We, the average humans (not supermodels or actors), have never had more reason to be concerned with how we look than right now.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and an array of other platforms that publicly publish images – millions of them daily – have made us all, especially women, much more conscious of our physical appearance, our picture face and our best sides. Add to that a tiny little camera attached to the phone of nearly every person we come into contact with, and we can be sure that anything we do – and anything hanging out of our noses or skirts – can easily come back to haunt us publicly and privately.
The proliferation of other chicks’ hottest photos all over the internet, regardless of which home based photo editor may or may not have been used, has also helped create a social environment where not just movie stars must be ready to be ‘shot’ at any moment. It’s no longer just about how much fun you’re having, but how much fun you look like you’re having.
Is this incessant camera presence making us increasingly self conscious? What is it doing to our confidence? Is it any wonder that, in addition to our image being captured in such high volumes, we are also developing an obsessive relationship with the mirror – and any other reflective surface in our near vicinity?
One day when I was about 23, I walked in unannounced on a particularly stunning friend of mine in her fancy bright apartment. To give you an idea of her hotness, a few months prior, I ran into her while out for breakfast with a male friend of mine, and he joked that she was so pretty he needed a moment before coming out from behind the table.
That day in the brightness of her impeccable space, her long, dark hair was thick, rolling and illustrious, stumbling perfectly over her shoulders. Her face was bright and her sharp, dark eyebrows stood out against light skin that bore a subtle shimmer.
Although I do not want to use the word ‘piercing’ to describe her eyes (it seems far too obvious) it really is the most applicable. She had a cool blue gaze that implied moment to moment evaluation, wide lips, small teeth and big hips.
She spelled her name in a very unique way.
She was posed on an expensive white couch, all dressed up, holding a microphone and staring at herself in a very large mirror. It was a grand mirror indeed, stretched from floor to ceiling, and her contrived reflection perched at the edge of the seat with her knees tucked off to the side, ankles crossed.
Having felt like I interrupted her, I mumbled something like ‘oops, sorry’, but she didn’t flinch.
She sang into the live microphone, and her weak sultry voice flowed from the speakers in the room. She stared fixedly at herself while her shoulders moved to the music, coquettishly flicking her gaze down, then up – directly into her own eyes.
She was seducing herself, casting a spell, not to be interrupted.
It wasn’t that she didn’t notice me come in. She just didn’t care.
When she was done, she clicked off the mic with a manicured thumb, placed it on an untouchable coffee table, and turned to hug me graciously without the slightest hitch or awkwardness.
“You sound great.” I said, somewhat bemused.
Her eyes flicked down, then up – directly into mine. She didn’t need my compliment, but she still basked in it.
“Thanks.” She smiled graciously.
Girls, and certainly some boys, check themselves out in mirrors, windows, reflective puddles, iphone covers, car doors, people’s sunglasses or any other qualifying surface in nearly every situation that fills their every day.
You can spot a little ‘check-in pose’ by a slight pursing of the lips, a subtle turning of the head, a fairly serious look in the eyes, and where applicable, a jutting of the chin in attempt to eliminate the appearance of any excess neck flesh.
If you observe a secret glance at a full length surface, like a large glass entrance door, you’ll often see the subject shift their entire body towards a more flattering angle and scan themselves up and down.
Last week, I watched a lady of about 40 turn and cast a sideways gaze at her body’s side profile in the door of Tim Horton’s in English Bay. She then sucked her stomach in and pressed her shoulders back, captivated as she adjusted her shirt and ignored her blabbing child. When her husband showed up mid-pose, she pretended she was turned to pick at something on the side of her shirt. She applied lipgloss, checked herself out one last time, and walked away.
My coach and dear friend Chela Davison told me she once prescribed not looking in the mirror more than twice a day as a practice to one of her clients.
Another friend of mine has confessed that she strategically angles the full length mirror of her closet so she can check herself out each time she walks past her bedroom.
Perhaps you recall Cher, of Clueless fame, adjusting the car mirror to suit her reflection with complete disregard for the practical need for the rearview while driving.
Today I walked into a public restroom equipped with a full length mirror just in time to interrupt a young girl, around 18, very clearly craning her neck to check out her own ass. Snapped from her booty trance, she nearly fell off of her daytime platforms.
When caught in this stolen little moment with self, curious eyes instantly dart away, heads turn quickly, and an uncomfortable cough is usually followed by a nervous cell phone check. It’s like we’ve been busted touching ourselves or something.
Why is that?
I see my students do it every single yoga class I teach. Bless their curious hearts, they turn to check themselves up and down in the side mirrors. Sometimes the sideways glance is during a posture, which usually results in them falling out. Sometimes they strike their own pose while checking their hair, arching their backs and busting a quick and discreet duck face followed by either a furtive glance around to see if anyone noticed, or a fake sideways neck stretch.
1) Why do we look in the mirror so much?
2) When caught looking in the mirror, why do we (most of us, anyway) try to make it seem as though we weren’t?
Is it vanity? Is our our own reflection in the mirror such a pleasurable sight that we need to check in with it constantly? Is it like staring at a beautiful painting, evoking feelings of grand dreams, admiration and appreciation of beauty? In some cases, maybe.
Because I’ve become aware of my own tendency to register somewhere on this roster of incessant self-checkers (there’s a wide range of intensity and frequency with regard to this covert little habit), I’ve been doing a inquiry.
Here is my theory about why most ‘average’ women (i.e. not supermodels or muses with beauty so grand that it brings them great gratification to stare in the mirror), when slighted, upset, happy or uncomfortable head straight to the mirror to reconnect.
1) I think we habitually check our reflections because, whether we realize it or not, we care deeply what we look like to the outside world. Even though this world likely does not notice even a fraction of the detail that we obsess over, gloss or crane our necks to check in bathroom mirrors, we still care. Checking what we look like gives us reassurance, grounding, and the less psycho-analyzed guarantee that we don’t have anything in our teeth, hanging out of our nose, or any other number of disarrays that could potentially cause us humiliation
2) As for why most of us try to be so discreet about it…I think we fundamentally want to be seen as people who do not care deeply what we look like to the outside world. Confidence and self assuredness are much more desirable than insecure and needy, right? So the reason we always look away, check our phones and scratch our shirts ties directly in with my theory on the first question. Not only do we want to look as hot as possible, but we want to be regarded as so confident that we don’t need to confirm our own hotness.
The more self assured among us (some may say narcissistic or vain, to each their own), such as my friend at the beginning of this article, just don’t care when they are seen admiring themselves. This rare breed loves the way they look, receives ongoing validation from their own approval of their reflection, and doesn’t mind when others catch them admiring their own beauty. Power to them, I guess.
Personally, I’d like to find a balance somewhere in between.
What’s it going to take to become less preoccupied with how we look (not less hot!), more concerned with your own approval (not so much that of others), and ultimately more authentically confident?
You can start by being aware and accepting that you, as well as even your most confident friends, care what other people think. We all do, whether that seems acceptable to you or not. This simple act of honesty with yourself can actually bolster some self esteem on its own. Yes, I am human. Yes, I care what I look like. And yes, so does everyone else.
Then you can start to ask yourself what would need to happen for you to evolve into a radiant being who loves herself so much and is so authentically confident in her every action, word and thought, that she is virtually impervious to any opinion save her own and those of trusted and loved comrades. A girl with this level of confidence can handle having spinach in her teeth and a big boog resting aside her nostril while meeting a new employer or potential lover. She would gracefully exhibit the ease to laugh it off with only a tiny modicum of healthy embarrassment.
If you do ask yourself what could make this potential of sky-high self esteem a reality, your initial answers will likely revolve around your physical appearance. That’s ok, and completely natural. Such is our programming.
Dig deeper. Don’t get distracted. Put your phone away and give yourself the love and attention you deserve. You’ll see that even if you looked your definition of perfect, you’d still be drawn to the mirror, just to make sure your beauty hadn’t slipped away.
Hotness – true hotness – is on the inside just as much as it is on the outside. The more attention you pay to creating peace with yourself above all else, the better you’re going to feel. The more you solidify your character and love yourself, the less concerned you’ll be with your looks.
Feeling good about yourself will naturally result in a reflection you could spend hours gazing at…you just won’t need or want to.
You’ll be too busy enjoying your life and being grateful you’re no longer a part of the image-obsessed masses.
To your peace.