Why is it when we look in a mirror, we’re compelled to criticize whoever it is looking back at us?
Fairy tales are dreamy. The talking mirrors in Disney movies tell you how lovely you are, or they rank every other fair maiden in the land, comparing their looks. There’s even a formula for these dreamy fairy tales: there’s a handsome prince or a beautiful princess. They find someone, they fall in love, the animals sing merrily at their wedding. At the end of the fairy tale, those big words slap themselves all over the credits. And they lived happily ever after.
Never once have I looked in the mirror and thought about my happily ever after.
My eyes narrow and suddenly, there’s an onslaught of self criticism that not-so-merrily takes over my train of thought. Is my eyeliner really that uneven? Do my cheeks seriously look that chunky? OK… maybe if I turn off the overhead light and I try soft lighting it’ll look better. Why do these jeans look so awkward now… I just got them. Did I not look at them when I tried them on? Ugh, I’ll have to change. Maybe I’ll redo my makeup too while I’m at it.
The mirror whispers its agreement, encouraging me to try on four or five different outfits and change my hair and makeup. Distinctly unsatisfied, I walk away from the mirror hoping that no one else notices that these jeans are a size bigger. Distinctly satisfied, the mirror has won again.
But why do I believe it? Why do any of us? And more importantly, why does it matter?
Hyper critical and unfortunately very self-conscious, I am very likely to believe what the mirror tells me even if it is far fetched. Maybe I’m based in this fairy tale universe where every hair on the maid’s head is perfectly groomed by her little woodland friends before she meets the prince, maybe it’s because there are times when I simply do not feel good “enough”. In either case, there is very little reality to base my assumptions about myself. My woodland friends do not sing and they definitely don’t curl my hair (like I’d let a squirrel near my prized curling iron anyway). When I feel my reflection deserves criticism, when I feel like I need to try harder to be something fantastical – my reflection encourages me to stare a little longer, a little harder.
For a very long time, I avoided mirrors. Some of my friends felt the same; they were never good enough and their reflections simply added punctuation to that falsehood. Their mirrors offered them the same kinds of encouragement to redo their makeup. To fix their hair. To pluck those stray brows. To wear a baggy shirt because probably everyone would see that they drank a soda that day and were “so bloated”. Here’s the thing, though. No one thinks you’re bloated. No one thinks your hair is messy, and every other girl at the party you went to is eyeing your perfect lipstick with jealousy because her mirror told her the color looked awful on her.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, you are not the fairest of them all.
Your reflection can’t tell you how fantastic you are after you struggled with acne for years and your skin is finally tolerating makeup. Your mirror will not tell you that your thighs are a little bigger, but the muscle tone there is showing. Go ahead and buy the size six jeans when you wish you were a four. The six will feel better, anyway! Your mirror will not tell you that your freckles are hard earned from the times you hung out in the sun at the barn, watching lessons all day. You have earned the right to think you’re beautiful.
If no one has told you today, your smile is infectious. Your hair is shiny, your outfit is great, and don’t worry; you’re doing just fine. You’re more than you think you are. Even though, frankly, having some woodland creatures to aid you both in getting ready and in spontaneous song would be pretty awesome.