Every morning I crawl out of bed and stumble stagger my way through my bedroom, trying not to trip on a cat, into the bathroom where I fumble for the lights. I stand there on unsteady legs a moment while I squint bleary eyed into the suddenly bright light that surrounds me. The world slowly comes into focus as my eyes adjust to both being awake and all the blasted light once again. As my vision clears my eyes lock onto the mirror and my own reflection is the first thing that greets me causing me to frown.
I would love to say that my negative reaction to my own visage in the mornings is due to the fact that I am just being cranky about being awake. I would love to say that it is caused by the way my curls have matted down to one side of my head while the other side is standing up at strange angles making me look a little like Yahoo Serious. I would like to say that it is the pillow lines that are still set into my cheeks that cause me to frown.
I know that none of that is true.
I know that those excuses are just that; excuses. I know this because I have a similar reaction pretty much any time I look in the mirror. I know that typically the best I get out of an encounter with a mirror is the thought of 'Close enough', 'This will have to do', or 'As good as it is going to get'.
Most of the time I stand in front of a mirror it turns into a time for me to catalog my flaws. There is the obligatory gut check where I suck in my gut as much as humanly possible, turn sideways, and then with a breath let my gut back out so that I can lament how fat I am. There is the fingers brushing through my hair trying to adjust it so that it looks somewhat flattering and less like the mess it is. There is the squinting at my face where I notice every bump, blemish, line, and the increasingly dark and puffy circles that live under my eyes.
Now don't get me wrong, sometimes I look in the mirror and am satisfied with what I see. Some days I am having good self esteem, and good hair, and put a lot of effort into my makeup and outfit, and I think 'Damn I am fabulous'. Some days that happens, just not most days.
I know that I am being stupid. I am being completely ridiculous when I look in the mirror and judge myself as harshly as I do. I know that I can step away from the mirror and feel good about myself and who I am and how I look. When I can't see me I can have confidence which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The thing is that we are always our own worst critics. Every single person on this planet suffers from this problem. If you show me someone that looks at themselves in the mirror every day and sees nothing but perfection I am going to call bullshit. They are lying to you or taking so many mood altering drugs that they are chemically blocked from thinking negative thoughts.
Time and time again I hear my friends say that if anyone treated them the way they treat themselves they would beat them up. Most of us would not stand for someone constantly telling us that we are fat and ugly and imperfect. Most of us would tell that sort of person to take a hike. Most of us would call that sort of relationship an abusive one that we should get out of.
Of course we can't break up with ourselves. We can't end a relationship with the person in the mirror without suffering some sort of psychotic break. We have to learn to accept ourselves, flaws and all, and learn to love what we see.
I am not certain this is a task that we are truly capable of once we are adults. All the self hate and loathing and judgement is so ingrained in us that it seems like an impossible cycle to break. How do you love yourself when all you have ever been taught is hate?
At faire, as costumer for the cast, I inherited a lab called Smoke and Mirrors. The purpose of the lab is actually to share tips and tricks with the other women on cast about how to make it through the hot sweaty day of faire and look picture perfect the entire time. It is a lot of talk about hair product, makeup, and chafing prevention.
The surface maintenance is not the only thing the lab covers. The lab goes deeper than that with one simple exercise which always proves to me that women don't love themselves or see themselves clearly. I do not know who started this exercise, but it is truly a thing of beauty.
We all stand in a circle facing in. One person is picked to begin and they turn to the person on their right and tell that person one thing that they find physically attractive about them. You can tell them anything you like about them as long as it is a physical aspect of the person and is positive. The person receiving the compliment has the harder task of simply saying 'Thank you'; no more, no less.
Taking a compliment and just saying thank you is so incredibly hard. Our instinct is to deny what we are being told. Our instinct is to make excuses for what they say. You are told you have perfect skin? You want to tell the person that it is actually really oily, or that it is just the makeup you use. You are told that you have amazing hair? You want to tell them how it takes hours and tons of product to look like that, or point out that it is frizzy and you have terrible split ends.
Simply, we do not want to accept that other people find us attractive without any questions asked. To simply say thank you without making comment or excuse makes us accept that at least someone appreciates us for the way we look.
The things that are said always amaze me. You sit and watch each person and think to yourself 'well what would I say to her?' You think that they have the most amazing eyes in the world and are certain that is what this person will say, but are shocked to find out that they are admiring her lovely high cheekbones. Then you look and think, 'Yea her cheekbones are sort of amazing'.
Even more amazing though is to see the reactions of the women in the group. Women that I think are stunning with their sleek hair, dusky exotic skin, wide sparkling eyes, gentle warming smiles, graceful swan like necks, adorable button noses, and cheek bones of the Gods, are rattled to the bones by these revelations from their peers. Women who I would be certain have to be happy with themselves because they are so beautiful burst into tears because they are just as insecure as I am and are struggling to believe these things to be truths.
There is always a lot of hugging and crying at the end of this exercise, but I like to think we all come out of it a little stronger. I also love that months later, when I am trying to brush off a compliment, that my girls will fix me with a stern stare and parrot my words from the exercise; "What do we say?", "Thank you." I reply sheepishly knowing they are right.
Our society is overly focused on physical beauty. We are fixated on what people look like and trying to fit everyone into set ideals of what beauty is. In doing so we have irrevocably damaged ourselves to the point where no one thinks they are beautiful. Even women that are considered the most beautiful women on the planet are airbrushed in photographs to make them more perfect. We are always striving to meet an image in our minds that isn't real.
We should not be teaching our children that beauty is what is on the cover of the magazine. We should be teaching our children, and ourselves, that beauty is what we see in the mirror every single morning. We should be teaching ourselves that there is no 'ideal' beauty or proper mold. We are not little plastic figures coming out of a factory in Taiwan. We are humans and we are all so vastly different which is precisely what makes us so amazing and beautiful.
It is our differences and our flaws that make us desirable and attractive. When we all start looking like carbon copies we become ordinary and boring. In nature it is the brightest feathers that attract attention, it is the flower that is just a little different than the others that draws the eye. We shouldn't want to blend in, we should want to stand out.
So when I look in the mirror in the mornings, or any other time, I should not frown and be unhappy with what I see. Yes I am fat. Yes my hair does not behave in any way shape or form. Yes I have circles under my eyes from not sleeping enough.
I have long thick lashes that frame my slightly exotic shaped eyes that are a strange color that shifts with my mood from the brightest of greens, to the softest of greys, to the deepest of blues.
I have the most adorable little button nose.
I have perfect bow shaped lips and a warm inviting smile that reaches all the way to the corners of my eyes and lights up the room.
I have insane curls that induce jealousy and a widows peak that gives me a dramatic and classic look.
I have skin that needs little to no assistance from make up to look stunning.
I am beautiful and unique.
I know it is not what is on the outside that truly matters, but I know that what is on the outside matters still. I know that I am beautiful even if I don't always like what I see in the mirror. I know that I am seeing myself through tainted lenses and that when my friends look at me they see the truth. I know that they are the mirrors that I should be looking at for the truth.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?
We all are.