Posts Tagged ‘ mirrors

re-picturing THE LOOKING GLASS

What relationship do you have with your mirror? Or perhaps more importantly, what relationship do you have with the self you see reflected back when you gaze into the looking glass?

In social psychology, we use the term the “looking-glass self,” to refer to the idea that our identity (at least partially) develops from how other people see us. Or perhaps summed up best by C. H. Cooley (1902) who coined the term: “I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.” Although this applies generally to how we think others perceive us, it is particularly important to how other people view us through our appearance – the image that we project (sometimes purposefully, sometimes inadvertently) through the clothes that we wear, our make-up and hair styles, the way that we walk and hold ourselves, the emotions that we show, and the like.

How important is the looking glass to your identity?

One way to begin to consider this question is to examine your relationship with the mirror. Although mirrors are thought to merely reflect reality back to us, looking in them is actually an interactive process between the mirror and the viewer.

1)   How soon do you look in the mirror after the start of the day? I get out of bed and immediately capture a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I head into the bathroom.

2)   How often do you look in the mirror? A lot. I actually find myself inadvertently creating mirrors all around me. I notice my reflection in the door of the coffee house, my husband’s sunglasses, even the computer screen.

3)   Can you go into a room with a mirror and not look at yourself? Yes. Although now that I’m paying attention, I’m not sure how often I actually avoid (rather than seek out) mirrors.

4)   How many rooms in your home contain a mirror? All of my bathrooms, my dining room, my office. Not my bedroom, though.

5)   Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Sometimes. More than sometimes. A lot. (This was a pleasant surprise. However, as I write this, my inner critic is screaming Narcissist! Didn’t the looking glass get him into trouble? Our culture has many narratives regarding the looking glass).

6)   Do you think the mirror actually reflects your true self? It depends. Sometimes I pose for the mirror very similarly to how I pose for the camera. I might suck my stomach in or smile similarly. I think this reflects one aspect of me, but not all of me.

7)   Do you look in the mirror even when you are all alone or not planning on seeing anyone else? Yes. However, I don’t think this is completely driven by always thinking about how others my see me. I want to completely engage my true self. My physical body and appearance is part of that.

Are you still having trouble determining what (if any) role the mirror plays in your life? You might consider going a day, a week, or even a month without mirrors. It turns out that you wouldn’t be alone.

I am simply enamored with Twyla Tharp and her book, The Creative Habit, which focuses on how creativity is accessible to everyone if we simply make the time and space to practice it. One part of the creative habit, according to Tharp, is to temporarily rid ourselves of the everyday clutter that distracts us from our own creativity. In this context, she suggests that we go a week without clocks, newspapers, even speaking, but perhaps most interesting to me was her suggestion to go a week without looking in the mirror.

See what happens to your sense of self. Instead of relying on the image you see reflected in the glass, find your identity in other ways. This forces you to stop looking at yourself so much and start focusing on others. You’ll be forced to think more about what you do, and less about how you look. There’s a difference between how you see yourself and how you think others see you; you might get confirmation back or you might be surprised. Either way, it’s a discovery process. It’s also a great technique for heightening your sense of curiosity. I guarantee that after a week without mirrors, you’ll be dying to see yourself again. It could be a very interesting reintroduction. You might meet someone totally new (Tharp, 2006, p. 33).

It turns out that Tharp is not the only woman to ponder the potentially distracting role (and other roles) that the mirror plays in her life. Check out the mirrorless, month-long journies of Autumn Whitefield-Madrano of the Beheld (love this blog!) and Marriane Power of Daily Mail.

What do you see when you reflect on (and focus on your reflection in) the looking glass?