on mirrors & make-believe

I got my hair cut last week. A lot of it … 4 (and then some) inches of my thick, once-brown-then-darker-brown-now-lighter-again brown locks. I’ve had (as every girl has) a love-hate relationship with my hairs for my whole life. But when I decided to chop it off (mostly because I really hate drying my hair in the morning), I basically stalked my stylist until she finally had an opening for me.

And so I went. And I sat in her chair. And her exclamations of excitement at my chosen style faded into the background as she snipped. I sighed.

The one thing I really hate about about getting my hair cut isn’t the actual cutting, or the slightly awkward conversation and even more awkward overheard conversations, or even the ickiness of the shared hair-washing bowl. It’s the sitting and staring.

When you get your hair cut, you have to sit in front of a mirror for a really long time.

It’s a really uncomfortable experience, at least for me. I get all awkward, because all of the sudden I can see every single one of my physical flaws. My perpetually ungroomed eyebrows (not for a lack of trying, mind you, but because of the one inheritance from my dear grandmother that I wish I could return). My acne scars from 6 years ago and from last week. My too-big nose. My too-high forehead. The folds of fat that appear under my shirt when I sit down.

And then there’s the second level of that mirror-inducing introspection. Is this what I thought I would look like when I grew up?

Is this what I thought I would BE like?

Because when I’m forced to stop and sit and stare in the mirror … to look myself in the eyes … which is what the salon chair forces me to do … I shift and squirm. I reach for a magazine.

I remember as a little girl, I loved to look in the mirror. I loved to put on my pretty nightgown (purple satin with little puffy sleeves) and spin in the mirror. I was a bride, a model, an actress, an ice dancer. (I really wanted to be an ice dancer.)

Then I got into high school. I neglected the mirror dreadfully in favor of schoolbooks and Sonic blasts. I always wanted to be the pretty one, but I became other “ones”… the theater one, the newspaper one, the student council one. The “most likely to take over Donald Trump” one (my senior superlative).

College was a step forward and backward all at once. Outside of my mother’s gaze, I felt empowered to dress with more style … but again, I often power-walked from class to meeting to library in a sweatshirt and old glasses. Beauty sleep was nonexistent; sleep itself was a precious commodity.

I had one focus from the time my ice-dancer-twirls turned into student-government campaigns: good grades, which would lead to college, which would lead to a husband and a job, which would lead to … ?

No one told me what came after that. Nobody told me that then all those ambitions that had been drilled into my head would suddenly become confusing, because with the husband comes the desire for children and for a home and for time and peace and no more busy.

They don’t tell you that when you’re a 10-year-old girl. They tell you you can do anything. They tell you you should do anything – whatever you want! So my deepest-heart-longings … to have a family, to have a beautiful home, to create space and time for conversations and meals and love within those walls … feel unnatural now because they aren’t the great big “anythings” I used to dream about.

And so when I’m forced every 6 weeks or so to sit in front of a mirror, all of these thoughts bubble up. What’s real? Were those feminist messages spouted by well-meaning mentors just make-believe?

So here I am, mid-twenties and still not sure who or what I want to be like when I grow up. I told that, laughingly, to a 3-year-old in Sunday School yesterday who had just informed me that he wanted to be a football player. His 5-year-old brother said,”I want to be everything when I grow up.

Everything. Anything.

What God meant by woman
I’m hard pressed to find
I’m chasing paper dreams
And a guilt undefined

Fighting to stay younger
Trying to stay thin and in control
Searching for a magic formula
A thing to soothe our souls

[Sara Groves, Finite]



2 thoughts on “on mirrors & make-believe

  1. Oh Mel … Some days I remember how alike we are and this is one of those days. You hit the nail on the head with that last part, how dreams of having a happy, full LIFE feel strangely flat after wishing for so much for so long. (mine included musical theater, writing, moving to Italy, living some glamorous life…) I needed to read this and remember that I’m not alone. Thank you, friend 🙂

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