I remember there being just one small mirror in my Grandparents house. It was a hand held vanity mirror, not especially ornate, more functional than decorative. I remember the mirror sat above the fireplace accumulating dust in the house where my Grandfather and Uncle lived. I would pick it up when I visited, play acting as I imagined my Grandmother holding it while she brushed her hair, turning one way, then the other. I don’t know if she ever did that, she died before I was born, but my sense of her with that mirror is so vivid that it feels real.
I don’t know if there were any other mirrors in my Grandparents house, what’s important is that if there were, I don’t remember them. I guess that means I didn’t spend much time looking at them. And my own childhood home had very few, a couple of opportunities for upper torso reflections in dressing table mirrors, and a head and shoulders one in the bathroom. That was it.
I grew up seeing very little of myself reflected back - unless you count the shimmering surfaces of lakes and dam’s, there were plenty of those. But there were very few opportunities for body checking and mirror gazing and actually, I am grateful for that.
I often ask people about mirrors when the subject of body checking comes up in therapy, and I tell them the story about my Grandmothers hand held mirror. ‘How many mirrors do you have in your home?’ I hear about walls of mirrors, floor to ceiling opportunities for self appraisal and scrutiny. It seems it’s pretty challenging to find a single room without mirrors in most modern homes and even office buildings.
All these mirrors can encourage us to objectify our body and focus on appearance, rather than experiencing our embodied self from the inside-out. Imagine if we only had enough mirrors to check we don’t have lipstick on our teeth, or our skirt tucked into our undies. One quick glance before we leave the house for the day then on our way.
When these conversations arise in therapy I encourage people to come up with creative solutions to reduce the temptation for visual body checking. Here are a few of my favourites:
Using adhesive decals to cover sections of mirror walls
Hanging sheer curtains from suctions caps stuck to the mirror surface
Sticking pictures and inspirational quotes on mirrored surfaces, and
Writing lipstick messages to yourself
I could do with some new ideas for these mirrored surfaces, what ideas would you add?