from FACING THE MIRROR: AN ESSAY

In a yoga class, I heard a woman confess that she thought her pregnancies would cure her of her anorexia. They didn’t, granting instead a deeper nuance to her dysmorphia, knowing her body was capable of growing then birthing then nursing and still seeing wrong, seeing fat.

I | I confess that I | I, too, have held this hope, that being pregnant might purify me of my desire to cause myself harm, that seeing my | self as a vessel for another would keep me | me from hurting my | my child, thus from hurting my | self. This hope is familiar, as I | I have held so many, all of which I | I’ve disproven and had to surrender.

The yoga studio in which the class took place had a wall of mirrors. I | I had been going there for a year before I | I even knew there were mirrors because they were assiduously concealed by deep crimson fabric featuring vertical lines of large white flowers, like poinsettias. The studio owner told me|me later that she only removed the fabric in certain workshops where seeing one’s anatomical alignment was key; otherwise, she kept the whole wall hidden. I | I wondered if the pregnant anorexic woman knew of this kindness, the covered mirrors. Sometimes, in class, if I | I  paid close enough attention, I | I could just barely make out the outline of my | my reflection, like the ghost of an afterimage, a shadow behind the curtain.

In mirrored rooms, everything everything happens and nothing nothing is recorded  . 

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A 1968 experiment determined that most people can hallucinate when they stare at their own reflections in a mirror. To fall into a trance state. Trance, from the Old French transir, to depart, from Latin transire, to go across. A trance is the psyche split to subject | reflection, the other in the self, particle and wave.

 

A physics joke found on T-shirts and sandwich boards outside quirky coffee shops goes like this: “You matter. Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light squared. Then you energy.” e=mc², meaning all mass has the potential for energy, seen as light. As color. 

In mirrors, light is all we are. Potential negated by vision.

One of the cardinal virtues, Prudence, is often signified by a beautiful young woman holding a mirror. Originally conceived by Plato to be a useful virtue for those with the power to make decisions, prudence is the mirror on the wall telling you the fairest girl is someone else. 

The mirror enables self-correction, like smoothing my hair, or pulling basil from between my|my teeth, or anything that begins as fixing.

 

I read about a woman with dysmorphia whose glance in a mirror begets hours of fixing and fixing and fixing her hair. She keeps her | her shiny metallic toaster in a cupboard. She | She keeps her|her workplace free of reflective surfaces. She | She lives afraid of mirrors, of what switch they flip in her | her. She | She lives afraid  .

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apartment idea: 1000 thread sheet count - Dara Cerv

 apartment idea: 1000 thread count sheet - Dara Cerv

Looking into a mirror is an out-of-body experience, an autoscopy. The brain cannot make sense of the face from without, attempts to locate consciousness with the telemetry of the inner ears and the mirror’s surface.

 

A common perspective in autoscopy is the bird’s eye view—seeing oneself from above. To leave the physical body and all its maladies only to be stuck gazing at it. A refugee from the self.

God did not design us to see ourselves. God designed us to see only other, only subject.

What good are surfaces? Beyond touching, we | we want to push. We | We want to tear. If painting and drawing are the arts of surface, then song is the art of depth. Light, as particle and wave, spans both. Eventually our periphery ends, but song continues as silence.

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   “In mirrored rooms, everything everything happens and nothing nothing is recorded” is inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s poem “Mirrors”: “Everything happens and nothing is recorded / In these rooms of the looking glass…” Translated by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland in Dreamtigers (University of Texas Press, 1964).

     This passage references a woman featured on page 359 of Mark Pendergrast’s book Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection (Basic Books, 2003): “Psychiatrist Katharine Phillips . . . in her 1996 book, The Broken Mirror . . . quotes Sarah, a third-year medical student with ‘body dysmorphic disorder,’ a form of OCD in which she cannot stop trying to ‘fix’ her hair for hours. ‘I try not to ever look in the mirror when I’m at work, because when I do I can get stuck there,’ Sarah says. ‘The mirror acts like a switch. When I look in, the obsession turns on, and it can get pretty out of control,’ so bad that she keeps her shiny toaster hidden in a cupboard at home.”

 

Etymologies are from the Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition.

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