Growing up, I remember having one full length mirror. It had black edges and curved corners which looked like capital Cs written with a fancy hand. The mirror had an oval face but showed me a round face. It had a small rack at its bottom and hinges on its sides which would tilt its face into whichever I liked.
I liked being in control of the mirror. It was like being in control of what I saw then.
If only, I could have done the same with every other mirror.
When I was fourteen, I wrote a poem titled, ‘The lady in the mirror’. The first of my many mirror poems. The lady in the mirror was about my flawed perception of myself, my reflection- inner and outer. The lady in the mirror saw a girl and a river in which I wanted to be who I couldn’t be.
Mirrors have continued to swallow me since and I have struggled to keep my head on the surface.
Social media takes up half of my day. I aimlessly scroll, like, text and repeat. Then I come across something like this: A trend on Instagram whereby people place an “atrocious” filter on themselves, one that make their faces distorted and their noses enlarged, eyes too wide apart, skin too dark- after which they then remove the filter and continue the rest of the video without said filter. Apparently, this was supposed to show: ‘how you look like to strangers’ because ‘you get so used to your features that you forget what you look like’. They were weepy and embarrassed in the first half of the video and excited and confident in the latter part.
The initial thought behind this may have been harmless and innocent, and I say this, because reading too much into pretentious trends on Instagram is waste of everybody’s already wasted time and that despite having prescribed to such nonsense and falling into the endless void of keeping up with Instagram trends, this trend did more the opposite of what it was said to do or at least so I think. It did more harm than good.
Allow me to elaborate: The first reason for this is that there may be people that actually look like the filter being used and allowing this filter and its subsequent removal in the next five seconds has a negative impact on the real people it may have been based off, hurting their self image.
Secondly, the whole idea of having to have ‘a glow up’ -a look with makeup, a touched up look after removing a funny filter is so glamorised that it makes me worry about my generation’s perception on worldly things.
Here, we have some of the smartest of my generation who are to supposedly leading to salvation by speaking and educating about matters of great concern, all the while emphasising that ‘social media is fake’, ‘looks don’t matter’, ‘life on Instagram isn’t real life’ while giving into it and living the very same lie.
Here, we have people becoming the very thing they set out to destroy. And I am one of them. I am one of them trying to bridge the gap. I am one of them trying to hold the rope from both ends, while I struggle in the middle. The rope burns and my hands bleed. I have to let go, but if I let go, I will fall. I will drown.
Sometime back, I cannot remember when, I entered a space full of mirrors. Clown mirrors- I called it then. They showed me myself in different ways. In one, I was taller. In the other, I was shorter. In the third, my face was fuller. In the fourth, I was again myself.
This now makes me think that even without being in front of clown mirrors I saw myself some way. I saw myself as the first three and when I reached the fourth one, when I was finally ‘me’, I let out a breath and thought, ‘thank god I don’t look that bad’.
And this makes me justify that ridiculous reel.
Maybe this was a dream, the clown mirrors, because I cannot remember the rest except; a girl walking in front of some wide mirrors placed on the ground in a make shift space, wishing that she was better. Wishing that she was someone else.
What is real is that, I spent a lot of time looking at myself. I spent a lot of time looking at myself even when I was busy hating myself.
And years passed and I grew, all the mirrors in our house now showed only half my body and if I moved back, I couldn’t change them. The mirrors stayed still and stubbornly stuck to the wall. I remember seeing Achan at the mirror and his round belly juggling towards it after a hearty lunch, complaining about how big it was.
I started to hate my bulge then.
I remember seeing Amma complain of her big, beautiful face and look in vain.
I started to hate my face then.
At eleven, I had a friend who was ‘so skinny’ that the grownups complained. I shouldn’t want that. I shouldn’t like that. But at twelve, in the gym locker room, a gymnast I knew had the slimmest stomach I had ever seen and a girl by the name of lean, pronounced lee-yaan was beautiful with luminous skin and rich brown hair. And I was me. I would look at the room, squeezing in my small stomach, wearing my trainer bra which I didn’t need and fought with Amma about.
I remember that there was a full length mirror there, when I fought Amma’s tenderness with knitted brows, pulling my hair from her nervous hands that were trying to tie it up. There was a full length mirror there, when I measured my breasts and my hips with the gymnast and the girl with the body for a name.
I look in the mirror and I see a buildable doll. I see an unfinished dress, waiting on its lace and beads to pretty it.
I see the need for shifting and angling, twisting and turning the doll to my liking until I snap its head.
I study the mirror long enough to remember the image when I close my eyes but not long enough that I stop at and look at and fix at every time I walk by one again in a mall window, a glass tabletop, a car in the parking lot.
I see a buildable doll because somewhere I read: how to slim your face, how to fix your nose. Another place, I watched how to shape my waist, how to straighten my gait.
The mirror taught me how to smile ‘right’, not crooked, not with my lips slightly shifting to my left but an equal smile. A proportionate smile. A smile showing just enough teeth. The mirror taught me how to cry pretty because, how could I otherwise, ever let a boy see me running tears like a broken tap, spurting everywhere from my eyes to my nose.
The full length mirror in its changed form took to the dressing mirror, the locker room mirror, the corner mirror, the front camera all teaching me to be the girl I ‘could’ be, I ‘should’ be and in doing that, in being that, slowly sinking and losing sight of the girl I was becoming. I was pretty. I am pretty. It does not matter because like the mirror in that wretched fairytale, that was always asked, ‘who was the fairest of them all?’ until it sighed and repeated itself like a broken tape, I started to distort and fade until I come upon yet another to reflect on.
To reflect, when used a verb means to try and look back, to introspect- and each time I reflected, I drowned.