The One in the Mirror

reflection of finger in a mirror

Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

I did a hard thing today.

I abhor clothes shopping. I know, I’m an anomaly amongst women, but I really do. To say I avoid it is a prodigious understatement.

In the movie Elf, Elf gets in an elevator at the Empire State Building and pushes the entire panel of buttons because of his childlike fascination with the lights. That lit up panel? That’s my insides when clothes shopping. Not. even. kidding.

It upends me greatly. Major button-pusher. And believe it or not, it’s not about weight or shape or size. That seldom helps, but it’s not the problem.  Some of you are probably going “But if you lost weight/got in shape, you’d feel so much better about yourself and, perhaps, your shopping trips! “

You’re wrong. I love you, but you’re wrong.

I had a full blown eating disorder in full blown adulthood, and I am here to tell you that even at a desirable weight and size, my excursions were not better and I for sure did not feel better about myself. Ironically, things were actually worse on both counts.

I told a foxhole friend today that clothes shopping is as bad for me as going to the dentist or the crotchatologist, which is saying something. I hate clothes shopping. To quote Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, “I’m using the word ‘hate‘ here.”

So if it’s not size-related, what is it? Money? (Of course. But no.)

It’s the mirror. When I see myself in a dressing room mirror – where you take off who you currently are and try on who you could be, I don’t see an accurate reflection of Me. I don’t see clothes, I see experiences. Events – bad ones. Words that should’ve expired before they were said 35+ years ago. People who’ve appraised (and rejected) my body. Self-sabotage. Shame.

It’s funny how that one little piece of glass can reveal so much, and so erroneously.

The problem with mirrors, in my estimation, is that we see what we choose to, as opposed to the whole picture. We overlook what we want to be blind to, and fixate on what we think matters. And neither is an accurate reflection. It’s ironic, really – a full length mirror shows your whole body, and yet it doesn’t show you anything about your whole self, only what you choose to see. And therein lies the rub. And the hard thing I did today.

As always happens when forced to get an article of clothing for an unavoidable event, I muscled through choosing some items that might work, and headed to the fitting room. (And why is it called a “fitting” room? More like …. courtroom.) The woman in charge was inviting, smiley, and wrote my name in beautiful cursive on a dry erase board affixed to the louvered door. My own little personalized hell. Nice.

I got in, hung up the clothes, shut the door (which I can see out of, through the slats. I hate this), and sighed. I turned my back to the mirror, and had a pep talk with myself. I felt myself shutting down and gearing up to bolt. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. No, girlfriend. This time, we need to press through this. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. (What a concept…) More sighing. Mumbled and not entirely sincere prayer about “help” and “trust.” Option #1 off the hanger.

As usual, nothing fit right – and the descriptives there deserve their own post, probably on a day when I have a better sense of humor about it. Phrases like “muffin top” and “ill-fitting undergarments” come to mind, though. Because I did try to find some things I liked on the hanger and was fairly reasonable about in terms of how they’d fit me, I was discouraged and disappointed when item after item was a HARD PASS. I sat down on the generously-sized bench and just looked at the girl in the mirror. For the first time ever in a fitting room, I looked her right in the eye and asked her, “Why is this so hard for you? What do you see?”

Cutting scars. Excess belly fat. Fine and not-so-fine lines. A shape I never imagined on myself 20 years ago. Unruly hair. Arms the grandkids’ll love but that magazines put buster signs over. Self-sabotage. Shortcomings. Shame. The projections of those I’ve been rejected by. Judgments – mine, and others.’ I see a list of things I Should myself into believing ought to be different. “Better.” I feel the same rejection I felt when being appraised in junior high. I stand there looking at a 48yr old woman while feeling like I’m 13 again, not in a good way.

I just stood there. Appraising. Judging. Feeling a very old shame.

And then, I did the hard thing. That still, small voice inside said “Look her right in the eyes.” My glance took a pit-stop at the belly fat, but I looked into the green eyes of this woman across from me (if but defiantly), and tried to take Her in. Who do people see when they look at you like this? 

That was too uncomfortable, so I put my hands on my not-pregnant baby belly instead.  The skin is soft. Stretched. Admittedly a little fun to play with (and remind me sometime to show you how I can make my belly fat look like a baby butt). I felt a flicker of anger at myself, but followed the nudge to just rub my hands on it with gentleness. Respect. Three babies lived there. One didn’t get to. That belly has carried so much extra weight; the physical pounds are really just a metaphor for more real things. Lives. Unrelenting back trouble. Chronically abnormal cortisol levels. Stored secrets.

You’ve carried so much for me, I realized again. My shame, ever so gradually, started to turn a shade of thankful.

I moved the fingers of my right hand to the scars on my left upper arm. I ran a finger slowly down the biggest one. Regret. Yet, in this new and clumsy fitting room experiment, compassion. You did the best you could at the time.

I ran my hands slowly up the opposite arms, trying to appreciate the softness. All the hugs they’ve given and received. The times they helped me (try to) fight back. You’ve pushed, pulled, shielded, lifted, carried, cuddled and loved.

I put my hands on my lower back. I got distracted by the hips and the belly, but I breathed into the space in my body that has borne most of the brunt of my life. I rubbed it, working my way front to my belly and back to the lower back again. And you. You have carried me. You have carried all of my babies, the bulk of my burdens, most of my secrets, and unnecessary amounts of my stress. I have resented you for failing me so, and yet you actually have probably done the most work – and for the least gratitude and love. How did I not see how good you’ve tried to be to me?

Another deep breath.

I went back to the eyes. Who do other people see when they look at you? They, other people, have told me things like Compassion. Kindness. Safety. Creativity. Intelligence. Help. Encouragement. Fun. Even Jesus, though I think that’s a serious stretch.

I tried to hold eye contact with the stranger in the mirror. I tried to keep my own issues out of it, and look for other people’s experiences. The ones I tried my best to give them. I tried to see the survivor. The strength. The intelligence. The potential.

I tried to consider who God might see.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25

I didn’t walk out of that fitting room with my head held high, or with anything that fit. And I’m not “laughing without fear of the future,” I assure you. Not yet. But I did walk out knowing that I had resisted the compulsion to just run, owning the strength and courage it took to sit with what made it so hard for me, and considering the possibility that there are other things to see in the mirror besides the things that historically and consistently trigger me all to hell when trying on clothes. That the girl in the mirror is a person, with a story, not just a body that often belies the person inside, nor the experiences and words and judgments and rejections that’ve always somehow gotten into fitting rooms before her.

It was awkward, uncomfortable, and hard. There were tears, and anxiety. And to be honest, my heart has been racing the entire time I’ve been typing to share it with you. But there is someone out there who needs to know that there is more to you than meets the mirror. It is easier to stand there critiquing yourself, (or just flat out avoiding the mirror at all – shout out to all my fellow avoiders!) than to show the most difficult and complex parts of yourself compassion, and grace, gratitude and love. That is hard. Maybe even unbearable.

It is also necessary. Crucial. And I hope that from this blog post forward, you will consider the mirror an opportunity to truly see, and to greet yourself (and the temple that houses you) as a loving friend would, not a callous judge.

You are clothed in strength and dignity, my friends.

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