Fishman: Self? Righteous. 

Like most people, I look at myself in the mirror many times, every day.

First thing in the morning,  when the half-mirror above the sink in the bathroom registers the above-the-shoulders “me,” it’s the raw version, unadulterated, absolute.

Oddly enough this first look is easiest to take. Usually it’s still dark outside and the rheostat lighting is on low or gentle.  Between the unintended and often interesting tousled bed-head look (something people pay good money for) and the sleepy - OK, sexy - eyes, only the worst critic could expect too much more.

Most days, what I’m seeing first thing is usually better than what I could hope for. Hey, I’m alive, right? In the words of poet Sister V, “Good morning, world!”

For the rest of the day the image-check is all smoke-and-(you should excuse the expression) mirrors, best foot forward and all that. You know the drill. Turning your head just so, lowering your chin, wetting your lips, not looking too closely at hips or behind or browning teeth or the spread of your nose (is it getting bigger?) or your ears (are they getting bigger?), at the funny thing your hair does at the crown of your head no matter how you try to comb or cut it.

Not too bad, you think. Definitely within the realm of acceptability. in fact, pretty darn good, considering.

After that you dress, taking a cursory look in the full-length mirror, mostly from the side where you can suck it up, all of it. Then you do a final brush, checking your teeth for bits of food, trying to find some earrings that match, throwing some product on your hair because try as you do you can’t reproduce that cool bed-head look. It’s too late.

Then you grab a paper or a book and go out for coffee, innocently taking a seat at a counter somewhere, all confident and assured. That’s when it starts to fall apart. Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of someone in the glass behind the server station, someone with a newspaper or a book spread in front of them, wearing the same earrings you are wearing, someone you think you may know.

“Eeek,” you say. “Who’s that?” She looks familiar but somehow older, more ragged, a little frayed, a little tattered. Not the person you saw in the mirror at home.

This can’t be right. Kind of like when you get weighed at a doctor’s office and you want to say to the nurse, “This scale can’t be right.” Why do we never weigh less at the doctor’s than we do at home?

A similar thing happens when friends send us photographs of ourselves with cute little notes like, “I love this picture of you!” or, “You look great here.”

And you couldn’t have a more divergent opinion.

Several Christmases ago, someone even took one of those pictures that he liked so much, framed it and gave it to me. Why do I need a picture of myself, framed yet, I thought, especially one that doesn’t look like me (or the me I’d like to think I looked like).

None of these issues would be quite so complex if there weren’t ways to ameliorate or augment what we see in the mirror. Therein lies the rub.

“You could probably get your eyes done under your insurance if you prove that your drooping lid is impeding your eyesight,” someone recently told me, intending only the best of suggestions.

Thanks a lot.

But the notion remains. Through modern chemistry (and surgery), there is something we can do about the way we look, the way we age, because, let’s face it, what we see is not going to be changing for the better. Our attitude can change but not our looks.

Suze Orman knows this. (She - one foot out of the closet  - has had to have had “some work,” no?). Diane Sawyer couldn’t still look that good either without a little nip here, a little tuck there.

But what if it backfires? What if it looks worse afterwards? And once you do it, don’t you have to keep on doing it? What if you do it and you walk into a bar and the bartender still says, “Hey, mama!”

(At least people hold the door open for you, my friend Ceci says).

A few years ago my fortysomething niece told me she had  “some work” because she was tired of people telling her she looked tired all the time.

“But you’re tired,” I told her. “You have three children and you work full-time.”

She didn’t care. She just didn’t want to look as if she had three children and worked all the time.

Not everyone feels this way. “I earned these wrinkles,” the argument starts. “I’m going to keep them.”

I’m still in that camp. But that takes work, too. Just another kind.

About The Author

Jane Fishman

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