It is a sad fact of life that we live in a society where appearance is of far more value than inner characteristics, and where everyone is measured against an ideal which, as many have tried to point out, simply doesn’t exist. This ideal is propagated through the media, with various fashion and men’s magazines concentrating on what a woman should look like—facial form, as much as the shape and size of her body—and what is acceptable, unacceptable, and (far more deadly for the slightly insecure woman), how to go about changing appearances. Every single month we see a vast range of magazines displaying beautiful women on their front cover and splashed with headlines enticing women to improve their looks, shape up for winter, spring, or summer fashions, and generally overhaul themselves. Of course, there is the greatest danger of all: the mirror.
We all look in our mirror at least once during the day, usually in the mornings when still wrapped with the after effects of sleep, and we prepare ourselves for the day ahead. But it is not just this first glance which effects our opinion of ourselves. Throughout the day we are confronted by reflective surfaces (such as shop windows), which show us how the careful preparations we’ve made earlier in the day are gradually being worn down and eroded by wind, weather, stress, and the normal routine of a working day. We see how our hair lies, how our clothes hang, and how we move. We see exactly what we imagine other people see, and judge ourselves as a result. Often, no matter how much time we’ve spent preparing ourselves for the day or evening ahead, what is reflected back at us is less than perfect. The mirror has become a reflection of what society demands in a woman’s appearance, and an embodiment of the wicked queen’s fears that there is still someone in the kingdom who is more beautiful and more perfect than we are—a Snow White of absolute perfection who will outshine us and cast us into the shadows of the forgotten.
Society has brought us to the stage where every little perceived imperfection—be it a wrinkle around the eyes from laughing, or a slight discoloring on our cheeks, or even the first signs of gray hair—is seen as a setback. The fact that photographs which appear in all beauty magazines are perfected to remove the normal signs of a real person, falls by the wayside. We see, reflected in the mirror, the failings of our appearance when set against the apparent demands of a society fixated with good looks. The mirror has become a means of shaking our self-confidence—increasing a lack of self-esteem, rather than a simple method of checking that we are still the same person who went to bed last night. It has become, for many, the enemy.
What our mirror cannot tell us is the impression we create in other people—those who see us every day, or just in passing. It cannot show us how many people turn for a second look, how many people wish to make our acquaintance, or how many people wish just be near to us to enjoy the ambiance of our true appearance. Our impressions of ourselves are self-critical, and are based on the perceived demands of a beauty oriented society influenced by magazines and shows. These demands, while constantly present, have little influence on first impressions and on the first thoughts which pass through a man’s head when he passes us by. Often, we are far too critical: we see that extra weight put on over Christmas, we see that a certain blouse doesn’t sit quite the way it should, or we see that unruly strand of hair which refuses to be put in place. The mirror reminds us that we are imperfect, and that we could improve ourselves in some way or other. The mirror reminds us that we have failed to achieve the ideal we imagine others demand.
It is fair to say that we will never be fully satisfied with what we see in our mirror, reflected in shop windows, or other surfaces. We will never be happy with our appearance or our clothing. While the mirror has become more of an unsettling reminder that the ideal has not been achieved, we will never be able to get through the day without it.