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(Part 1)

You know how in Snow White the queen has a talking mirror that tells her she’s “the fairest one of all?”  Well, I don’t have one of those.  BUT I do have a long wall-hanging mirror in my entry that my children call my “friendly mirror.”  It’s my final check-point as I’m leaving my condo.

You know what I mean by check-point, right?  Those last full-front and sideways looks before I walk out the door.  Oh, wait, are you thinking I’m checking to be sure zippers are zipped and everything is hanging straight and there are no stains on what I’m wearing?  I wish.  But, no, that would be sensible and smart.  What I’m doing is, for lack of a better word, neurotic.

The full-front check is first.  From this angle I can monitor the increase (or occasional decrease—yay!) in the bulges that appear on both sides of my torso just above the waistband of my jeans/slacks after I button them.   If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you may as well stop reading now—things are only going to get more confusing for you.

The sideways check, however, is really the most stressful for me.  From that angle I can monitor the increase (hardly ever decrease) in the bulge of my aging stomach.  For me this bulge is worse than the sides because it’s harder to conceal.

The side bulges disappear (temporarily) when I pull my pants up to the bottom edge of my bra, but the stomach—not so much.  I evaluate my stomach on a month system—as in, how many months pregnant do I look?  (Never mind that if people look closely at the rest of me—the sagging skin on my arms, hands, legs, etc., they would know the only way I could be pregnant would be if a test tube and I had become very familiar.  If you know what I mean.)

But, as usual, I digress.  I was telling you about my “friendly mirror.” My son unintentionally gave me the bad news.  He thought I already knew.  Honestly?  I think sometimes ignorance really is bliss.  Anyway, he walked into the kitchen one day and said, “wow Mom, that mirror in the entry hall is great—takes five pounds off easy.”  Oh.  No.  I gained five pounds, and I hadn’t had a single cookie.  That day.

I was counting on gender to save me (he’s a man—what does he know?).  Unfortunately, however, my daughter—the traitor—promptly agreed with him.  She, too, assumed I knew.

Well, I didn’t, okay?  So much for thinking I knew how I really looked.

When I finally stopped pouting, I began to wonder.  How can we ever know what we really look like to other people?  No two mirrors are exactly the same, right?  I mean, when I’m at the dance studio, I can dance from one end to the other and gain or lose ten pounds depending on which direction I’m going because all of the mirrors are different.  And, since I’ve been buying DVD recordings of my dances at competitions, I’ve also discovered that the cameras they use add ten to fifteen pounds (at least, I keep hoping that’s the problem).

So, the question is, how can any of us know what we really look like?

(Part 2)

Like I was saying, I’ve been wondering how we can ever really know how we look.

Even fairy tale magic mirrors can be fickle.  The mirror in Snow White drops that poor old queen like a hot potato the moment a sweet young thing with smooth skin and perky “you-know-whats” comes along.  Figures, right?  Youth always wins the mirror wars.

Now, I know she’s an evil queen, but I can’t help feeling a little sorry for her.  Until Snow White comes along, the queen has it all.  She not only rules the whole kingdom, she’s also the most beautiful woman there.  Or she thinks she is.

Has the mirror been lying to her all along?  Or, maybe the queen was always the fairest because she made sure she was the “only.”  You know, like she just eliminated any young women who wandered into her kingdom the same way she tried to get rid of Snow White.  I doubt many women have seven dwarves watching their backs, much less princes who aren’t afraid to kiss a corpse.  (I know they said she was asleep, but she was in a coffin for goodness sakes!)

Anyway, I feel bad for the queen because I know how upsetting it is to think you look one way and find out you look another.  The first time this happened to me was after a delightful day with my daughter and daughter-in-law and my granddaughters.  After looking at their beautiful unlined faces for seven or eight hours, I walked into my bathroom to brush my teeth.  I have to tell you I almost passed out when I saw my own reflection.

I think I must become delusional around younger women.  I start to imagine that I look like they do, but when I look in a mirror, my delusion is shattered by reality.  It is not a pleasant experience I assure you.

However, at the moment I’m not interested in how or why I am surprised by my reflection on those occasions.  What I’m interested in is that I am so disappointed by how old I look.

It just makes me wonder.  Who decided getting older was something we should dread?  Something we should fight and disguise and avoid?  It’s not like that everywhere, you know.

The Geishas I met a few years ago on a trip to Japan, for example, had a different perception.  They told me that only younger Geishas have to wear the heavy stylized makeup.  The older Geishas wear no makeup at all because Geishas believe that the older a woman is the more beautiful she becomes.   Imagine that!

You’re probably thinking I’m a foolish old lady with crazy ideas, and you may be right.  I beg you to help me understand the error of my ways.  But, before you get all caught up in showing me how foolish I am, promise me you’ll consider these questions—

How do we decide what we decide about how we look?  More importantly, is any of what we decide true?  And finally, how do we know whether it’s true or not?

(Part 3)

Now that I think of it, we’ve only been talking about glass mirrors.   What about the reflection we believe we see mirrored in the eyes of other people?  The question, however, is what are their eyes saying?  Regardless of what we hear from friends and family, husbands and lovers, even strangers, we tend to make up what we think we see in their eyes.

I can’t speak for you, but the Voice in my head that is supposed to interpret those silent communications has an entire file drawer of criticisms including, “you should not be wearing those pants—they are too tight,” or “those bangs make you look like an ancient third grader,” or the generic, but ever unpopular, “your stomach is disgusting.”  What that Voice does not tell me is that I am a beautiful, sexy, desirable woman.

I decided to conduct a small informal survey just to get an idea about what other people might be thinking.

I started with a small sample of men because, in our culture, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I believe that a man’s opinion is still very important to most women.  (Yes, I do believe our culture—in spite of our efforts to change things—still teaches a woman to value a man’s opinion about her looks above all others, but that is a separate topic for another day.)  Because I think that what most of us are striving for is to look attractive, I asked these men questions like—“Is attractiveness really about breast size?  Or long, skinny legs?   A flat stomach?  A tight butt?”

Surprisingly, all of these guys—ranging in age from thirty-five to ninety-five—were in agreement about two things.  First, in spite of what the media would have us believe, these men assured me that the thing that attracts them most isn’t physical.  Oh, right.

I shook my head and rolled my eyes—the first and even the second time one of them gave me this answer.   When the third and fourth and fifth gave the same response, I began to wonder whether we women have got it all wrong.

“Okay,” I said to each of them, “if it’s not any of those things, what exactly do you find attractive?”  Without hesitation, every single one said, “Confidence.”

I didn’t believe it either, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.  Given the whole aging situation and the fact that I don’t live in Japan and I’m not a Geisha, I could use some good news.  I mean, what if we could stop wearing Spanx and stop counting every calorie and still be attractive?

Of course, suddenly having confidence about my appearance sounds about as far-fetched as suddenly having a six-pack or having a twenty-two inch waist.

Hey, I know!  Maybe they sell confidence on Amazon!  I’m a Prime member.  I could be eating chocolate chip cookies tomorrow night—guilt-free and feeling like a beauty queen.

(Part 4)

Remember how we were talking about what men find attractive?  I know we shouldn’t worry about what other people think—especially men.  If you’ve achieved that noble level of enlightenment, you are most likely reading the wrong blog.

Now that we have that out of the way, remember I told you there were two things all those men agreed about?  I told you about the confidence piece, but you may need to sit down for this one.  All of these guys assured me they do not find skinny women attractive.

What??  No way, right? I mean, are they kidding?  They all assure me they are not.

Every one of them told me that they’ve tried (and tried) to persuade the important women in their lives that this is the case, but the women just ignore what they say and continue to complain about how fat they are and, therefore, how unattractive.

Furthermore, they all told me that it hurts their feelings when the women they love seem to ignore what they say.  They figure that means their women don’t care what they think!  Who do they think we are dieting and exercising for??

On the other hand—who, indeed?  If it’s not for them, who is it for?  Seems like the answer might not be as simple as we tend to believe.

We are comparing ourselves to size double zero fashion models and celebrities, women who could lose their jobs if they gain a pound, women who haven’t eaten a chocolate chip cookie in, well, years, while our men are lusting after our less than perfect bodies?

Hm.

(Part 5)

I live on the seventeenth floor of a hi-rise in Houston and have an amazing view of the Galleria area. The sunrises are often breathtaking up here.   This morning was no exception.

However, I am always reminded of the limitations of our man-made technology when I try to capture something God has created.  I believe it is impossible, you know?

I rarely take pictures when I travel because, no matter how advanced, a camera can never capture the infinite depth and color that are always present in nature. Ireland is green in a way I could never have imagined and Lake Louise in Canada is a color so beautiful it looks animated and the Grand Canyon has such detail on it’s massive walls that it seems surely someone painted them with a tiny paintbrush.  When I first saw the water that defines the Florida panhandle, I was twelve, and I thought it looked like limeade.  Of course the only beach I’d ever been to was on Galveston Island.   I would compare the water there to. . .uh, let’s just say I wouldn’t drink anything that looked like that.

But there is nothing more humbling, nothing declares the presence of God more clearly than watching the birth of a child.  Certainly, every tiny baby is a miracle, but I still get chills when I think of the moment when my first granddaughter slipped into the world.  My mind simply stopped.  I couldn’t capture it with words anymore than I can truly capture the sunrise with my phone.

You’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with my Friendly Mirror.  It’s about what happens when we try to capture something God has made.   That’s just it, we can’t.  We can’t capture the sunrise or the Grand Canyon or the birth of a child because capturing those things immediately diminishes them.  Similarly, we can’t capture a person with a camera OR a mirror.

The best we can do is to catch a finite piece of something that has infinite potential.   However, we forget that that finite piece is not representative of the whole.  When we look in a mirror, we see a two dimensional reflection of ourselves, but we believe we are seeing what we really look like. We imagine there’s one way that we really look.

But, think about it, do you think your child or your mom or your husband or wife looks the same to you as they do to other people?  Really?  Because I think we all have many filters through which we see the world and other people. The notion of objective reality is really absurd if you think about it.  Who’s going to decide which version of reality is true?