When do you feel that you look most like yourself? For me it’s about twenty minutes before I fall into bed when I’m in my bathroom and about to take my makeup off (on one of the days where I’ve actually done my makeup – that’s very important; I don’t count the other days). That moment before I scoop my hair up and run the tap, I lean on the sink and look into the mirror and actually recognise the reflection staring back as most like “me”. Or maybe the more accurate way of putting it is that I actually like the reflection staring back. I mean sure, it’s not as polished as the 10am version – but that’s okay and I kind of prefer it that way; it’s more realistic, less maintained (but at the same time not the horror show that is the 7am version). I’m slobbing around in my pyjamas, my makeup’s worn in, I’ve shed my glasses, the curl’s mostly fallen out of my hair and I’m about to get into bed (the best time of the day, I think you’ll agree) so I’ve usually got a happy little grin going on.
That slightly dishevelled, chilled out and cheerful reflection is what I expect and hope to see in every mirror I come across day to day – not just in my bathroom one – but also in changing rooms, hotels, other people’s houses, the windows I walk past when I’m out and about, in photographs and in the eyes of everyone I know. Kind of like the evil step mother in Snow White (Mirror, mirror on the wall…). So, how come I NEVER do! That bathroom reflection never bloody leaves the house and I feel like I’m constantly being pounced on by other reflections of myself that I don’t recognise AT ALL. Like the one lurking behind me in that long, tilting mirror you get in every H&M fitting room that lets you see what you look like from a horrible backwards angle (“Jesus christ, is that what my nose looks like from the side??? That’s not me!”). Shudder. The horror at seeing a photograph of myself on a day where I thought I was walking out of the house looking absolutely smokin’ in that new skirt when actually – turns out – it makes my thighs look massive. Yeesh. Then there’s that weird moment where I try and correlate those two very different images of myself and work out which one is actually real – because there can’t possibly be two. I’m just one person after all, I don’t have two sets of thighs. So which is the liar: the camera or the mirror?
We’ve all experienced those surreal moments when people actually voice how they see you. The first time I became aware that other people might see me differently to the way I saw myself was when I was about seven. I was in school, queuing up with the rest of the kids to go to assembly and one of them suddenly turned around in the line and gave me a long, hard look. “…It must be really strange having one eye bigger than the other,” they said, then shrugged and went off to assembly without realising that they’d just performed the equivalent of a hit and run on my appearance, and man was it a kill shot. I remember being simultaneously confused and completely horrified, because firstly I’d never noticed anything different about my eyes, and secondly – hold up – “is that what everyone thinks I look like!? Am I a monster!” Thinking about that now makes me laugh out loud (kids are dicks, aren’t they?) – I mean, how ridiculous! But I never forgot it and – you know what? – there might actually be some truth to it because to this day I can never seem to apply my eyeliner evenly. Oh well.
Why is it that criticisms of our appearance – however wide off the mark and ridiculous – are so easy to believe, but compliments aren’t? There are some observations that we want to believe, but flat out refuse to – like a mirage. For example, my husband is always telling me that there’s nothing of me – that I’m stick thin. I know he’s not lying, but I’m convinced that he sees me as skinnier than I actually am because he’s taller than me and so he’s always looking at me from a slightly skewed angle (isn’t that mad?!). A few weeks ago my sister-in-law turned around, pointed to my eyes and said they were “quite stunning” because apparently they’ve got a darker ring around the outside of the iris. Excuse me, what? Looking at my eyes in mirrors all my life I’d never once noticed this mythical dark ring – but she’s right, it’s there. How the hell did I miss that? Why didn’t I see it?
It’s a kind of weird, daily challenge that we all face, isn’t it? Gathering up all these different versions of ourselves and trying to marry them up with the one we accept as the “real” us (and that’s without adding that impossible bar set for us by the media, fashion and beauty industries). I’m 33 and I still haven’t figured out which is the real one, or whether I care. Is it that bathroom version? The skinny one with the stunning eyes my husband and sister in law see? Or the sloppy one my neighbours see at 7am when I walk the dog? Or are they all way, way off? Are my thighs big? Are my wrinkles easy to spot? I can’t for the life of me work out how I can look in a mirror and love my appearance one minute and then take a photograph two seconds later only to stab furiously at the delete button. I have absolutely no idea. There’s no easy answer except that I’m probably all of these different versions of myself and none of them at the same time – and that mirrors are very, very strange objects.
Fun fact, every time you see your reflection in a mirror it’s out by about 10 nanoseconds – so it’s a slightly younger version of yourself. *eye roll* In case you wondered, that’s probably the real me – the one who has to punctuate everything with a nerdy fact. 😉