What do you see when you look in the mirror?
It’s not an easy question, not for me anyway. I guess I used to see my two eyes looking back at me, but life’s more complicated these days and I’ve learned I have to look the right way for the right situation, and that it’s not only what’s inside that counts.
So when I was asked to take part in the What I See project, which asked me to join inspirational women by telling the world, on camera, what I see when I look in the mirror…
…part of me was terrified.
And it was because of the acute awareness that I was terrified to appear on screen – more because of how I might look than what I would say – that made me decide to head to the screening with no makeup on, no smart dress, no fancy hair.
En route to be filmed, I wrote this:
Recently I read a comment piece on institutional instances of misogyny. A friend of mine commented on it about how she was sick of the madonna/whore dichotomy. I could say the same of the three phases of womanhood – maiden mother and crone. There are no such strong prevailing archetypes for straight men. But that aside, why are there so many bins for a woman to be filed in? I’m going to be filmed for the What I See campaign, a question that calls up many conflicting instincts in me. I see all my faults. Sometimes I see a nice looking woman, sometimes I see a knackered and defunct haggard face. It depends who is looking. Always when I look deeper, I see resilience, determination and grit. What I don’t see is a madonna, or a whore, a maiden, a mother or a crone.
I already know there is more to me than those archetypes, as there is to any human, female or otherwise. It’s hard to remember it sometimes, but thankfully I always do.
Now I want to live in a world where everyone else sees that.
I bared all – emotionally and facially at least – in a brief session in front of the What I See cameras.
I hope the campaign is a great success. To help it become so, join me in celebrating a worthwhile woman – next to me in the What I See line is the determined Laura Fountain of http://www.lazygirlrunning.com. You can also, if you’re female, upload your own What I See video. Even if you don’t want to do that, the question is a good opportunity to have a think about what you really do see when you really do look at yourself.
And on that note, I want to give a shout to a fantastic poem I read recently, you are your favourite colours, by Sulthana Bea. To the question, “would 5 year old me like who I am today?” she answers – among many other beautiful, deep and affirmative things:
Your favourite colours
Your ability to smile through your pain
The portions of your life you give away
never to have back on the things you do
and the people you permit to stay
An addendum to this. A friend of mine just shared this amazing essay from the London Review of Books.
The disconnectedness that we feel in our time-poor world has a lot to do with the problems I address in this post. We are distracted, we are blinded to strangers, except perhaps in one case. We satiate our intellectual, even sometimes our emotional, urges virtually. Here we feel part of a community too. But our physical needs cannot, yet, be met there. Which is perhaps one of the reasons why there’s such a focus on appearance – and why people gawp in this peculiar way they do. When you don’t have time – or inclination – to look at all the aspects of someone at once, what they look like is the one, the only, factor.
I live in a city now. Life here is different from the country where I grew up. There is more pollution – visual, auditory, olfactory… there is so much going on that it’s maybe too much.
We immerse ourselves in the network – be it music piped into our ears or putting our head into our smartphones – to avoid these unpleasant aspects of outside: the noise, the advertising, the other people staring one-dimensionally at us. And it becomes a vicious cycle.
When I used to walk around my village, people saw me as a person, not a piece of meat. See me! Are we so conditioned, so saturated, that we can no longer connect with the humanity of strangers? The only hope I have is a faith in the intolerance of humanity. The fear, is how long it will be before we realise we won’t tolerate the status quo.