Mirror, Mirror on the Wall — The Biggest Liar of Them All

by Carol Hess on June 30, 2011

“You’re too thin.  You need to gain weight.” 

I started laughing.  “You’ve got to be kidding!” I exclaimed.  But the doctor at the college infirmary wasn’t smiling. 

When I got back to the dorm, I told my roommates what he had said. 

“Isn’t that incredible?  The guy’s a quack.” 

I laughed and shook my head in disbelief. 

But my roommates weren’t laughing.  They weren’t even smiling.  Kathy took me by the hand and led me to the full-length mirror in our bathroom. 

“Carol, turn sideways.  What do you see?” 

I saw me in my usual outfit of Army-Navy Store bell bottom blue jeans and black turtleneck.  Nothing remarkable there.  Same old me.  I was puzzled.  I turned back toward Kathy and asked, “What am I supposed to see?” 

“Don’t you see how thin you are?  You practically disappear when you turn sideways.” 

I looked again.  No, I definitely didn’t see that.  For heaven’s sake, I weighed 145 pounds.  I was no skinny Minnie. 

When my other roommates joined Kathy in encouraging me to gain some weight, that’s when I realized I wasn’t seeing what the doctor and my roommates were seeing.  The mirror was lying to me. 

Many, many years after my showdown with the bathroom mirror in my college dorm, the mirror is still lying to me.  It’s actually taking its cue from me.  What I see in my mind’s eye about my body is what I see in the mirror, and neither image is reality. 

What really confuses the heck out of me is that the mirror lies both ways.  It tells me I’m fatter than I really am, and it tells me I’m thinner than I really am.  Rarely, if ever, does it tell me the truth.  So I rely on photographs for that, and they never fail to surprise me – also either way.  

The other day I was going through my old photo albums, and I discovered something downright shocking.  That chubby, plump, pudgy child I had been growing up never existed! 

Oh sure, some of the photos showed a somewhat chubby little girl who was obviously going through a growth spurt and whose height hadn’t caught up to her weight.  But the majority of the photos were pictures of a child at a healthy size.  Some of them even revealed a teenager and young adult who was verging on being too thin. 

Every year before school started, my mother and I would go shopping for my new school wardrobe.  And no matter what size I was wearing, my mother always found the cutest outfits in the next couple of sizes down.  She would get irritated and say, “If only you wore size (fill in the blank), it wouldn’t be so difficult to find clothes for you.” 

I’ve got two questions.  One:  Why the heck was she looking in the smaller sizes when she knew they wouldn’t fit me?  Two:  Why weren’t there any conversations about me being too thin or, for that matter,  just fine exactly the way I was? 

Yeah, I’m still pissed off all these years later.  I know my mother didn’t mean to screw me up about my weight and body image, but she did – royally!  I’ve paid a very large price indeed for that particular insanity of hers she passed down to me.  In fact, I’m still paying it. 

I can’t believe how difficult it is to erase those old tapes and mute those old voices.  Some of the hardest work I’ve done on myself has been my recent work around changing my relationship with food, my body, and – most important of all – myself. 

I know my mother loved me fiercely.  And I know she did the best she knew how to do as a mother.  And I know she had her own issues around food and weight which she couldn’t help but project onto me. 

So it is with all due respect that I say it wasn’t just the mirror that was lying to me all my life.  My mother was too.  As were women’s magazines.  And the movies.  And society.  But I digress – that’s a post for another day. 

In the meantime, I will regard the mirror with a great deal of caution and skepticism.  More or less the way I regard the scale come to think of it.  I’ll keep doing what I usually do when I want to know the truth about something important.  I’ll keep going within because my inner wise woman never lies – unlike mirrors and even the most well-meaning of mothers. 

Has the mirror ever lied to you?  How do you hone in on the truth about you and your body?

by Carol Hess


Categories Body Image, The Mind Game

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Paula Lee Bright September 6, 2011 at 8:38 am

The mirror lies to me daily. Except about my face. My jowl area (didn’t used to exist, did it??) shows me that I’m horribly overweight. I may never have a real neck again, but this is ridiculous.

It’s photos that tell the truth. I was at a conference recently and thought I looked fine for a woman my age, with my particular issues. NOT! The picture showed me someone I never, ever see.

I’m lucky that my mom never did that particular number on me. Several others, yes, and I too still hold a grudge, but weight wasn’t our thing. Poor you on those shopping expeditions!

You’re waking up the me who knows what I know. That’s a good thing. Keep it up! :)


avatar Carol Hess September 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I’ll keep waking up that wonderful wise Paula person if you promise to keep leaving these great, honest comments. It’s a deal! PS: I’ve got the jowl thing going too — I call it my Richard Nixon look. Am thinking of renaming it my “strong jaw.” Whaddya think? LOL


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