Short story: Mirror, mirror on the wall, you just can’t look away at all

By Jessica Ding
By Jessica Ding |

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I know you’ve done it, don’t worry I have too. Windows, shiny screens, sometimes even polished silverware allow you to catch a good glimpse of yourself. Is my hair alright, makeup good, anything in my nose or, God forbid, teeth? Without anyone noticing I fix a loose strand of hair and return to what I was doing, a sense of reassurement fills my heart knowing that my face hasn’t suddenly morphed into something unrecognisable since the time I last checked. Wait but that’s just a little taste.

Now for the main course, mirrors. Smooth, shiny, glistening, reflecting the glorious image of nothing more important than me - my face, hair, body, clothes, shoes. It meticulously captures each and every single detail. The full size mirror nailed into the Haines hall allows me to scrutinize my clothes and my entire body. The extra wide full mirror slanting outside the bathroom allows me to catch a side view as you walk into the bathroom. The built in mirror above the sink elongates itself for a upper body view. The small desk mirror allows me to focus on nothing but my face, if I’m feeling really adventurous, flip it and I’m lost in a world where each eyelash looks like a tree branch, each pore could be the grand canyon, the little peach fuzz on my face could be a carpet, my teeth… let's stop there.

My eyes are accustomed to seek out those imperfections. As I gaze at my reflection and my eyes are drawn to the blemishes, the flaws, everything that I deem as not beautiful. I stare with my heart’s content, the imperfection burning into my mind with each passing moment. Disappointment, anger, and sometimes even disgust fill my mind as I walk away. That little red spot on my face, with each passing moment it grows bigger, darker and more ominous in my mind. It’s probably covering half my cheek I stop at the bathroom on my way to class. It’s no bigger than a freckle. The shirt that was a little tight, I must look bad, I wrap my sweater a little tighter. My straight black hair, black eyes, and Asian features must have no place in this white town. I walk a little faster.

We all know the story of Narcissus the Greek mythological character who looked into water and fell in love with his own reflection. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost the will to live and stared at himself until he died. He must a been a really really good looking man. My story however, goes a little more like this: I looked into mirrors and saw aspects of myself that I didn’t like, the girl looking back at me pointed out my imperfections, and more and more the imperfections became all I saw, eventually each time I looked into the mirror, I saw the framed picture of my imperfections daunting me. I looked for the straight noses, blue eyes, and blond hair, but saw nothing but the opposite. I looked for the beauty that was acclaimed around me and couldn’t find it, unable to release these imperfections, I eventually got lost.

So here are the rules: 

The Daily Mail reported that “Women will check their reflection an average eight times a day, and use any number of surfaces to do so.” 

1. Instead of completely eliminating mirrors, I would limit myself to looking into the mirror once a day.

2. Don’t look into reflective surfaces just to look at myself. Yes that is cheating.

3. In a time where smartphones and selfies are inevitable, being in a picture is fine as long as I am not examining my appearance.

No, not today

It’s the first day. My eyes flutter open, caught between dreams and the beckoning calls of my alarm, I roll out of my bed, warmth and sleep grasp onto my body as I drag myself across the room. Water, toilet, brush teeth, wash face, fold bed. It’s all a quick blur to me, a routine, mechanical, habit, flowing, gliding, dancing until I pull out my eyeliner and walk towards ... No, I will not be looking into a mirror today. 

I am sitting on the chair of my roommate. “Nikole, make sure you get every single spot.” I hand her the bottle and sit there patiently as her fingers dab my cheeks with the cool liquid. Although I may not be able to look into mirrors, I have asked Nikole to be my human mirror. I close my eyes and she runs the eyeliner in one smooth stroke across my eyes. “Make sure to make the line thick.” She glides the pencil across my eyes again. “And also my eyebrows, make sure …” I open my eyes and a smirk is written across her face. “If you don’t stop talking, I’m going to give you a unibrow. You know I have the power.” I quiet down as she continues to work on my face. I feel the pencils and concealer carefully dabbed onto my face. Like an artist, Nikole paints my concept of perfection and beauty on the blank canvas that I have deemed unsatisfactory. Sometimes the makeup is too much, too thick, too plastic; too artificial to even convince myself that this beauty is real. Maybe I don’t need convincing, as I continue to pile on the makeup, maybe I already know that to truly forget about these insecurities, I simply need to let them go. With each consecutive layer she covers my imperfections, burying and suppressing them down to be thought of again at nighttime. 

Ready to start the day? Not so fast you don’t even have an outfit. “How does this look?” I ask Nikole, her eyes make a quick head to toe scan of my clothing; unfortunately it was not my stunning outfit that had caught her eye. I stand, surrounded by clothes. Shirts, pants, underwear, skirts, dresses, jackets and more pile on my bed, draped over my chair and surge out of drawers. I pull shirts on and off, desperately trying to picture myself wearing each ornament of clothing. Does this make my ... No it doesn’t. Next.  The clothes start to pile up around me, as nothing seems to be good enough, nothing seems to flatter my body. “That looks good.” She responds and I let out a sigh of relief. Nikole grabs her bag and heads out the door “You have three minutes to clean up!” she yells walking down the stairs.The day has just begun.

Are you looking at yourself in a spoon?

Two squirts of soap, running water, just keep looking down, keep looking down. It kills me to know that with the slight lift of my head I could look up and sneak a glimpse of my reflection. I dry my hands and walk out briskly. 

It’s day three. You know that person who you try to avoid, but just as you start trying to avoid them, they show up everywhere. Mirrors and reflections they are everywhere. In bathrooms, hallways, windows, doors, other peoples glasses, I managed to catch good clear glimpse of myself in the precious moments of reaching out to a car door, wrapping my fingers around the handle, pulling the door open, and getting into the car. It has taken me much less time to get ready in the morning, I get my makeup and clothing approved personally by Nikole, and I stand in front of the full length mirror in the hall to get my daily glance. Or shall I say full body analytical scan. I start from my face, my eyes automatically scan and search for any imperfections, yes they’re there. I guess you can’t really see them unless you’re an inch away from my face. Next. My eyes move down to my body. I see myself no taller, no shorter, no wider, no thinner. Why is my torso so long, why is my belly button so high. Next. I take a step back, my eyes adjusting to the bigger picture, the full frame reflection of myself hanging on the flowery wallpaper. Picture perfect? Next.

Throughout the day I still worry about whether my face is still intact. Logically I know that I look no different physically, however, mentally sense of exposure and rawness filled my heart as I walked through the hallways. I’ve never had flawless skin, my baby hairs puff out angrily, and my Asian features just don’t seem to fit in. These imperfections may seem mundane and extraneous, however, they have buried themselves in my heart. As I look around me at the blond haired blue eyed barbie dolls I feel a little out of place, a little more self conscious, and a little more lost and hopeless.

I sit down in the bustling cafeteria with a bowl of lentil soup, the soup is downed within a few minutes just as my friends begin to eat. Typical. So I sit there scraping the bowl clean and licking my spoon. As I am laser focused on getting every drop of soup I somehow rest my eyes on the shiny surface of the metal spoon. Now this is no mirror, but I stare into the reflection of a slightly morphed reflection of my face. Is that a spot that hasn’t been absolutely, completely, perfectly covered up? I investigate further turning my face a little more to the right just to get the perfect… “Jessica!” I look up abruptly back at my friend. Please say she didn’t notice that. “Are you free later?” That’s the last time I’ll be looking at myself in any reflective surface.

What is that on your face? 

It came. Swiftly, subtly, gently, not even making a sound. I felt no pain, no anticipation, it took me by surprise and lay itself on my cheek. It was the fourth day of not looking into mirrors, as I opened my eyes and lay in the warm embrace of my blanket, I reached towards my face to brush away my hair and upon the contact between my cheek and my fingertips, simultaneously my fingers felt the bump and my cheek cried out a pang of pain. Yes, a pimple. Now this was no small blemish, this was the kind of pimple that catches anyone and everyone’s attention, the large spot that shone like the actor in the spotlight in a tragedy called my face, the kind of misfortune that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. 

“Are you sure it’s covered up?” I find myself sitting in front of Nikole for a few extra minutes this morning. “I know it’s horrible, big, ugly, red” The more I thought about my blemish the worse it manifested in my mind, evolving from a tiny red dot to a destructive explosive volcano. As I looked at Nikole’s unamused expression, and I realized the exaggeration and dramatization of my words. My mind has subconsciously leapt for the worst possible scenario, as usual my mind had assumed the worst case possible. 

I walk around school with looking down at my feet, my hair slightly covering just a little too much of my cheek. Not being able to check whether this pimple has ballooned to cover half of my face sends waves of discontent through my body. Everyone must be staring at this spot, it’s all they notice, it’s all they see, it’s all they think about. Not knowing whether my appearance has achieved my ideal image of me digs at my heart. It’s all they see, it’s all they see, it’s all they see. But who? Who’s looking at me, who’s worrying about my face, who is thinking about my imperfections. This thought almost stops me in my steps. Who is looking at me? 

Do you miss me?
I woke up feeling energized, I put on a great outfit, my hair had been blow dried last night. Sunshine seeps through the cracks of the curtains and caresses its warm rays across my body as I get changed for the day. I feel good, I look good, and suddenly I realize I am unable to physically see any of this.
Within the last six days I have become accustomed to keeping my gaze down while washing my hands in the bathroom, as I walk past reflective surfaces I simply shift my focus to observe my surroundings, I don’t adjust my vision to check my reflection on screens, I have even gotten more comfortable (only slightly let’s not give away all the power now) with asking my friends how I look and trusting their words. Instead of a mental tug of war between worrying about my appearance and looking into the mirror, I walk away, I walk away from the voices leaving them behind me to argue. 
This day however, I felt an urge, a warm sensation buzzing in my stomach whispering to me that I felt and looked good today. As I slipped into a shirt and skirt that I had laid out the night before, could I to dare to say that i was confident I looked good. I wanted to strut down the hallway of Haines and stop for a dramatic pose in front of the mirror, to blow kisses to my self esteem, and to taunt that girl living under a over judgemental microscope. I desperately wanted to see myself, my smile, my happiness, my confidence radiating back at me when I looked into the mirror. I wanted to feel the rays of my new found confidence bouncing off the mirrors and securing my image of perfection. Maybe tomorrow. I walk out of the house into the spring sun. I know she’ll still be there tomorrow. 
The mirror that reflects
I peered curiously into the mirror, unprepared for whether it welcomed me with the warm smile of that confidant Asian girl, or whether I would see nothing but my flaws and imperfections filling up the whole frame. I had once lost myself in my own reflection. I couldn’t tell if the looking glass had presented me with an image of reality or if it presented me with magnified distortions of my own vulnerabilities. 
As I climb up the creaking steps to the third floor of Haines, the soft glow of the evening sun shines through the window and hits me in the face as I make it up the final step. The school day is over, sports are done, dinner was mediocre, and I am standing in front of the mirror at the top of the steps. And I saw this girl, a hint of a smile in the corners of her plump red lips, her cheeks still rosy and pink from playing tennis, I saw the Chopin Nocturne she just learnt that filled her heart with pangs of sorrow and love, I saw the laughter from happy times with her friends echo, I saw the warmth she cherished with her family. And where was that critical over obsessive girl? Well I left her framed in a world of misconceived beauty, hanging there among the flowery wall paper, quieted in the murmurs of her own judgement.



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