was in junior high, and I cannot unsee it now that I'm older, even though others tell me my nose is just fine.

    Except for the big snoz, however, I'm mostly fine with my own reflection. I just prefer to look at myself from far back so that it doesn't seem to dominate my whole face quite so much. :/

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  11. Hi, first time posting here....

    The scene you described with your mom is so poignant. Seemingly, it is such a normal, mundane occcurrence, a child looking at her mother dressing and getting ready to go out. But oh, how many subliminal messages are being impressed on that young mind, how much negative learning! It even reads a bit abusive towards the child. I definitely think moms today need to be aware of this and protect their kids from their own self loathing and criticism, otherwise they are just handing down their own afflictions.

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  12. "The mirror determines your worth" WOW can't believe people think that. I have a friend who is obsessed with looking in the mirror but they just point out their flaws. I don't look in the mirror for flaws. It's more practicality - how does this outfit look? Do I need to pluck? All women should look at themselves in the mirror and love what they see!

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  13. I have a checkered relationship with my mirror. I used to have really terrible self-worth issues and have seen literally a monster on the other end, sitting in front of the mirror just crying and hating myself. It is something i really clearly remember. The moments with your mother are really poignant and the stats your present are startling.

    I probably look in the mirror a handful of times a day...mostly in the ladies when dashing off. Am I always happy with what I see? Definitely not, but I'm way kinder to my refection.

    I now have a healthy view of what I feel about my reflection but

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