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Mirror Image

by Ferida Wolff

There I was, staring into the bedroom mirror wondering what was wrong. The image staring back was obviously me but not quite.

Something was definitely out of whack.

Then it hit me. The mirror was lying. The whole premise of a mirror is falsehood. A mirror’s nature is to show the opposite of what is actually facing it. Touch your right ear while facing a mirror and the image touches its left ear. Point over there at the image and the image points back here at you. How can you believe a mirror?

So when the mirror showed me as a woman pushing sixty, it was clearly a distortion of what is real. The age I feel is not a day over thirty-something. Now that I know the nature of the mirror, that right is left and there is really here, older must actually mean younger. Then that poochie stomach the mirror presents me with must mean that the stomach on the real me is nicely tucked in. Out and in are opposites, after all.

People have called me naïve. Now I know why. I could so easily be fooled by an inanimate silvered object.

I also used to think that photographs didn’t lie. What they showed was reality. Yes, I knew about airbrushing out unwanted lines but for the most part, a photo was a document that could be trusted. Now, in the digital age, I wouldn’t trust a photo further than I could throw a flatbed scanner. It can be digitally manipulated to show anything the photographer has in mind. Digital photography is a brushstroke (or an icon) away from a painting. What eluded me for the longest time, however, was that the camera lens was really a mirror and so, of course, the photographic image that resulted from a picture being taken had to lie.

Since becoming aware of the mirror principle of opposites, I am beginning to see the influence of these perverse images all around me.

In my gym, there is a machine with a shiny convex surface that makes whoever is staring into it look elongated, happy and delightfully fit. I would hardly compare my five-foot-two body to a Modigliani figure. Nor would I describe myself as happy when I am pitting myself against a fifty-pound weight and grunting. The smile reflected on the machine is actually a grimace. Opposites, again. I see an image that shows my muscles popping and the buffest body in the place. Unfortunately, this is a mirror so it must be showing the reverse of reality, which means I have a lot more work to do if I want to tone up my muscles. It is great motivation, however. I want to look like that image. So I keep at it because that reflected bod must be possible. When I see a flabby, frowning gnome glowering back at me, I will know that all my efforts have finally resulted in success.

What about the side view mirror on the right of the car? It shows an image of the car behind or on the side. It seems to be reasonably far away so it should be safe for changing lanes. Isn’t it there to make driving safer? Only there is a little notice right there on the mirror that says that the image is closer than it appears. It shows it far but it really is near. Another mirror lie.

And then there is the eyeball. It isn’t officially a mirror but it might as well be. A lens takes in optical information and flips it upside down. Without that image being interpreted and repositioned by the brain, we would all be walking around on our heads, trying to make sense of the opposites we were seeing.

But maybe that is the key. The old saying, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, really should say, "Beauty is in the mind of the beholder." We see things upside down but interpret them right side up. Mirrors show us opposites but we understand them to be the reverse of what we see.

So I think I’ll pull a mirror and think the opposite.

I can focus on a flabby tummy and worry about my shape or see that I am in good health and be glad, depending on how I interpret what the mirror shows.

I can find wrinkles and groan about it or discover new character reflected in my face.

I can see sixty and still feel thirty.

After all, it isn’t the mirror’s job to interpret its reflection. It is up to us to see the good, the bad, and the beautiful. 

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