A few nights ago, my new friend Sarah invited me to join her for drinks and dinner at a beautiful rooftop restaurant in downtown Portland. The view of the city was amazing, the wine was delicious, and the company was absolutely perfect. There’s something soothing about forming a friendship with someone whom you know is a kindred soul. For whatever reason, you’re both in the right place at the right time, your paths cross, conversations lead to laughter, similarities emerge, and the walls come down – if only just enough to see a glimpse of the secrets hidden behind the mask.
After my second glass of vino, I excused myself to visit the ladies room, and the hostess directed me to a hallway behind the bar. As I began walking down the hallway, I noticed a woman walking towards me, seemingly heading away from the restroom. At first glance, she appeared taller than I am, with a confident stride, and while her face was half-hidden in shadow, I could tell that she was lovely. Her head was high, her shoulders were back, and she was walking as though she knew exactly how worthy she was of commanding respect. After a few more steps, however, I realized… She was me. I was walking towards a mirror that was indistinct, because it covered the entire wall from floor to ceiling.
The moment I realized that I had actually been approaching and admiring myself, my entire perception of that reflection shifted. I became self-conscious, ashamed, and it was literally as though I could see my features distorting themselves, and all of those tiny, miniscule flaws that I instantly start focusing on when I knowingly look into a mirror, became apparent once again. Not to be crude, but seriously – how fucked up is that?
I had to catch my breath in the bathroom stall as I processed what had just happened. I had seen my reflection with fresh, untainted eyes, free of judgment, free of the toxic bullshit we insist on polluting our minds with. I have ALWAYS known how unhealthy it is to be self-critical. For years, it has been a constant battle between my intellect and my emotional mind.
I’ve read about people being caught off-guard by their reflections when they’re not expecting it, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced it. Part of me didn’t believe it would really make that much of a difference. After all, who knows me better than me? Now, I’m officially humbled by being proved wrong. The difference between the woman I saw before I knew that she was me, and the reflection I see when I look in the mirror every day? It’s staggering.
Why is this?
For me, it’s because I hold myself to completely unrealistic standards. Expectations I would never impose on anyone else, judgments I wouldn’t even think to make about another living (or dead) soul, I insist on forcing them upon myself.
Intellectually, I understand that actresses and models are airbrushed and photo-shopped beyond belief. Intellectually, I know that people who can afford personal trainers and private chefs are much more likely to have perfectly toned and slender physiques. Intellectually, I realize that people who are paid to exercise are going to have a LOT more time to spend at the gym than I do. So why is it so difficult for me to wrap my emotional mind around these rather uncomplicated truths?
Why is it so hard for me to really see the woman in the mirror, for exactly who she is?
She’s a fighter. She’s a survivor. She’s been to the depths of hell and clawed her way back out. Through it all, she has always loved to laugh – so those laugh lines around her eyes? She’s earned them.
Whether she’s taking her pit bull for an hour hike every evening, or hitting the gym on the weekends, she’s active and exercises regularly. Still, she isn’t an athlete, so there are areas on her body that are fuller than she’d like them to be. But guess what? She’s not getting up at 4am to go running, nor is she giving up the sporadic emotional eating binge or wine marathon. And since she’s not 24 anymore, this makes a huge difference.
Image issues have become an epidemic, and I’m sick of it. I don’t even think it’s about caring what others think, at least not for me. Believe me, I do not walk through this life particularly concerned with how anyone else perceives me, unless it’s someone I genuinely love. If I care about you, of course I care how you feel about me.
No, this is about how we care for and feel about ourselves. This is about being as kind to ourselves as we are to others. It shouldn’t be such a huge challenge, but I know I’m far from being alone in struggling with this. I also know that my experience with seeing my unfiltered reflection hasn’t “cured” my propensity for being self-critical. What is has done, is given me something to close my eyes and focus on when those inner-voices start nagging away in their shrill, unforgiving dialogues.
I will remember the woman in the mirror. I’ll remember her pride, her elegance, and her complete lack of self-doubt.
It’s definitely a journey. But cheers to loving ourselves, and opening our eyes to our own beauty, just as we are.