The image in the mirror is not real. It is a reflection. More than that, it is only a reflection from a particular point of view: yours. What you see depends a lot on how you’ve positioned yourself in front of it, and also a lot depends on what you think about what you see. The angle, the lighting, and the proximity have a lot to do with it. But one thing is for sure, in spite of similarities, what you see is not the same as what other people see when they look at you.
There is a whole field of study called “social cognitive theory” which stems from “social learning theory”. So much of what we think we know has been learned from the cultural setting that nurtures us. It shapes our behavior, our likes and dislikes, and even to some degree to how we respond to aesthetics. It is from this body of information that we shape our dogma, and how we form attitudes that allow the infectious nature of urban myth to spread.
What we come to believe is real may not be at all. But beliefs are vey powerful, whether they are based in fact, or not. So, it is best we come to terms, sooner or later, with the idea that whatever we think is real is determined entirely by what we perceive, and why we perceive it that way. After all, our own perceptions of things are about the only thing we really have to go on, aren’t they?
Somewhere a bit beyond the age of ten, I began to take more interest in my wardrobe, and the correlations of how this would affect what I thought my image was in public. Both of my younger sisters had begun doing this a long time ago, so perhaps girls start doing that sooner than boys. I think some begin as early as a year old, but perhaps a few of you might think it’s earlier than that.
In department stores, they have mirrors that are so much bigger than the little one we had at home over the bathroom sink. You can see yourself head to toe all at the same time. I was about to discover, as evidently Alice did beyond the “Wonderland” story, that there are some frightful experiences ahead through the looking glass.
How many of you have memories about becoming aware of your own image as a child? Did you ever think the looking glass had taken you to a place you didn’t want to be? That it might be showing you something in a light you’d never seen before?
My mother had taken me to the store to get some clothes. If she suggested some items from a particular rack, that meant the price didn’t matter. What mattered was how it would fit, and how it looked on me.
I tried on a pair of slacks and a sport jacket. Stepping into an alcove of mirrors, I saw something I believe I was noticing for the first time. Not only was a mirror right in front of me, but booking off to either side were two other mirrors. By turning slightly, I could view the fit of the clothes, not just from the front, but from all sides. I could even position myself in such a way to see the back of my own head.
All of a sudden, the clothes were not important anymore. What caught my eye was my own profile. I’d never really looked at it before, and I was devastated. Although I’d always thought otherwise, it appeared that I didn’t have much of a chin. This was not Kirk Douglas, or Burt Lancaster. This was not John Wayne, or Elvis Presley. Instead, I felt it looked more like the vulture in a Walt Disney cartoon.
The immediately terrifying thought running through my head was that everybody else got to see it all the time. Everybody that had ever seen me already knew something that was up to then out of my consciousness: I was not very attractive at all. In fact, it was as plain as the nose on my face, which appeared to be at least three times bigger than I would have ever imagined it to be before. It was apparent that I faced no destiny of appearing on the cover of the kinds of magazines that pretty girls like to read.
Any thought that others might have admired the way I looked dwindled. Were they only indulging in some sympathetic tolerance for my awkwardness? In other words, I wondered if people who love me must be feeling sorry for me. In time, I began to realize that whatever was bothering me about my own image didn’t seem to be bothering other people at all.
Obviously, part of the reason for telling this is to be humorous, but there is more to it than that. Most people who know me don’t see me as a person with a low self image. In fact, a lot of them might consider me conceited, and even arrogant at times. Certainly some will presume me to be far more expressive than I am at the comfortable place deep inside my personality. Then does that mean that what they are seeing is a mask?
How about you? Do you see yourself with a lot of different hats, or from time to time having to put on your “business” face, or “social” face? While it is probably okay to do that, what is not okay is not being able to admit it. Even worse, it can become ruinous to not even recognize it.
A couple of decades ago, in preparation to repaint the master bathroom in our house, I removed the mirror, and leaned it against the wall in our bedroom. The cat came in; paraded back and forth in front of it, then walked behind it. I can’t be sure she knew it was her, but as soon as she figured there was no other cat back there, she lost interest in it altogether.
Not so with the dog. The dog considered the image in the mirror as a threat, and based on her behavior, never came to any conclusion that it might just be her own reflection. I’ve often wondered since then as to what might comprise the self image in the mind of a dog.
Whether you are a dog, a cat, or a person, the mirror doesn’t always show what we think of ourselves, and it certainly doesn’t show everything that others see when they look at us, does it? Sometimes it isn’t just the visible image. There are other senses that we use besides sight.
Then there is the emotional response to something else entirely. Sometimes the big picture depends on how we act. Think about the people you love, and think about how they act around you. Think about how you act around them. When you take that at face value, it could be that you are a very beautiful person in more ways than the mirror is capable of detecting.