I spent $5.99 on my full length mirror, and it is worth every penny. It’s one of those plastic-edged numbers and oddly flexible. Easy to mount with some of that genius double-stick fastener stuff that has put the full power of decorating decisions back into the general public’s hands.
I mounted it on the back of the bathroom door where it would only be seen if I wanted it to be. A secret I kept for me.
My ex found it one morning. I found him, naked and gazing at his reflection. He squinted, dubious. Is that me? he seemed to be saying. Aloud he said, “Huh, that’s weird.” He drew his legs together, turned to the side.
He was referring to the skinny-ness of my mirror (I told you it was an excellent purchase). My secret was out, and the magician hanging on the door was out with it.
I felt a hot surge of indignation over his comment. And shame. I was ashamed he’d found me out. He knew that I had chosen the mirror because it elongated my reflection into a closer approximation of what I had always wanted my body to look like. After ten years together he knew my insecurities as if they were his own, my self-doubt. I felt as exposed as if I stood beside him equally naked, peering at the false me.
“Weird,” he repeated.
“I know,” I said, hesitating. And then, as a joke, “Don’t you love it?”
He shrugged and walked away from the taller reflected man to pull on some pants. I thought that taller man had looked pretty good in the mirror. He’d always wanted a couple of extra inches, hadn’t he?
Maybe it was weird, I thought.
I stole a glance at myself, and felt wonderful all over again at what I saw. I felt good about myself every time I looked in this mirror. It didn’t matter that my reflection was a ruse. Own it, I decided in that moment. Own your vain and delusional choice.
“I actually love it,” I corrected as the now-shorter man behind me dove into his shirt. “I picked it out because it makes me look skinny. I feel skinny and long when I see myself in it.”
“Yeah?” he said to this, making for the kitchen and the promise of breakfast.
Yeah. And so what? I feel skinny with my skinny mirror, and although I know this is a trick of light passing over a slight curvature along a particular axis in the glass (ok, Google knows this and told me so in brief, easily-digested terms), I don’t care. According to Google only a completely flat piece of mirrored glass will show you “what you really look like.”
Whatever the hell that means.
We see ourselves and one another a thousand different ways on any given day. Our viewpoint is almost always based on skewed perceptions, judgments, how many muffins we’ve consumed. It’s based on the night’s sleep we had, our dreams, the roles we are called to fill that day. The day of the week (Monday Anna doesn’t look like Friday Anna, no matter the mirror). The time of the year (fall light is unfailingly flattering). How close a looming birthday seems to be.
What is this Great Objective Vision of myself I’m supposed to see, anyway?
My aunt is constantly telling me how tiny I am whether or not I’ve spent the last month or so in the company of assorted Three Twins ice-cream flavors and paying homage to my latest Netflix binge. I think she says it to reinforce how “large” she is by comparison, which isn’t true. Two mirrors, both of them inaccurate.
My mother has never owned a full length mirror as far as I know. But this doesn’t stop her from complaining about her midsection and thighs as if she can even see these body parts in that bathroom mirror she uses, which cuts her off just below the bra line.
I have had friends envy my muscle tone and others kindly assure me that a solid, compact build does not in any way make me “stumpy.” Some people see me as independent, others as guarded. I bite my lip when I’m happy rather than when I’m nervous. I appear a dozen different ways to an equal number of people in my life, and they look a dozen different ways to me.
So what is wrong with tweaking the image a bit? What is wrong with feeling fantastic in a dress that looked beautiful on me in my skinny mirror and bringing that fantastic feeling out into the world? Because aren’t my ideas about myself—short, sometimes stumpy, calves too wide—equally invented? Aren’t they also flawed perception?
The difference is that those inventions are harmful and eroding to my sense of well-being, while my skinny-mirrored self dances out the door in her favorite heels.
When I think back to my ex in the mirror, I now wonder if my perception of this incident is even less reliable than his reflection may have been. Maybe he wasn’t squinting dubiously at himself at all that morning. Could I have invented the criticism I thought I saw in him, projecting it the way a mirror will project right back at us what we most want to see?
After all, he’d only said, “Weird.” And weird is accurately defined as supernatural, uncanny. At the least, we use the term to mean something different.
Maybe he was looking at himself and thinking, Damn, today you’re looking fine!