“Mirrors should think longer before they reflect.”–Jean Cocteau
About a week and a half ago I sat in a beautiful, crowded church in Atlanta with about 1,500 other women (and roughly 7 men), awaiting the arrival of one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton. A year ago I devoured Glennon’s book, “Carry On, Warrior,” and I regularly follow her posts on social media and her incredibly popular blog, Momastery.com. I put quite a bit of effort into making it to this speaking engagement. I arranged for childcare for the day, made sure all my regular duties were covered and drove from Greenville, SC to Atlanta for the program. All the planning must have had me pretty scattered, as I discovered halfway there that I FORGOT MY FLIPPING WALLET. But it was ok, because Glennon talks a lot about “sistering,” and I got to be the recipient of that wonderful concept, as my good friend whom I was visiting took care of me for the whole day.
So, here I am sitting in this lovely church, buzzing with polite, well-heeled ladies, and my role model Glennon appears, with her kind and supportive Sister and we all settle in for a listen. She gives us her story, and it is honest and raw, but she delivers it with the right amount of self-deprecation and wit so as not to fall into a pit of dull seriousness. It is a masterful balancing act and I want to love her more. But, to be honest, I was kind of like, “Meh.” What was going on?! Why was I not giddy with excitement over this? I thought to myself, “I mean, she’s good…but…maybe TOO good? She’s just SO cute, and SO funny, and SO relatable and there are just way too many ‘SOOOO’s’ for me right now. Hmph.” I’m still enjoying myself and the talk, but I’m a little deflated.
Then Glennon gets up from the stage and she walks down the aisle toward me in the back of the church (I was raised Baptist and old habits die hard; my comfort zone lies in the back quarter and balconies of all sanctuaries). She sits down, and looks in my eyes, and begins relating a story about herself. She said that earlier in her life she had a hard time getting started with her writing, because every time she came across another author with a style similar to her own, she was overcome with the feeling that she could never be as good as that author. That every time she thought she had created something good, it felt like there was someone else who was doing the same thing, but better. Why would she put her ideas out there if someone else had already done it? She went on to talk about the idea that many times women view other women through a mirror. They look at their peers, they form their assumptions about them and compare them to the assumptions they’ve made about themselves.
OK, so Glennon wasn’t really sitting beside me when she said all this. But it felt like she was talking DIRECTLY to me. And I am back to loving her again, because I never really stopped, I just got a little jealous, I think. And my summary of her ideas barely scratches the surface of what she really said, but I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s been rolling around in my head since it entered my ears.
I am so, so, so guilty of this, and have been for way too long. Just before the presentation that night, I went to dinner with a group of ladies, some I was meeting for the first time. I looked around the table and saw a group of dynamite women. Successful careers. Business owners. Heads of households brimming with children being prepared to be responsible members of society. Women who are: Stylish. Fit and healthy. Socially conscious. Funny and kind. I saw all these things and fully appreciated them! And then I held up my mirror and saw my own perceived flaws reflected back at me. A career abandoned. Subpar creativity. A curator of unfinished projects. Often overwhelmed by what some would view as a non-challenging life. Socially awkward. And my lipstick was almost certainly too bright.
It took Glennon metaphorically sitting beside me in that church to make me realize how automatic this way of thinking has become to me. How old was I when I started doing this? A teen? A tween? Long enough that it’s become an automatic response. “Hi, nice to meet you! You seem like a lovely person. I’m maybe, sort of lovely, but I’m also sort of a troll. Enjoy your evening!”
The fact of the matter is that mirrors are terribly unreliable. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in dressing room is familiar with the idea of a “skinny” mirror and a “fat” mirror. And then you have to figure in lighting and angles and all sorts of other factors. Sometimes I do my makeup in my bathroom and think it looks pretty good. Then I pull down the visor in my car and open up that mirror and am HORRIFIED. Almost as bad as accidentally having your cell phone camera turned around to selfie mode. Almost.
Brows in the bathroom mirror vs. brows in the car mirror. Eeeek. Always keep tweezers in the car.
Let’s try to imagine a time before mirrors were all around us. Before selfies and photo filters. Back to when the only time people saw their reflections were when they walked down to the river and leaned over for a drink. What do you think they thought the first few times they saw themselves? Did they look at that image and think, “What an amazing creature! What is it? Look how it moves just like me! Is it thirsty like me? Can I get closer to it? It looks like other creatures I’ve seen, but a little different. Do the others know about this?” Or did that person look in the river and think, “Damn. I look all wavy and wet. I don’t even want this stupid water. I’ll just be thirsty.”
I’m going to venture to say that if I’m thinking and writing about this whole mirror thing, and Glennon has dedicated a whole section of her talk about this whole mirror thing, then that must mean we can’t be the only two people out there guilty of this phenomenon. There are multitudes of us going about our days, interacting with people all while holding up a mirror. And we’ve been doing it for so long, we don’t even realize all the places we’re holding up our mirrors. Which leads me to another idea. Do we sometimes judge another woman based on what we think she thinks of us?
In my role as a homemaker (do you like how politically correct that sounds?), I have the “opportunity to view” (a.k.a. “burden to endure”) my share of daytime television. The formula of a soap opera relies on misperceptions and miscommunications. We pity the poor woman who hastily breaks up with the love of her life because she catches him kissing the town harlot. But actually, he was just giving the harlot mouth-to-mouth while standing up! But then he’s so wounded that she would break up with him he never explains it to her. And the town harlot is so vicious and self-serving she would never tell the truth. It’s a game of near misses and misunderstandings. And so it is with our mirrors. We assume that another woman is giving us the once-over and arriving at the conclusion we don’t have our act together, when maybe she’s actually holding up her own mirror and wishing she could have what we have. Of course, there is the chance that woman IS actually, judging. Heaven knows there are certainly plenty of judgies out there. And, by the way, giving someone mouth-to-mouth is not really a thing, so, uh, if your man tries to use that as an excuse, BE SUSPICIOUS. I don’t want to be naive in my dealings, but I want to adopt an attitude of grace that will keep me from jumping to conclusions. Sometimes it’s just not about you.
I have no advice on how to combat this whole mirror thing. I’m just trying to note it. And maybe by putting it into words I can reinforce my efforts to STOP IT. I want to look around at all the tables with all the women and see their good qualities and then STOP RIGHT THERE. It’s not about me, and it’s not about you. We’re all here for something different. And the mirror is getting in the way of all the other things there are to see.
I always start these posts with a quote, but for this one I want to end with a quote, too. It’s from a Jimi Hendrix song, and it’s wildly out of context, but it also sums up all I’m trying to say:
“I used to live in a room full of mirrors; all I could see was me. I take my spirit and crash my mirrors, now the whole world is here for me to see.”