Have you ever walked past a mirror, without realizing it was a mirror? Then, you notice that person looks familiar. Oh wait! That's actually me! What did you think in the moment before all of your pre-programmed self-perceptions kicked in? Did you think the unknown person was ordinary, attractive, or what? Odds are, you probably didn't think that hideous person shouldn't be allowed out in public and will never be loved.
I had a conversation with a guy friend this week about our self-perceptions. Both of us had some issues when we were kids, and there were some spiteful people who pointed out our physical imperfections. When you get told that often enough, it becomes part of who you are, and it gets difficult to see who is really looking back at you in the mirror.
There was a time when I was a teenager when I studied myself in the mirror with a fashion magazine at hand. I examined my features and I thought they were reasonably similar to the girls in the magazine. I couldn't see why I was uglier than they were -- but the prevailing consensus seemed to be that I was ugly, and since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I must be ugly. I just accepted it with a heavy sigh.
Ah, if only we could go back and talk to our younger selves, right? The biggest sin of bullies is that they can convince us to bully ourselves long after their cruel remarks. I'll accept that there was a time in my life when I was too tall and gangly, I needed braces, and the prepubescent awkwardness of growing wasn't particularly kind to me, but at the time I was looking in the mirror all of that had mostly settled into place. I wish I could tell that teenager she was pretty even if she didn't know it, and nobody really cared about that zit on her chin.
I think many of us, if not all of us, still look in the mirror with the same skewed self-perceptions that I had back then.
I dreamed a memory of my grandmother this morning. I was my usual unkempt, wild self with a mop of tangled hair in my face. She stroked my hair back and cooed to me before getting a scrap of fat, pink yarn to tie my hair back with a pretty bow on top. She said I had a pretty face and it was a shame to cover my eyes with hair. I felt pleased that Grandma thought I was pretty, and she showed me that it was so in the mirror. I snuggled into her warm softness for a while before resuming my romping play, but I kept that bit of yarn for a long time afterwards. It was a little bit of love I could keep in a box.
I more recently worked with women who have that Grandma quality of saying the positive. They tell other women that they're pretty and compliment someone's new shirt. Their kindness is remarkable in that encouraging, complimentary remarks are so seldom heard in the world. I followed their example and told my guy friend he's handsome, and he is. He just needs to remember to see beyond the illusion in the mirror. We all need to see our own beauty, not just in what we look like, but in every way our individuality is beautiful.