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?