The mirrors in our house were covered. Not like Halloween -with fake spider webs. The mirrors were covered with that brown craft paper like an old lunch bag. The craft paper was decorated and painted. Big words in bubble letters proclaiming some glorious truth such as “You are marvelous” or “It is great to see you.” Sticky notes were added to the craft paper with encouragement.
Our house in Laguna was full of these mirrored closet doors and big vanity mirrors and they were all covered. We cut peep holes so that one could brush their teeth or see their hair and we lived in this beautiful way for years.
People with eating disorders often obsess about their bodies in mirrors and so when Addy was in treatment for her eating disorder we covered our mirrors. We followed the advice of her therapists so that Addy could shift her focus away from that monster ED and body dysmorphia and toward acceptance of her body’s need to eat.
If you are interested in learning more about body checking, a common characteristic or symptom of eating disorders, check out this blog post by Lee from America Body Checking – A Monologue.
The other day, I was reminded of a former therapist’s unconventional suggestion for my dealing with weight restoration. Her idea was that I temporarily place either sheets or towels over all the mirrors at home, thusly eliminating the visual stimulus triggers within my immediate, personal environment. At the time of her recommendation, I wasn’t all that interested in coping. I wasn’t interested in recovery or adjusting to my weight-restored body, because at least subconsciously, I thought I’d just get sick again. When thinking of the strategy a few days ago, I considered it with much more enthusiasm. Interestingly, it reminded me of the Jewish mourning tradition, observing Shiva. “Sitting Shiva” is a term used to describe the practices and traditions to honor a loved one who has passed. One action is to cover all the mirrors in the house which remain covered with the intention of evoking a period of self-reflection. Appearance is not a priority or concern at this time. Quote from Anywhere Else, Kristen Polito, I’m Sitting Shiva for my Anorexic Body
I didn’t have a problem with the loss of mirrors or views of myself. I’ve always felt confident that I know what I look like. I see my self smiley and fresh with pretty skin and a warmth shining from within. I bet most days my hair is a bit messy but clean and my clothes are probably the same. I know I’m chubby but I don’t think the mirror will show me how to change that and I have also found that my body is relatively the same from day to day but my experience with my reflection fluctuates wildly. I look good. I look fine. I hate my upper arms. The mirror instead of reflecting my physical body seems to reflect my insecurities and mood of the moment. So a mirror is of little use.
A year or so ago, I tried to embrace putting myself in family photos. I didn’t want my kids to wonder one day why mom never appeared in any pictures. And I met that challenge with some success. I got used to seeing myself occasionally on Instagram. I did it by focusing on the warmth I was exuding in my beaming smile while avoiding noticing my crooked overcrowded bottom teeth. I tried to see myself like my kids do. They don’t seem to care that I am fat. They seem to like that I am soft and cushy and available to them.
None of this prepared me for virtual school.
Online teaching. It is just one huge day after day of looking at myself. From every angle. In every light. Making every sort of expression. Some times the computer just freezes with my face stuck in an awkward beholding of my face mid-sneeze.
I see my mom, my dad, my sisters, my Maw, peeking into my screen and I am taken aback. Surprised at how they got in my computer only to remember it is me. Again.
I grew up thinking I was pretty. Well, pretty but with a big nose. I knew blonde blue eyed was preferred but I believed that I was cute for a brown eyed brown haired girl. I feel extra lucky to have been gifted this view of myself and to have had it reinforced by my parents. Really lucky.
As I have aged, I have grown to see the good in myself coming from the inside out. And I have been able to rely on the self confidence that comes from being a pretty child. I have not felt prettier than other people but I have seen my own beauty. And with getting older I have accepted my body and it’s amazing ability to bear children and hold them until they turn about eleven years old. I know how healthy and lucky and privileged I am. And yet I hate the way the fat on my arms separates from the bone and pocks my skin. I hate my stomach that causes people to ask me if I am pregnant. I hate the change in my thighs that stayed taut when everything else sagged but have recently given up. And my neck. Well, I just don’t have the energy to survey that tonight.
Apparently my job is to look at myself. For hours upon hours. And just fucking radically accept that woman I see as a true version of myself. No matter how I feel about her countenance, it is what it is (to quote Michelle Obama). Actually, my job is to love some elementary children and open their minds to a love of books and reading as their librarian. I provide a live story hour to approximately ninety six children in six periods over the course of a school day. This happens to be an incredible job. Maybe one of the best jobs in the world (especially when I am not “virtual”).
I can’t hate her. She is just doing the very best she can despite an overabundance of naps. I have to love her. She is my outer shell. She carries me around through this crazy life. I am the broken glow stick. I am a mom of six. I am a loved human. I am a divorced woman. I am a light. I am lost. I can’t be an enemy of myself. How could I dislike my particular conglomeration of cells. I am this person staring at me on the screen.
I radically accept me.