My vacation last week, gave me the chance to read most of Patti Digh's wonderful book Life is a Verb. At one point in the book, Patti catches her daughter looking at herself in the mirror. Emma, not yet a teenager, was at a delicate point in her development when judgement was entering the picture. My three year old looks in the mirror all the time but so far the character on the other side of the glass is nothing more then another play thing. In Emma's case she had reached a delicate moment when her gaze would also measure her worth.
Patti, was anxious. What would her child decide? Tip toe-ing toward adulthood could she already be wondering if she was pretty, or fat, or any of the other measurements we assign to gauge our value?
I personally have never liked looking in the mirror. I do it rarely. A quick glance while brushing my teeth. If something looks off... a crazy hair out of place, could that really be a pimple?! My gaze will go directly to the offending item. Rarely do I see my whole face.
My experience with a full length mirror is perhaps even worse. I will stand before it only when I am uncertain if something I have on is "too tight." Those jeans pulled from the bottom of the pile haven't been worn in a while, were they really this snug before? I stand in front of the mirror and once again I can not see me. I see a waistline, bulging or not. That spot under my butt cheek, is it being lifted or flattened? Would I be embarrassed if anyone saw me in this? That isn't a camel toe, is it?
Several years ago I took a public speaking course and one of the assignments was to spend two minutes looking at ourselves in the mirror. Later we would work up to doing full presentations in front of the mirror but for this initial assignment it was two VERY LONG minutes. I hated it. I avoided the assignment and eventually I just said I did it when I didn't really. Sure I stood there for two minutes but I didn't really look at myself.
What was I afraid I might see?
Likely it was the very things Patti was fearing her daughter might find. It is the insidious loop in our brains that feeds us other people's opinions about what is right. It isn't just about our appearances either. If I spent that two minutes with the woman on the other side of the glass I might discover she isn't nearly as smart as I hoped and those quirky eccentricities I cling to and love may actually turn out to be down right weird.
Thinking back to my childhood, I remember diving into crazy fashion expressions, white clogs, colorful scarfs, even a red hat (and, no in the tenth grade I did not also wear purple with that hat!) but this was mostly because I was never sure I could really pull off the real fashions of the day. If I wore funny clothes then oddly enough people could look past the clothes. At least that is what it felt like to me. If I could "blend in" I would, but if ever I felt like I couldn't than I would punt and go in a totally different direction. If I was crazy, even clownish (I was voted class clown in high school) then I was just Kathy being Crazy Kathy and I didn't get evaluated on the same scale as everyone else. I spent my entire young adulthood avoiding the "real scale."
In my mid twenties I had a few glimpses of feeling beautiful although there was always a girl who could steal my thunder. I created a story about myself in which I had told God, before I was born, that I wanted to be pretty in this life, but not too pretty. I didn't want my looks to get in the way, in either a good or bad way. I wanted to to be pleasant to look at, but nothing more, because it was important that I be valued on the merits of my life well lived.
This story helped shore me up when my crushes weren't interested but a funny thing happened. Once I relinquished a quest for beauty I began to judge myself on a different scale. There are twenty year olds who have already made their first millions, wrote a book, saved lives, hiked around the world, whatever. My life wasn't looking all that "well lived" after all. Bottom line I wasn't judging myself on my own scale. I was always comparing and if I looked, really looked in the mirror that girl just doesn't measure up.
Which brings me back to Emma. Patti tell's it this way:
As she modeled in the mirror, She called out to me: "Mama! Mama!" I went to the door waiting for the truest sign that she was lost in the Beauty Cult.
"Mama do you think...?"
"Do you think I look...?" Here it comes, I thought.
"Do you think I look interesting?"
My heart burst open! What a wonderful measure of worth--not "beautiful." but "interesting." It was a better yardstick, a richer and more human one, a sustaining and sense making one, a yardstick to measure by, a true one."
Interesting!! How marvelous. My heart was swelling too. I was happy for Patti and Emma, for my little daughter approaching her time and for me!
Thank you Emma! I knew now that I could extend an olive branch to my nemesis. I approached the mirror with confidence. I was not coming for tea but we were going to have a real two minute visit. The one I had been avoiding for a long time. I was a little shy at first and in fact wasted a few seconds noticing a small piece of broccoli stuck in my tooth, but once I caught myself and laughed out loud, I was really there with her.
And guess what? She really IS interesting!!
and I bet your friend in the mirror is too!
I heartily recommend you check out
and Patti's Blog