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?
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?