Freedom from my Reflection
Looking in the mirror is a routine part of the day. In the morning when you get dressed, brush your teeth, again before you leave the house. Then in the rearview mirror on your way to work or uni. Or the reflection in the window on your walk. In the elevator, in the bathroom. The mirror and your appearance are intrinsically intertwined throughout your day. It’s not really something you think about; it’s just a fact of life.
Last year, I visited Guatemala where I lived with a little family in a small town. Now if you think that Guatemalans spend hours prepping and priming themselves in front of a mirror, you’re kidding yourself. There were no mirrors in the house, and only a small mirror in the school I was teaching at. Suddenly, my appearance was completely irrelevant. Even if I wanted to look in a mirror, it was rarely an option. Suddenly, the anxiety that used to shadow my morning ritual was abolished. This freedom that accompanied a lack of mirrors was liberating. To get out of bed, get dressed, brush my teeth, and leave. No poking and prodding and changing my outfit three times. To know that I felt good, and that was all that mattered.
I told myself this is how I would live everyday, regardless of what country I was living in. I would never again fall into the pattern of checking my reflection for the fifth and sixth time before even leaving the house. I was free.
But then my travels came to an end and I reluctantly left behind this beautiful society where worth isn’t measured by the brand of shoes you’re wearing. So I arrived back home and suddenly how I looked was shockingly more important. My friends were all buying cute new dresses and would spend an hour putting on make up before going out. As much as I like to think I’m my own person, you don’t realise how much the mentality of your friends and family impacts you. It’s human nature to want to be like others, to fit in. Hell, it’s human nature to want others to think you’re attractive.
It had only been a couple of weeks before that anxiety set in again. It’s so easy to fall back into your old routines. Sometimes, even after profound and potentially life-changing travel, once you arrive home it almost feels as if you never left. And so before I knew it, I was right back where I started.
Cover by Ruby Bisson