Friday, May 20, 2011

The Woman in the Mirror

Woman Combing her Hair Before a Mirror by Edgar Degas
When you stand in front of a mirror, whose discerning eye and critical voice is most often running through your head?

Your husband's?
Your beautiful, impeccably manicured co-worker's?
Your mother's?

Since without mirrors we wouldn't be able to see ourselves, no matter how independent we claim to be, it's a fact of life that we are all dressing, combing, and primping for the benefit of other people. And it is how these other people treat us, respond to us, respect us, and compliment us that has become the most important mirror of all.

I recently watched an interview that was conducted a few years back with actress Kate Winslet. Of all the things she could have talked about that day, the subject she was most interested exploring was the messed up, pitiful way that women try to change themselves in order to meet the approval of others. I fear this is a topic that has become exhausting for women to think about. It's like going to a family reunion and saying, "So does anyone have any long-time grudges or hurt feelings they'd like to discuss today?" It's the ultimate can of worms.

We hear about the perils of having a negative self-image on television. We read about it in magazines. We hash it out with friends, in church meetings, and with our teenage children or siblings. I think we all sort of wish someone would stand up on a really tall picnic table in the middle of a corn field in Iowa and with megaphone in hand shout out, "All right ladies. Y'all know you're screwed up and just hatin' on yo'selves all day long. E'nuf a that. Get on with yo' life, and stop worrin' about them thighs!" And then we could all get back in our flying cars and return to our houses with contented smiles, glancing often in the rearview mirror to kiss our lips at our reflection and think, "Yes ma'am! I like what I see."

That is sort of what Kate Winslet did during this interview, only she wasn't in Iowa on a picnic table and she wasn't holding a megaphone. And her accent and syntax are slightly different from what I wrote above. In summary, Ms. Winslet looked directly at the camera and said, "I wish women would just understand that you don't have to change your body in order to be loved and admired."

I had to pause and rewind her speech. What a brave, beautiful message. What a novel idea for each of us to believe that we can be loved and admired, despite our crooked teeth, big butts, stringy hair, or unfashionable shoes. And while it's important to feel this is true about yourself, I think it's equally important to help other women to enjoy that same affirmation. Let your sisters, friends, and neighbors feel your unconditional acceptance. If you catch yourself noticing someone else's bad hair day, intentionally shift your gaze from their hair to their eyes, and try harder to see the whole person beyond the imperfect details.

It may be the case that old habits die hard and we will always continue to see ourselves through the eyes of other people. If that is true, the best that we can do is surround ourselves with "mirrors" that will reflect back what is good and right and lovely in each of us. Because at the end of the day, that is who we really are.

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