Bad Mirror Day

They say that nobody ever sees you the way you see yourself. The face you see in the mirror, they tell you, isn’t the face other people see. It’s your own perception. If that’s the case, is there any point to mirrors other than to put your eyeliner on straight?

Some people have ‘bad hair’ days. I have ‘bad mirror’ days. Those mornings when you wake up, drag your sorry carcass out of bed and sleepily haul on the outfit for the day. You check a look in the mirror and all the old neuroses and feelings do the equivalent of leaping out from behind a bush.

You look terrible, they whisper, as some sort of inner-voice collective. You look terrible. Why are you wearing that? You look stupid.

For a moment, you mentally steel yourself, try to bluff it out.

Because it looks fine, you argue. See?

I’m looking, says your inner voice. And I see nothing fine about that reflection. Look at you. Your hair is all over the place. Your make up looks like it was applied by a six year old. Your boobs look too big in that top. The skirt’s too short. Your LEGS are too short. People are going to LOOK at you and think WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

By the time you have finished this uncomfortable inner dialogue, it’s too late to change into something else: you have to leave or be late for work. So you go to work, feeling self-conscious from the start. Every time you catch someone looking at you, you think ‘they’re echoing my inner voice’s sentiments’. Every time you pass a mirror, you try to resist looking. Every time you fail. Every time you chance a look hoping that you’ve somehow become some sultry, willowy blonde and every time you are disappointed.

Does this happen to you? If not, you really should count your blessings. To have confidence in your self-image must be a lovely thing. It’s not something I’ve ever had. Some mornings, I will look in the mirror and think ‘oh, I actually look quite nice!’ Then, by ten a.m., those feelings of confidence are replaced by thoughts that everyone is sneering at me.

Why am I like this? I don’t rightly know. I had a lot of trouble in school with people who were unkind to me for various reasons. Nowadays, they’d call it bullying. It wasn’t physical, not by any means, but superiority of the Skinnies and Populars (S&Ps) left me feeling like an inferior being about ninety five percent of the time. The only place I was safe was amongst the other Bullieds and Differents (B&Ds) in the drama studio at lunchtime. The S&Ps were too cool to be seen hanging out in such a place, so the B&Ds were safe there.

Amongst the B&Ds, I was OK. I was accepted. I was one of them.

I was safe.

So Bad Mirror Days. Usually, they only last for the day. Sometimes, it can be two or three days in a row and the rest of the time I’m just fine. But when they hit, they hurt, man.

There are three things I am exceptionally bad at. One of them is going clothes shopping. I walk into a shop and almost invariably, the staff would have belonged to the S&P set at school. I’m immediately 15 years old again, wearing a too-big jumper to cover up curves that were too curvy, or coming up with excuses not to go to parties because I had no ‘going out’ clothes. Then, the member of staff gives me The Look.

There’s a Look that S&Ps have and they direct it towards B&Ds whether they are aware they are doing it or not. It starts with a pleasant ‘good morning, how can I help you’ smile as they look at your face. Then the eyes travel slowly down the length of your body to your feet, then back up again. The smile is frozen in place, but the eyes. The eyes are sneering. (Sounds impossible, but believe me – eyes CAN sneer). There is nothing here for you, they are saying, Pretty Woman style. Had you thought of a Hessian sack? It may be the best option. And a paper bag for your head might be flattering, too.

Of course, it’s all so much rubbish. Chances are high that the shop S&P isn’t thinking that at all – but there is so much conditioning left over from the school bullies that you immediately mumble ‘justlookingthanks’, paw through a couple of things on a rail, then flee for the sanctuary of Starbucks, where you know you’re safe.

One of the other things that I am bad at is socialising. It’s for much the same reason. Even as a grown up, who is capable of buying my own clothes (wait… see point one…) I still don’t own ‘going out’ clothes. This is because I don’t… well, I don’t go out. Yes, Himself and I occasionally go to the cinema, or for a pizza or whatever, but we never… go out. We don’t go anywhere that requires Dressing Up. I wouldn’t know where to START Dressing Up. I would probably spend the whole time so anxious about other people’s opinions of me that I wouldn’t have fun. Best then, to stay at home where I am amongst the people who love me and aren’t giving me the S&P Stare.

The final thing is accepting compliments.

I can’t accept them. It’s all tied into the same problem, I suppose. If someone says ‘you look nice today’, I instantly assume this is S&P Speak for ‘oh my god, look what the cat dragged in’.

One of my closest friends has been undergoing therapy recently for various reasons and it’s doing her the world of good. (For the record, I went to a psychotherapist once. On our last session, he told me that I was the most well-adjusted crazy person he’d ever met). She mentioned that her therapist told her that she was bad at accepting compliments and in a weird way, that helped me by proxy. I suddenly discovered that I wasn’t the only one who’s like this.

There’s a deep sense of suspicion in me that if someone says ‘you look nice’ or ‘that’s a nice lip colour’ that they are covering up some deep sense of horror at the truth.

By dint of writing this blog, I do solemnly swear to start trying to change this. To accept compliments when they’re given. To let them slowly and gradually act as a soothing balm on the wounds left by thoughtless teenagers so very long ago. There’s a very shy inner part of me that fancies the idea of a photo makeover session. This is what I want.

I want to see a photograph of a woman I don’t recognise, only to then realise that it’s me. I want to be able to see myself as others see me. And then I want to cry about it. Because I’m weird like that.

But let’s end this little outpouring with the most positive thing in the world. I am loved by some pretty amazing people and two cats. That much I know. And that is probably the thing that stops every day being a Bad Mirror Day. For that? I’m bloody grateful.


12 thoughts on “Bad Mirror Day

  1. Tony Lane says:

    Brilliant post. I find clothes shopping and the hairdressers more terrifying than the dentists or having an internal organ removed.

    • I hear you. I genuinely plan to ‘buy some new work clothes’ and always come back with a DVD.

      • Lee Donovan says:

        Same here. Haircuts have been buzzcuts since I discovered I could do that myself and not look like I’ve been run over by a lawnmower.. Luckily they suit me.

        Clothes shopping tends to be done online. And when I find something I like (colour/style) I buy multiples for work (usually 3 pairs of trousers and 5 shirts). At which point if I wear the same style for more than 2-3 days in a row some lackwit from sales will imply I’ve not changed clothes in x days.

        The last time that happened they said it in front of the wrong person who leapt to my defence (and had been there when the shirts in question had arrived because they were delivered at work).

  2. Mat says:

    Have you tried adding the question “So, what?” to these thoughts when they come to you?
    As in…”I look terrible….so, what?”
    Or, “I think those people are judging me….so, what?”

    I’ve found that’s worked quite well for me over the years.

  3. I have enough social anxiety myself but luckily I tend not to care what I look like. I think that maybe just enough self-conviction that I’m a hideous troll man that I’m hardened to anything that others could possibly think about me. I think it might also be that as a man I am less self-conscious of my looks and there is less pressure on men to conform to this weird standard of beauty that seems perpetuated by an industry wanting to sell you stuff for exorbitant prices.

    The other comfort I take is that, being married and having a daughter I have people in my life that love me for me and therefore, I have no need of validation from anyone else.

  4. Darren Sandford says:

    There’s a reason I stopped cutting my hair, and only wear jeans and a T-shirt. This blog post hits close to home for me.

  5. I’ll go clothes shopping with you any time you like. You’re perfectly lovely in every way, and don’t let anyone tell you any different, including that little voice in your head x

    Yes, that’s a compliment, and it’s deserved. Now just smile and say thank you, because that’s how you take a compliment. It’s easy once you get used to it. Smiles.

  6. Richard Coffland says:

    Look back to the title you used for this article..’Bad’ Mirror Day…now put in the context it belongs.. bad cat, bad dog, bad boy…next time the witch in the mirror starts to put you down…Bad Mirror! and walk away. Go ahead and do it…and try not to giggle. It took me a few years to convince my little girl that there wasn’t someone else in the mirror making her hair look funny.

    Best wishes..

  7. […] Sarah Cawkwell, one from the Huffington on guys struggling with body image and a really personal one about bad mirror days that certainly speaks to […]

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