I have a close friend, J, who has never met a mirror she didn’t like. When we were teens, and later in college, and her eye caught a reflective surface – a shop window, a car window, a mirror in a mall bathroom – she turned her head this way and that as she looked into it, smoothed an eyebrow, tucked a curl, and watched herself as she continued to talk, completely unselfconscious about her mirror-gazing as she carried on the conversation. We teased her about it then, and we tease her about it now, 25 years later. She laughs at herself when we tease her, then flits her eyes to a mirror and winks at the best friend she sees there.
This past March, at our annual Girls’ Weekend, we talked about mirrors and who among us looks into them. The conversation was spawned in part by J’s mirror-love, but also, at least for me, by a deeper wondering about our comfort with ourselves. J is one of the funniest people I know, and also one of the happiest. At several points in her life, whether on a precipice with a boyfriend or on the verge of a life-changing move, she has shrugged her shoulders and said, “I dunno. I think I could be happy with anyone” in the case of the boyfriend, or “anywhere” in the case of a move. And it’s true. She could.
As we went around the table at Girls’ Weekend, we found that we all have very different relationships with the mirror. J is friendly with them – she sees her favorite person when she looks into one. Others of us use them strictly for pragmatic reasons: check the teeth, blow dry the hair. One of us doesn’t use them at all – says she can’t remember the last time she looked into one. “Not even to brush your teeth?” I asked. “I brush my teeth in the shower,” she said.
And me? It used to be that when I looked in the mirror, the person who looked back at me was a mystery. The image I saw in that silver surface did not match up with the person I knew from the inside. All my life my reflection has caught me off guard. Recently I brushed our daughter’s hair and when my reflection moved in the mirror I did a double-take – Who’s that? Oh. That’s me. The same face that’s been looking back at me for 40 years. Why does she still surprise me? Why do I not connect with her?
I told my girlfriends about this weirdness, about the disconnect between me and my reflection, and after our mirror conversation, inspired by J, I said, “I’m going to start doing mirror work. I’m going to figure this out! I want to be best friends with my reflection too.”
I tried, but still, we were off, my reflection and me. And then, something changed. I got glasses.
Now, I look in the mirror and say Oh! There you are! And I smile. The Andrea that looks back at me – the bookworm, the word nerd – is the Andrea I know from the inside. I just never knew she had glasses.
I see this revelation frequently in fashion, especially on the the TLC makeover show What Not to Wear. Contributors to the show are brought to New York, instructed to dispose of their entire wardrobe, and then taught how to shop for new clothes that fit their personalities and figures. It is always difficult for the women to let go of their former clothing – even if the clothes did not serve them and did not even fit them, those clothes were familiar – but once they let go and start finding clothes that do serve them, that do fit them, the women are transformed. There are often tears when they see themselves in clothes that match their personalities. The women look in the mirror at their new hair, the skirt that flatters their hips, the fun shoes in their favorite color, and they point and they say, “That’s what I always felt like on the inside – now I look like that on the outside.”
That’s how I feel with my new glasses. Now, when my reflection catches me unaware, when I’m vacuuming and I see myself pushing the upright in the wall mirror, I wave or I wink. She and I, we’re on our way to becoming fast friends.
This is my interpretation of finding something, the day 13 assignment for Writing 101. *Edit: added next to last paragraph after initial publication.