Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

195 pounds
I've had a bad day.

A really bad day.

Like many women, I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and what that means is that a lot of time I can't get rid of what I need to get rid of, if you get my drift. When this happens, I get really bloated and feel a million times bigger than I normally do. Even when I'm not backed up, I struggle to feel good about my body, so on days when I am extremely bloated, positive thinking is about as unlikely for me as winning a karaoke contest in a room full of American Idol finalists. In other words, it's impossible.

And that's obviously why I've had a bad day. Every time I looked in the mirror today, my morale dropped a little bit further. To make matters worse, I had to go back to school tonight to help some of the students set up for the department book sale tomorrow, and because I was going to play tennis immediately afterwards, I showed up at my place of work in a pair of ratty old sweatpants and a bleached-out t-shirt. I had expected the halls to be deserted, but I think I ran into more of my colleagues tonight than I do most afternoons. And the cherry on the sundae occurred when I was standing in a coworker's office and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in her window.

Needless to say, the image I saw in the window appalled me. I didn't look anything like the person who'd been staring back at me all day every time I glanced in the bathroom mirror. I looked much, much, much worse. My stomach was a perfect half-circle, emanating from the area beneath my chest that I used to think of as my rib cage and disappearing somewhere above my knees. It was an version of myself I had never seen before—not at home, not in the bathroom at work, not anywhere—and without thinking, I let out a little cry of defeat.

I've had this kind of thing happen to me before, usually when I visit my parents' house where it seems that every wall is plastered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. And it's always the same experience—when I catch a glimpse of myself in an unfamiliar surface, I am shocked (and often horrified) by the unique perspective it offers me. Afterwards, I am left to wonder how it is that I've allowed myself to go through my days with such an incorrect picutree of myself in my head. Have I been in denial about the person staring back at me day in and day out? Or am I just catching myself at a bad time? Inevitably, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime—the mirror or reflective surface that so surprised me. And nine times out of ten, I find that it has not played tricks on me. My body really does look exactly as it did the first time—much different than I thought it did. Which again takes me back to my first question—how is it that I've allowed myself to have such an incorrect perception of the way I look? And how long has it been going on?

I worry that one of the side effects of having a positive attitude about my body most of the time is that the image I have of myself is not always entirely accurate. Sometimes I feel like I have what I like to call "Shallow Hal disease." If you've ever seen the movie, you know that Hal (played by Jack Black) is only attracted to insanely gorgeous women until he is hypnotized in a way that makes him see a person's inner beauty rather than her physical attributes. The end result is that Hal meets and falls in love with an obese woman who he sees as thin and beautiful because she is such a good person. (This character is played with grace and subtlety by Gwyneth Paltrow.) So I wonder if having a good attitude about my body makes me act like the hypnotized version of Hal: do I look at myself and see the whole me, the me that I know is on the inside, rather than just the surface me? And what on earth can I do to stop that???

I know what you're thinking right now because I'm thinking it too—is that really such a bad thing? Maybe not, but it means that when I catch my reflection in unexpected place, the result can be jarring, almost debilitating.

I know I'm the one who wrote about the fact that we need to realize that people focus on our attributes not our flaws, but some days—days like today—it just seems impossible to do. I guess I'm writing this post to let you all know, then, that like anyone else, I'm as human and fallible as the rest of us. And I only hope that in doing so I haven't completely let you down.


  1. When I started shooting daily self-portraits, I was almost always shocked at my results. I did it for a year, and I don't think I have one photo--out of 365 of them--that reflects what I think I look like.

    I also think that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we focus on our flaws. Many times I've been concerned with my freckles or a blemish or something else insignificant, and mentioned it to friends who can't see what I'm talking about. Like my best friend told me once, "I don't see your freckles, I just see you."

  2. Magnesium is a wonderful vitamin.... I have suffered from chronic constipation, but I now take about three grams of Mag a day. Do a google on it and see what you find out. Half the 3 grams has calcium in it; you need calcium in order for mag to work, but calcium also constipates you as well (think cheese). You might want to check out www.mercola.com for your symptoms.
    Love your site, Mol! And miss you!