Looking in a mirror is often a transformative experience, but whether that transformation is positive or negative depends on so many factors, both external and internal. I can look in the mirror six times in a day and see something different each time. And while I have grown to embrace and even love my reflection, that took a lot of work and a lot of practice.
I asked nine different people what it is they see when they look in the mirror; their answers may surprise you, as they surprised me, for focusing not just on the readily apparent, but also what is internal. See their answers, below.
Ragini Nag Rao
As someone who’s been fat and has had bad skin for most of her life, I don’t exactly have the easiest of relationship with mirrors. Whenever I’m looking into a mirror, I’m unconsciously angling my face and in ways that flatter me the most. It’s such a deeply ingrained reflex that I wouldn’t even know how to stop. Then again, deliberately forcing myself to see my face and body from all possible angles in the mirror was a huge part of my journey into fat acceptance. I still have the occasional twinge of body dysmorphia when I catch myself in fitting room mirrors from angles I’m not used to. There’s this brief flash of not being able to fully recognize myself before the image matches the one in my head. This used to be a lot more difficult before I consciously started looking at myself the way others see me—studying my unflattering bits in three-way mirrors and photos taken from odd angles, and accepting all of it as me. It’s a difficult process but incredibly therapeutic in healing your relationship with your body in the long run.
It’s hard, because, at times, I find it hard to depict what I see when I look in the mirror. People look in the mirror to see how they look, but most times I see past this. I see the feelings and opinions that I associate with myself at the current point in time. My makeup would look amazing and my fro will be fluffed out precisely, but all I would see is a girl who needs to look better than what she sees. Other times I feel the empowerment and growth within me and I feel myself. The truth is we are always conflicted with the “versions” of ourselves. There are millions of versions of us. The way you see yourself in the morning may not be that of how you see yourself at night and how we see ourselves are not how others see us... In short, I try not to look In the mirror too much. Why? Because my values are heavily based on my morals, who I am as a person, and how I treat people.
Historically, when I looked in the mirror, I saw problems that I wanted to fix. Too much muscle. Too strong features. Not enough femininity, and so on. Today, I just see me. And, I really like me. I feel we live in a time when something that's too perfect feels unoriginal and contrived. No one really trusts or believes a blogger in a perfect outfit with their perfect latte and perfect skin anymore. Me in my mirror is me. Me in my mirror is raw. Me in my mirror is honest, and honest me has never looked or felt better.
Dani, aka Alopeachia
I have mixed feelings when I look in the mirror; both positive and negative. Sometimes I point out every "imperfection" I have and give myself a hard time. I've even avoided looking in the mirror altogether at times. Other times, I see someone who has come a long way and is strong. I see someone who is working on themselves and is learning not to be so hard on herself and learning to forgive herself as well.
Mirrors have played a huge role in my journey to self-love and self-acceptance. A few years ago, I was talking about my insecurities with my body and a friend gave me advice that I'll never forget. She told me that the only way I was ever going to learn to love my body was through talking to it. She taught me an exercise that I still use to this day: You stand or sit naked in front of the mirror, look yourself straight in the eye, and tell yourself everything that's beautiful about your body. You can even go body part by body part, telling each inch of your skin how gorgeous it is. There is something fundamental, something transformational, about telling yourself, out loud, just how beautiful you are. The first few times, it will seem stupid, but over time, it will start to just feel true. Sure, I still have my insecurities, and navigating a world where gender-nonconforming people are constantly told that we're ugly or less-than is still a challenge, but I'm at a place in my life where I adore what I see in the mirror. I'm proud of my reflection, of the resilient, beautiful, trans-as-fuck body looking back at me.
When I look in the mirror, I see a girl that is always changing. Changing styles, shapes, moods, phases. Life never pauses, and we never stop growing. It’s so detrimental getting stuck on the little things you don’t have rather than what you do have. I have a body that wants to move, learn, love others, breathe, give my soul a chance to experience life on this planet! It’s easier said than done, but what I do know for sure—counting your blessings in that mirror will take you so much further.
When I look In the mirror, I don't really have a singular thought. I’m usually looking in the mirror to check myself out and make sure I like my hair, outfit, or makeup. But I’ve never been one to stand in the mirror to pick myself apart. I love how much I look like my mom so seeing her reflection in the mirror generally makes me happy. We all have critical moments, but being a glass-half-full kinda gal, I try not let myself go down that slippery slope of self-deprecation... because those magnifying mirrors and these pores, whoa.
Growing up, I thought my life would be hell because I didn’t fit in. I was convinced that I needed to be thin, to have the best job, husband, life. And that because I was unable to lose all the weight, I would fail at life. Now, I am grateful and so blessed to have that body and to look the way I do, because I found a way to make what was perceived as “weaknesses,” my strength! And that’s the best part of life. Turning things around and making the most of what you have instead of crying about what you wish you had. I am not insecure about my body or physique anymore, but about other stuff like achievements, life goals.
When I was a kid, I had severe asthma and I was put on pretty strong steroids. Within a short space of time, I gained a lot of weight (a medical side effect of the drug) and went from an average size little girl to a chubby one. As young as I was, it was then I saw a change in how I was treated for being fat. I often would hear adults discuss my weight and I would get teased for being bigger. Because of this, I grew up on diets always trying the newest fad to lose weight, which often was praised by people around me. To the outside, I was doing the healthy thing but little did they know I was suffering terribly with anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. It continued right through till my adult life. It became clear that in the eyes of society big does not equal beautiful. In fact, I remember people would always say, "You have such a pretty face, if you lost some weight you would be stunning."