Who’s the fairest of them all? Most of us know it is not the reflection in the mirror and we don’t feel the fairest at all. After all, Narcissus was a male and those who follow the Greek god, are quite fond of their reflections, prone to preen at themselves in shop windows or stores when they think no one is looking. Pond gazing is now, not necessary, as mirrors are everywhere.
Women, the supposedly fairer sex, are not prone to such narcissism. Instead, we agonize over our nose, our lips, our hair, our hips, etc. The list of our discontent is endless and a so-common gripe at girly get-togethers.”Oh, if only I could lose weight, be taller, have a smaller nose, longer lashes, straight hair, no freckles, etc.
We never seem happy with ourselves. Admittedly, the focus on body and face for women has always been there and we will forever be viewed through a sexist lens. Feminist or not, women worldwide desire to be attractive either to men or each other. We are naturally egocentric and it is an inbuilt mechanism that gives us the will to survive and reproduce ourselves.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall Everywhere
Now with mirror, mirror on the wall, bright lights and social media everywhere, it is even tougher to not lament over our looks. Today’s teenagers will be the most photographed ever and phone-selfies are the craze. Posing and posturing, pouting lips and flicking hair, they seem in love with themselves. It is all about self these days, and how glamorous are these young teens. Even the boys are into it. Buffing up with gym and protein powders so they can ‘selfie’ away and post their six packs and even more private parts to some girl they hope will swoon over them.
However, once they post the photos up on social media, confidence can sink. As the Desiderata author expressed so wisely, ‘If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain or bitter. For always there will always be greater and lesser persons than oneself.’
It is hard to berate a young person about this obsession with self-appearance in today’s world, where the ever-present phone, now almost a body part, is also a camera. Today’s young women will have so many photos, taking one at least for every day of their lives, all handily kept in one place and with excellent resolution and in color. But is this a healthy trend, to constantly appraise one’s looks? Aren’t there other more important issues to obsess about?
In contrast, as an older woman, the only photos of myself as a teen, are the standard school class photos and boy don’t I look great in them! No! The worst of hairstyles, the cheesiest smile, they are horrors. They stay in an old album in a cupboard, only kept for nostalgia’s sake.
The Body in The Mirror
On a recent shopping trip with my thirty-year-old daughter, we shared a change room as we usually do. It is more fun and easier to appraise each other’s outfits. Ultimate free fun with lots of giggles. This time, rather than agonizing over her bust measurement or a skin imperfection, my very attractive daughter lamented that she had cellulite, a new development it seems. I tried to placate her with ‘I can’t see a thing’, ‘Where?’ and “It’s the lights in here.’ But, she was not to be placated.
Visibly upset, she insisted on going to the beauty section of the department store and perusing the products for such an issue. There are, surprisingly, a lot of them and they are expensive. ‘Do they work?’ I dared to ask the svelte young assistant, thinking how she would know, she can’t have tried them, look at her, I mean. ‘Oh, yes, Sure. They are awesome. I use this one and you need the massage brush as well and the toner for afterwards.’
Over a hundred dollars later, we left with two little bottles of clear liquid and a small brush. I hope they make my daughter happy and fix the invisible cellulite. I know my baby girl has her priorities wrong, but how can I talk, I was a teen anorexic myself, sucked into years of obsessing over body image. Yet I, like my daughter, am slim and will never be a large person.
Yes, it is easy to see it all with the wisdom of hindsight, to tell your younger self, don’t do that, it’s so dumb. But life is not a dress rehearsal, and you can’t get it right first go. Tell that mirror, mirror on the wall, all is not what it seems.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall go away
You always feel like yourself no matter how old you are. But a glance in the mirror on the wall shows you the change others see. But you know what, now I am older, I don’t care anymore. Wrinkles, I call them laughter lines. Crow’s feet, I call them twinkle lines, or the riverbeds of past smiles and the rest of it I just hide in hippy flow-on fashion, my favorite type anyway. I now tell my clone, my thirty-year-old daughter that she is beautiful, because she is! If only someone, preferably my mother, had told me this at any point, it would have helped the insecurities.
And I’m a slim girl (still a girl at any age, sorry) in a world that showcases the lesser woman. Heaven knows how difficult it is being larger or plus size in those brightly lit unforgiving change rooms surrounded by mirrors and on unforgiving social media.
Why doesn’t the commercial world would wake up to just how depressing dressing rooms actually are? I’m sure soft lighting would help sell a lot more garments and boost our confidence to browse more in store. But instead, we gaze in shock at the mirror, mirror on the wall, wondering is that the real me?
A Chat with One’s Younger Self
If we could chat to our younger self, most of us fifty plus women would say, don’t worry about it when you are at your youthful best because you will only deteriorate, anyway. You will never be as good again as you are today. Change is inevitable. It’s the one constant in life.
Well, that is physically, in the eyes of the world. But really, we can blossom as we age. We get sensible at last. The things of the flesh, the less important parts of us, our body recedes as a priority when considered strictly from the decorative point of view. The important things come into focus, like is our body healthy, are we reaching our full potential, are we being good parents, partners, etc., are we being kind?
It’s Easier Being Older
Eighty-five-year-old Jane Fonda in a recent interview with Nadia Salemme said, ‘It’s easier being older than younger’ and ‘I feel younger now than in my 20’s’. This latter statement refers to the freedom of aging, how the burdens of worrying about how you look, who will love you, what will you do, are no longer such an issue. Instead, you focus on your children, your grandchildren, hobbies or making a difference. The focus moves away from self. Mirror, mirror on the wall is less important.
If you are not trying to give to others, not trying to be your best at any age, that is when it will show on your face and posture. Holding grudges and unforgiveness, an unhealthy body and mean spiritedness will take over your features like in Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. If there ever was a cautionary tale about Narcissism, this is the one. In this story Dorian’s portrait tarnishes with the ravages of his selfish personality while his real face stays young and unblemished.
Smile, keep smiling
But we can overcome time’s changes by smiling more. Smiling is good for you in so many ways inside and outside your body. A smile uses muscles which improves facial tone. It’s like face yoga every time you transmit a little happiness to others and yourself. Because smiling releases endorphins just like laughter and exercise.
I lost a ring that was very precious to me. I had put it away safely and couldn’t remember where I had hidden it. I’m sure none of you would do anything like that. Anyway, I rang a friend and shared my woes and details of how I had ransacked my house in search of it. She burst into gales of laughter. Really!
It wasn’t long before I couldn’t help myself and joined her. Did you know we laugh when something unexpected happens? Maybe my friend didn’t expect me to do something as crazy as not knowing where I had placed my ring. Anyway, we continued to share a good laugh over the crisis, especially about me looking under all the bottoms of my soft toys. I had hidden something valuable there once before.
This was one time, when laughter was the perfect medicine. When I glanced in the mirror afterwards, gone was the haggard face of an hour before. I was smiling and looked and felt so much better.
We feel better when we smile and make others feel better, too. Not only that, but we also look more attractive when we smile than when our face is at rest or frowning. Those passport and driver’s license photos are proof of that. Maybe we should try laughing at the mirror on the wall from time to time. It might start a new fad, if you put a video of it on Youtube. After all, they put a heap of the weirdest things on the Internet.
More to Women
Back to my topic. Since researching and writing about amazing, and inspiring women, I have realised anew that there is so much more to a woman than being decorative or sexy. Women can do anything and often better than a man. We can multitask because of our amazing brains, invent stuff, discover stuff and be pioneers in a man’s world, opening doors for the sisterhood.
I’m sure the suffragettes didn’t worry about cellulite while they fought the war for women. Did Amelia Earhart worry about her freckles as she flew across the Pacific? And did the heroic WASP women, who waged war above embattled Britain, worry about how they looked ? Probably not, either.
If you are busy and inspired, if you have a dream then who cares what you look like? Even tom boy Katharine Hepburn, the movie star, didn’t care. Coco Chanel reinvented herself and liberated women from the fashionable discomforts of the times. She decided to wear trousers and pioneered sportswear for women. She didn’t care if people thought her weird.
So girls, be inspired by these women in our previous posts and many, many others out there who focus on what really matters in life. Be yourself, discovering your talents and celebrating them. If you can give back in the process in some way, even better.
Quoting Desiderata again, (I can’t resist it as have a copy on my wall) ‘Value your achievements, no matter how small. Keep interested in your own career, however humble. You are a child of the universe. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Everywhere, life is full of heroism.’
So be your own hero, nurture yourself and your achievements to make a difference in your world. Use your voice for good and be a pioneer in some small way. Don’t agonize over your outward appearance but enjoy who you are. Smile and reveal your inner beauty. But most of all be kind to yourself and to others. The world needs more kindness. Stop obsessing by that mirror. Mirrors are not kind. But you can outsmart them by smiling into them.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts this women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.