In Frances Ha, the titular character’s best friend Sophie remarks on Frances’ thing. You know, that thing we all do that’s unique to us but also a little weird to other people. Frances’ thing was a not so sneaky habit of stealing peeks of herself in anything that cast a reflection. I found this film hugely relatable as I’m sure it was for any “creative-type” ladies inching towards 30. And for more reasons than 20-something poverty and a past full of refusing adulthood’s responsibilities. As my sister so kindly pointed out as we left the theater, finding my reflection is sorta MY thing, too. It’s a little strange to admit this but…I look in the mirror. A lot. I check my reflection many times a day. Sometimes bouncing between two or even three mirrors before I feel satisfied. And for no real reason either. Just to…look. I always notice when I’m around something that offers a view of myself. A car window, a storefront, a television screen gone black, the face of my iPhone. Sometimes when the creeping feeling of social anxiety bubbles to the surface and I can feel a negative emotion, like anger or embarrassment, hot on my cheeks, I want to see myself. I feel calmer if I’m able to.
I’m not sure when this practice started. I know my sister has teased me for years about checking my reflection in car windows. Usually in those impatient seconds before the unlock button is hit on a keyless entry remote. Perhaps my reflection relationship began as a toddler when I was enrolled in my very first ballet class. My whole childhood was spent learning complicated and unnatural positions through careful speculation of my own bodies’ curves and contortions. In dance, the mirror is there to help you. You catch a glimpse of a sickled foot in your tendu derriere. You point your toes harder. You notice a leg that could be in a more attractive line. So you correct it. You realize you aren’t as high off the ground in your changements as the two ballerinas flanking you. And you jump like hell until you are. The reward for this self-correction felt great to me. The reward was art and not just any art. Art that I created. Later, when I started competitive speech and debate, I would try to use the mirror as a tool in a similar way. And even found new ways to use it, too. To help the memorization process when learning speeches, I would recite the words in front of a mirror, careful to pay attention to the shape my mouth made when pronouncing each sound. Confident that once I learned the shapes they would be easier to recreate again and again.
These practical uses for my reflection are why I don’t think my need to look at myself is born entirely of vanity. Everyone uses the mirror in attempt to make themselves look better or hotter, more presentable or more professional. And I’m certainly no different. I use it as I twist my hair over and over until I’ve created what I hope will, ironically, look like an effortless and messy top knot. I use it to see if my outfit is flattering, showcasing parts I like and hiding those I don’t. I use it to verify a pair of heels’ ability to make my calves look bangin’. But I also use it, frankly, just to make sure I’m still there. Like when I’ve been lost inside my own thoughts and imagination for too many hours. Or when someone has made me feel unimaginably small and unimportant. Or when a task seems insurmountable. Something about that tiny glance into my own eyes tells me, “Yep, you’re still you. You’re in this amazing world and this wonderful life you have is REAL. Own it. Go live it. You’re beautiful and confident and that thing you don’t think you can do because you think you’re not good enough…what’s the harm in trying?” I’m cringing at how cheesy that sounds but there ya go. Honesty!
It’s a long standing practice in the world of retail to place mirrors behind counters where patrons are likely to get a little incensed. When angry customers approach a mirror the likelihood of irrational behavior lowers drastically. Why? Because no one wants to see themselves act like that. And the mirrors behind the bar in your favorite seedy joint? No one wants to look at a belligerent and sloppy-drunk fool and think, “Whoa, that’s ME.” So maybe what this reflection on reflections boils down to is this — We all want to see the best version of ourselves. I don’t want to see someone who is meek and boring so, just like I did at the barre in my ballet classes, I find those parts I need to change in my reflection and alter them. Perhaps that’s done physically, cracking a smile or fixing a rogue strand of hair, or perhaps it’s an alteration more mental than physical. Either way, I create the person I see looking back at me. The person the world will see, too.
Author’s Note: This is my personal relationship with mirrors and is not necessarily a practice I think everyone should strive for. I know many struggle daily to LIKE the person they see looking back at them in the mirror let alone use their reflection as a confidence booster or a tool for healthy self -correction. For those of you walking that difficult path, please keep fighting. I think you are beautiful!