Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

Mirror, mirror on the wall ...

What goes on between a woman and her mirror is nobody else’s business

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

In her latest TNP article, Facing Down the Beauty Myths, my friend Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair wrote about the struggle many women face when trying to maintain a healthy image of their body, bombarded as they are with messages from the media that relentlessly push them to be what they cannot be, i.e. perfect in every way, shape or form.

Alberte relates that she got lucky when she stumbled upon an advice column in a newspaper that illustrated exactly what she meant.  She cleverly used the column to introduce her subject.

I’ve always admired advice columnists: they dare answer complex, often painful questions, in a most direct manner.  No pussyfooting, they tell it as they see it.  So today, I am morphing into an advice columnist and, directly out of my overheated imagination, here are two letters that relate directly to the subject of the day which is women’s relationships with their mirrors.

The first correspondent writes:

Dear Geneviève Hone,

I have been in a relationship with a mirror for 15 years.

This is not my first relationship with a mirror.  There has been one in my bedroom since my birth.  My mother believed that looking into a mirror with babies will help them learn that they are distinct from their environment, an important developmental stage.  She was probably right.  From then on, I’ve always had mirrors in my room.  Some I liked more than others, but basically, I got along quite well with all them.  When I parted with my mirrors, it was because they were cracked or tarnished or just didn’t fit in with my décor.  I also lost a couple when moving house, but there were no hard feelings.

When my present mirror and I first got together, everything was fine.  It would give me kind and gentle feedback.  It made me feel beautiful and quite good about myself.  Whenever I passed in front of my mirror, it would give me the brightest of smiles.  But over the past few years things have changed.  My mirror has become very critical of me.

Whenever I ask for its opinion, it stares back at me as if I were a nincompoop.  Or it criticizes me endlessly:  I’m overweight, my chin is sagging, my lipstick is not of the right shade, my hair is dull, I don’t wear fashionable clothes.  The list of faults is endless.  The other day, I caught my mirror smiling at my best friend.  Actually, it was more than smiling: they were having a good laugh together, probably at my expense.  I’m at my wits’ end and I ask you in desperation: “Do you think I should separate from my mirror?”

Dear Desperate,

Should you separate? YES.  Most definitely and urgently.  But not necessarily from your mirror.  You must separate from the way you are interacting with your mirror.  Not the same thing at all.

For some reason or another, you seem to have unrealistic expectations of your mirror.   Maybe you have perused too many fashion magazines, maybe your ex-husband has been parading about town with his young girlfriend whereas you haven’t had a decent date in two years; maybe you’ve just attended your 35th high school reunion and Peggy Sue still looks too gorgeous to be true (and that’s probably because she isn’t).  Whatever happened seems to have affected your memory.  You seem to have forgotten what mirrors are, and what they can and cannot do for you.

Mirrors are nothing but a piece of glass coated with silver or aluminum, nothing else.

Mirrors don’t have a brain, and if I go by the way yours has been treating you, not much of a heart either.  They are designed to reflect an image, that’s all.  But they can’t even manage that very well.  They reflect the image in reverse so that your left side ends up being your right side and your right side your wrong side or something to that effect, enough to confuse the brightest of observers.

Note also that mirrors do not actually reflect your image. Rather, they reflect your perception of yourself, i.e. your self-image.  Again, not the same thing.  Don’t expect too much of your mirror.  It can only reflect the way you feel about yourself.  It can’t make you feel beautiful, it can only remind you that you are.  You have to know it first.

Also, always remember that mirrors are designed for simple questions, such as “Is this hemline straight?” or “Is there spinach stuck between my teeth?”

They can’t deal with loaded questions such as the Snow White one.  You remember?  “Mirror, mirror on the wall.  Who’s the fairest of them all?”

If mirrors had even half a brain, they would suggest a better formulation, for example, “Mirror, mirror on the wall.  Am I being the fairest that I can be to myself?”  Now, that would be a great question, but your mirror is congenitally unequipped for such creativity. You, on the other hand, have a complete brain, so you are the best person to invent helpful questions for yourself and answer them of course.  You have all the brain and heart you need to reflect on all aspects of your life, with or without your old mirror.  I wish you the best of luck, and please don’t hesitate to write again.  I am just starting in the advice column business and I would appreciate your patronage.

The second correspondent writes:

Dear Geneviève Hone,

I have recently parted ways with an old mirror with whom I had a relationship of 15 years and two months.  I had planned to take lots of time before becoming involved with a new mirror, my therapist having encouraged me to continue examining my life, values, goals, you know, the usual stuff therapists will suggest.  Well, I followed her advice for a few days, but then, an enormous store, the size of which you can’t begin to imagine, opened in my city.

I went there to buy a lamp, but instead came back with a very handsome mirror and an Allen key.  The minute the mirror smiled at me in the store, I knew we were right for each other.  I am incredibly happy, but I would value your advice on how to make sure our relationship develops serenely through the years.

Dear Incredibly Happy,

I shall get straight to the essential point.  Whenever you want to interact with your mirror, make sure that you are alone with it.

A relationship with a mirror is a PRIVATE matter.  What goes on between a woman and her mirror is nobody else’s business.

Be conscious that people from your past and present will try to creep in and interfere with your conversation. These people, though perhaps well intentioned towards you, will want to tell you how to run your life.  You will not actually see them, but you will sense their presence.

If you listen carefully, you will hear them inside of you in the form of “messages” from your past you picked up a long while ago. For example, “This is how you should behave if you want to be accepted by others.” “Don’t get too close to people, you might get hurt.”

Some messages might be supportive and helpful to you today (Go, woman, go!)  and of course, you will eventually want to keep listening to them.  But for the time being, as you approach your mirror, calmly explain to the “presences” that you are very well capable of choosing what is right for you, and then allowed to feel happy with your choices.

You have acquired the necessary wisdom and experience to do so and you know that.

Firmly instruct them to leave the room, that you will deal with them later if need be, but that for now you want to reflect with the help of your mirror, ALONE.  And then, but only then, you may turn to your mirror and ask “Do you think this blouse goes well with this skirt?”  Your mirror will give you a straight answer; it’s equipped to do that.  But listen carefully!  You might hear it add: “And by the way, you are beautiful.” At which point, you will spontaneously reply.  “I already know that, but it’s lovely to hear you say so.  Thank you.”

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