What the Mirror in Your Mind is Not Telling You

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.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jane Leonard on April 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Forget the mirror! You are beautiful Van!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Bonnie on April 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    You don’t have a chin????????? How do you put pillowcases on the pillows????????

    Reply

  3. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on April 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    What kind of magazines do girls like to read? I had a co-worker, who was a female. She told me a story of having the “Jet” magazine. (I don’t think it is about airplanes). She said that there was a pretty lady on the cover. She took a photo of herself and cut the face out of the photo. Then, she pasted her face on the body of the lady on Jet magazine and left it on the table for her husband to see. Apparently, they had a good night, after that experience. Van, I suggest for you to put your face on the body (male or female) on the cover of Jet magazine. It may work you you also.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Becky Boyette on April 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    You are an absolutely beautiful person in all ways! LOVEYOU! Becky B

    Reply

  5. Posted by Mickey Foster on April 4, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Mirrors…..can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Perhaps we should use them solely as signaling devices should we be marooned on a lifeless boat or a deserted island…they are good to see if we have a booger stuck in our noses or some Oreos stuck in our teeth…. mirrors are notorious for telling the truth, but sometimes our minds play trick on us…..my mother had Alzheimer’s, I built an addition onto my home in Clewiston, Florida so that she could be with me and I didn’t have to worry about her being alone up in Spartanburg. I moved her personal bedroom furniture down to Clewiston, so that she would feel at “home”. One night she came into the den and told me that there was an “old woman” in her room staring at her. I went in and figured out what she was referring to…I told the old woman to go away and I covered all of the mirrors…I hope that when my time comes I see myself as Mickey, not an old wrinkled man. Van, in my mind and in my heart I believe that guys like us will continue to be beautiful people, at least to us……….may your mirror show you what you want to see…

    Reply

  6. Posted by Nadeen on April 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I have always found that the faces of those I care about “feel good on my eyes”. BTW -that includes your face.

    Reply

  7. Very insightful! I respond to myself when I see myself in photos. I never really think that’s what I look like, and I’m way too critical. I guess we all are. When I look at my daughter, I see nothing but beauty and love, and she picks herself apart and I can’t understand why. I guess I need to accept that some people feel the same way about me.

    Reply

  8. Posted by little d on April 9, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Well said VT, a interesting observation it is too, that all things exist within and behind multiple enclosures. The cover of a book is no judge for its contents, but a nice looking cover can help with the initial decision to interest. Only the Author knows for sure what is inside, but everyone else will make an interpretation of it made solely from their individual analysis. In that light, the Author may indeed be amazed both good and bad to what another may perceive his intent.

    The mirror reminds its reflection, of what it can’t see.

    little d

    Reply

  9. Posted by Marlene Humberd on July 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    A mirror… Have to have one when I put my makeup on in the morning. It only takes 10 minutes , but it’s a routine that helps me get me ” together” for the day . I don’t analyze my face…it is what it is and it’s just me , but since I love to paint, I just think of it as another canvas to express how I’m feeling . I do feel that first impressions make a difference on whether people will take the time to stop and listen to what you’re saying , so a mirror does come in handy to make sure you don’t have spinach, or broccoli , stuck in your teeth .And ,at the end of the day, when it’s quiet in the house , I wash my face and use the mirror again … usually thinking about how my day has been, not whether I have more wrinkles . We can’t let advertising or society make us question our worthiness. True beauty does come from within and is shown by how we treat others. Van , you are one of the most beautiful people I know .

    Reply

  10. Posted by dostadawg on July 22, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Spot on Van. This reflects Cooley’s Looking Glass Self theory perfectly.

    Reply

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