The act of looking at oneself in a mirror was demonstrated this morning at the gym. Most gymnasia have large floor to ceiling mirrors near the weight racks and some resistance machines. This is ostensibly for the benefit of observing one’s exersize techniques.
Usually the mirror users examine their bodies. Almost always, it’s males who use the mirrors. The guys scrutinize their bodies for evidence of physique improvement, muscle tone, and overall appearance. Gym posing is very common among the weightlifting gym rats. Much less so amongst those of us who do mostly cardio workouts. Cardio gym rats tend to be soaked in sweat to the extent that it looks like we just came in out of a rain storm. We look like wet rats and tend to avoid the floor to ceiling mirrors.
The Expresso cardio bikes at my gym are located at a right angle from one of the large mirror walls. It is just opposite of a “Universal” weight machine. While I can’t see myself in the mirror, I can see the mirror from a side view on the right and I can see the weightlifters on the left. Some of them perform chin-ups and standing “butterfly pulls” with the weighted cable devices. Many of the guys do carefully monitor their repetitions for correct technique. Sometimes a fellow will just stand in front of the mirror for a quick examination of his body development. This usually takes less than a minute in duration.
This morning, though, an unusually handsome young man, maybe 20 years old, began his pose in the usual, cursory manner. I then realized that the guy was taking a very long look in the mirror. It turns out that he spent at least 15 minutes or so checking himself out. It almost seemed like he’d never used a mirror before or that we was a very experienced mirror afficiando…one or the other. A memory of the story of Narcissus flashed in my mind.
He flexed his biceps, tensed his thighs and calves then relaxed them. He examined his reflection from every angle, standing, crouching and seated. It was when he walked right up to the mirror for an extreme closeup of his face that I realized how long the guy had been posing. He grinned at himself, frowned at himself, arched his eyebrows and looked askance at himself. He tossed his head back and stuck out his tongue at himself and laughed at himself.
I was amazed and almost embarrassed to be witnessing such deeply personal activity. The extended pose was so unusual that a person couldn’t help but to notice and observe it. I don’t think I’ve even gotten that comfortable with my own mirror image to the extent that I have ever posed in that manner in the privacy of my own bathroom.
I got to analyzing how other people respond to their own reflections in mirrors and reflective surfaces. Usually, most of us cast a quick, discrete glance in the mirror when we encounter one in public. It could be a regular mirror in a public restroom or a highly reflective mirror on an office building. We’ll usually notice ourselves or pretend not to notice.
When you’re in the privacy of your own home do you just look at a neutral view of yourself? Do you pose like the young man I saw at the gym? Can you just look in the mirror without grinning, or pouting or flirting or scowling? Usually, I glance in the mirror and adjust the view for my best angle. Sometimes I’ll arch my eyebrows and give myself a rascally grin. Then I walk away from the mirror. What do you usually do? Have you ever kept track of what you do in the mirror?
Many photographers with my mindset have taken self-portraits. It’s one way of attempting to see yourself as others see you. Actual mirrors give us a reverse image. Photos give us a regular image. The trouble with self-portraits and mirror images, is that we still have a bit of self-consciousness coming through. Maybe more so in a self-portrait because we know it might be seen by other folks.
Several years ago, I took this self-portrait. I had no idea that there would be such a thing as the Internet nor blogs. I figured I’d use it for a personal ad and then file it away. The photo was not intended to be used as I am using it in this context. In the pose, I’m aware of something and am posing superficially, too. But there are other aspects that still come through. What are they?
More often, we don’t physically look at ourselves in a silvered glass mirror. We look at ourselves in our mental mirror. Do you think you’re a little bit more cool than other people? Most of us do, but would never publicly admit it.
Are you more hip because you drive a certain kind of car or truck? Maybe your clothing style makes you more cool than other people. Your jeans look more lived in or you like attractive designer shirts? You’re at least a notch above everybody else because you chose to belong to the “right” religion? Or don’t believe in religion? Maybe because you’re a conservative, or a libertarian, or are liberal you have it all together and other folks are simply clueless or delusional? We all do this to some extent. It’s normal. It’s effortless because it all goes on inside our heads.
Maybe we need to take a cue from the young man in the mirror at the gym. However we look, can we accept and feel compassionate towards that image? When we engage our mental mirror, can we stop to think about our personal assessments? We might want to try just examining those self-concepts without putting ourselves down or becoming self-congratulatory.
We can also use other people as mirrors. Who do you like? Around whom would you like to spend more time? These people reveal a positive part of your personality, a part to enhance. Who do you loathe and hate? Do you feel discomfort around people who practice different religions, atheists, people of different racial backgrounds, LGBTQ persons, differently abled people? Can you acknowledge those prejudices? Can you work on slowly adjusting them to the point of letting them go?
Can you accept yourself as you without the opinion that you’re extra special? Welcome to the human family.