Living in the Mirror.
“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well. “
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I stand in front of the mirror, undeniably naked in every way.
Still dripping wet from the shower, I feel cold as goosebumps ripple my thin skin. Wispy hairs begin to stand on edge. I tremble just slightly.
As my eyes meet their mirror counterparts, the blood seems to drain from my face. I feel a tug downward like gravity is finally making itself tangible.
I begin my work.
As if lighting a Christmas tree, I start at the top, moving in a zigzag fashion downwards, eyeing every inch of my damp, pale flesh.
I pick out the areas that need close observation, the lab rats acting out of character. I mentally note what has changed since my last check – yesterday. I praise myself for the pieces of me that have only improved: the flatter abdomen, the ballerina arms, the jutting hip bones.
But all in all, there is a lot of work to be done.
Is it possible to disappear altogether? To whittle myself down until I am so tiny that the next step is just to – poof! – blow away?
In a land not so far away, another girl is standing naked in front of her foggy bathroom mirror. The air is filled with a light steam that smells of gardenias and lilac.
It’s almost time for dinner; she can hear her mother in the kitchen shuffling pots and pans. The evening news drones on from the television that her father is sure to be watching, simultaneously reading a newspaper – the finance section no doubt.
The girl swallows hard as the steam clears, allowing her to see the naked form in front of her.
How did she let it get this far?
She rubs her hand along her protruding stomach, around her curvaceous thighs. Her stubby fingers squeeze the skin of her arms and underneath her neck. She turns to the side and sucks.in.really.deep.until.it.hurts.
Her fingers find her face, cradle her head. The tears stream down until she collapses against the wall, hugging what she can of her legs to her chest.
“Dinner’s ready!” Yells her mother from the kitchen.
But suddenly, she isn’t hungry.
I lived in the mirror in both these lives.
I was morbidly obese and then – years later – lethally underweight.
It seemed that not only was acceptance waiting for me in the Land of the Mirrors, but so was death.
I chose to live.
But I still half-heartedly live in the mirror.
It’s the middle of 2012 and I have been in Anorexia recovery for a year.
My therapist, Sylvia, is finally getting me to a point where I can look at myself after a shower without taking that cold-water deep breath as the steam clears. Without grabbing the robe so quickly that the air has no chance of revealing my true form.
Nope, now I can stand there. Cold, goose-bumpy, fleshy, and curvy. And I can be okay with it.
It’s a new world, like being reborn. And it deserves celebration.
I spent some time the last few months gathering up old relics – calorie journals, diet books, anorexia memoirs, photos of myself when I was thin and when I wasn’t, etc – and had myself a little goodbye party for them. But now it’s time for the true send-off to my past:
Getting rid of my scale.
Yes, that’s right, Old Me. I am getting rid of that thing immediately! Once and for all. I will never allow another intruder like it to enter my home and steal my sanity away.
Old Me is terrified but New Me is rejoicing – jumping up and down in the empty jumping-up-and-down room of my brain.
So I throw on some sweats – after a short and happy evaluation of my curves in the mirror – and grab the sides of the black-and-glass scale. I hold it out at arm’s length like garbage. Appropriately, I am taking the trash out.
At the dumpsters outside, I open a large green lid, careful not to inhale through my nose. You are going right in there like you belong, you piece of shit.
Even though I really don’t need to, I muster up strength to slam the scale down on top of random trash.
Really unnecessary. But it makes me feel awesome.
Utterly pleased with myself, I turn on my heel and head back into my apartment. Walking in, I realize it feels more welcoming already. I smile to myself, make a hot chocolate, and plop down on the couch.
A couple weeks later, I’m home and decide to squeeze in a quick workout.
I grab my iPod and Glamour and head into the small but nicely-equipped gym down the hall.
Once I enter, I freeze.
My heart literally stops.
What. the. hell.
A couple feet to my right, on the floor, sits the familiar black-and-glass scale. The exact one I threw away. I recognize a small crack in the left corner.
I feel like I have seen a ghost. Is this real?
Someone took it out of the trash? And put it in here? Dammit, I knew I should have taken a hammer to it!
My mind blasts all sorts of thoughts like: What do I do now? Can I even stay and workout here? This is too weird! I feel like it’s watching me. Okay, that was crazy. But still, this is weird! What do I do? I guess I can throw it out again. Or maybe I can take it back to my apartment. I have been wondering if I lost any weight the past couple of…
No. I won’t let you win, scale! No.
I decide to persevere. I head to my favorite elliptical. I set myself up with music and my magazine. I keep eyeing the scale, as if it’s a living creature – waiting to pounce on me and send lethal venom in my veins. No, calm down. Let’s just open up the magazine and…
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a moving image.
The gym is adorned with a huge mirror to the right of the machines. It’s the only mirror in the gym but I can see my whole body in it.
Are you freaking kidding me?
In front of me sits the scale, just about ten feet away. To my right is the mirror, about twenty feet away. Two of my enemies are cornering me here.
My brain continues to flash crazy, funny thoughts.
When does this end?
I turn to my reflection. I mouth, “You are beautiful.” She smiles back at me.
I turn to the scale. “You can’t hurt me.” It stares back.
As women, we must conquer the inanimate objects that hold control over our body image. The scale cannot hurt me unless it shattered into a thousand little pieces of glass and hurled itself at me. The mirror is the same story.
We all have those objects that define beauty for us. For a long time, I measured my self worth in my jeans. It was inversely proportional to the number on the tag. If the number read zero, then I was the most amazing human being that ever lived. I deserved a castle. And a moat. Then there were certain numbers higher than zero that, if the jeans displayed them, WELL HEAVEN FORBID. Off with my head!
Sometimes we cling tight to photos or clothes or tools to measure our “beauty”. I can imagine now, walking into a home of a past beauty pageant girl and finding all her trophies and sashes and dresses hanging in a shrine-like room.
It’s nice to keep objects of sentimental value, but we must not use them to define our beauty.
The mirror is simply a reflection of the outside.
Now, if you could bottle a reflection of the inside – maybe that would be worth living in.
Go to August McLaughlin’s blog to read more entries on Friday February 22nd, 2013:
Posted on February 21, 2013, in Anorexia, Depression, Fitness, memories, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged anorexia, Articles, August McLaughlin, Beauty, Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, BOAW, body image, image, mirrors, obesity, perception, self image, weight, Women. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.