Allow me to play Narcissus for a moment, to look at my own reflection. What do I see?
In truth, for a while now I have been avoiding mirrors. The pain of seeing my size (too big) and appearance (too ugly) was too much. I haven’t always been this way. As a child I was always peering at myself in the oven door, trying to figure out who I was . . . until I got sharp rebuke (or maybe a sharp slap) for ‘mee mo-ing’. As an adult suffering from an eating disorder, at my lowest weight, I was unable to walk past shop windows without pausing to look at the size of my legs . . . before pausing again a moment later to hate myself for my vanity.
I guess getting better is about learning to look inwards and like what I see rather than depending on external signs of my self-worth (be they how I look in the mirror, the size label on my clothes, or the grades on my certificates). It is learning to know myself as myself, rather than always looking to others for value and validation.
But I’m learning to like what I see in the mirror, too. Sometimes the mirror reflects rather than distorts. It provides a different perspective. I was struck by the thought yesterday evening, as I looked in my bathroom mirror, that looking in it can be a way of seeing oneself from a different angle and of seeing the bits of ourselves that we cannot otherwise see without distorting our frames.* Unless we see our own reflection, we must always see our body by looking down on it, except perhaps in those rare moments of holding our hands up to shield ourselves from the light. Unlike Narcissus crouching over his pool, I meet my mirror at eye level.
Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .
I can see my eyes looking back, grey-blue with an almost golden circle around the pupil. I let go of thoughts of how small and pig-like they look; a reflection that has deflected me from myself for too long. I look again, hoping to see kindness there. I smile, surprised to meet mischievousness looking back.
* Those readers who know my academic writing might wonder what’s happened to all the theory: the mirror neurons, the phenomenology, the Gaze, the Lacan, and the feminist writing on body image. My feeling is that to dive into all that here would be to follow Alice through the looking glass instead of examining my own reflection. I’ll come back to it soon, I hope, but it was never the whole of me and it never made me whole either.