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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

November 22, 2010

I don’t know about you, but for some time now I have avoided looking too closely in the mirror.  Obviously, I have to check that my hair is brushed properly every day, and occasionally I need to put on makeup, but I don’t study myself (particularly in full length mirrors) the way I used to.  I suppose (no, I KNOW) the reason for this is that the person looking back at me isn’t ‘me’ – you know the ‘me’ I see in my mind’s eye.  The woman in the mirror is older, broader, and looks more like my eldest sister (something I never thought I would say, God help me) than ‘me’.  The change has been gradual, of course, but it seems like my outer self simply decided one day to morph into someone else entirely – someone I don’t recognize.

A Young MeWhen I was very young, I was fairly short and of ‘average’ build (i.e., neither thin nor fat).  I recall a friend of my mother’s once lamenting, “The poor girl, she’s going to be just like her Grammy Nell” – which I took as not exactly being a good thing (my father’s mother was quite short and rather box-shaped).  When I look back at pictures of me during those early years, I honestly see nothing wrong with the way I looked, but I suppose my mother’s friend thought something was lacking with respect to my build.

In grade 5, I experienced a growth spurt.  In just six months I added almost six inches to my height but nothing to my weight.  Practically overnight, I became what was commonly referred to as a ‘beanpole’.  I was unconcerned about the changes taking place, but my mother and her friend (and the doctor) went from concern about my stoutness to worrying about how thin I was (at one point the doctor ‘prescribed’ a chocolate malted milkshake – whole milk, ice cream, cocoa, and one raw egg – per day, to try to add pounds to my slight frame).  For the next couple of years, I consumed milkshakes, sodas, and ice cream sundaes at the Rexall Drug Store – or a large order of fries and a coke at the Cosy Corner Restaurant – almost every day after school – then went home and ate a full dinner, followed by snacks before bed (I had a particular penchant for Lay’s potato chips, Crispy Crunch chocolate bars, and bags full of assorted ‘penny candy’ from Hennessey’s Variety Store – boy, those were the days!!!)  I didn’t gain an ounce!

Throughout my teens, I remained lanky.  I weighed less than 100 pounds on my twenty-first birthday.  Gradually, for whatever reasons (donuts, chocolate éclairs, pizza perhaps), I put on a pound here or a pound there.  When I got pregnant with my first child (at 27) I weighed 115 pounds; I gained 25 pounds during pregnancy, but left the hospital back down at 115 (mind you, they kept you in for a whole week back then).  I entered my second pregnancy five years later at 120, gained 30, and lost it all within six months of giving birth.  I always ate pretty much whatever I wanted and never thought twice about my weight – until my fortieth year. 

The Big 4-0As pretty much everyone knows, 40 is a landmark year for our metabolisms – and our waistlines.  The weight creeps on – a couple of pounds a year – until you step on the scale or look in the mirror or try to get into your favourite pair of jeans and suddenly realize you’ve packed on almost as much weight (or the same, or more) as you did during pregnancy.  Only this time, you ain’t gonna get no baby out of the deal sister!  (And, yes, we can diet and exercise, and do all the things that all the health experts, media publications, and so forth preach to us, but a lot of that added ‘bulk’ is extremely stubborn and difficult to get rid of once it’s got a hold on you! Some of it is going to be there FOR LIFE!)  So – several pounds later – I donated what was left of my ‘skinny clothes’ to charity and stopped looking in full length mirrors. (Want ‘tough love’??? Go shopping for clothes or – heaven forbid – a new bathing suit – nothing shows off every added pound better than fluorescent lighting and three way mirrors!)

Changes to other parts of our body happen in a similar fashion.  One day you have a head full of luscious dark (or blonde, or red) hair and the next – OMG, there’s a grey one!  So you pluck it out and you swear that two more take its place!  Eventually, it’s a losing battle.  So you turn to Miss Clairol and start a never-ending love affair with hair colour products.  I started to go grey – gradually – when I was in my teens.  For years my father would stand behind my chair at the dining room table and pull the grey hairs out of my head; by the time I was twenty-five, I figured if I didn’t do something about the grey, I’d have huge bald spots that would never recover.   I have a great deal of respect for women who accept the silvering of their tresses (or who refuse to shell out money to cover it up) – but I’m not that daring yet!  So every eight weeks (give or take), I spend another $15 to ‘cover my stubborn greys’.  The result is, of course, that even though I generally buy the same product (or at least a similar shade), my hair is a slightly different colour every two months. 

Anti Aging ProductsOf course, the bane of most women’s existence is wrinkles.  Sales of ‘anti-aging’ products are in the neighbourhood of $150 billion worldwide ($5 billion of that is to the Canadian market); this is expected to rise to $250 billion by 2013.  That’s a lot of money to attempt to ‘reverse’ something that is – let’s face it – a natural part of the human experience.  It is important to note that you can’t NOT age, and you can’t reverse the aging process; all you can do it try to slow down or mask the effects of aging and maybe add a few more years to your life.  However, that has not stopped companies from marketing any number of products to the millions of baby boomers (10 million in Canada) who are taking aim at the visible signs of the years (and the miles) they’ve put on their bodies. (If only we’d known when we were younger that the things we didn’t think twice about doing, eating, or experiencing would come back to haunt us in the latter part of our lives, we could have prevented most of the ravages of aging that we’re now trying to cover up, fix, or otherwise render invisible through skin care products, pharmaceuticals, ‘miracle’ foods, and – WOO HOO – anti-aging underwear!)

I am fortunate to actually have very few wrinkles (despite never wearing sunscreen until I started using it on my children in the 80s, and now pretty much only slathering it on when I go to the beach). During my teens, I religiously washed with Noxema (which was pretty much the only facial moisturizer available in the sixties) because it didn’t dry out my skin, and we always had Dove’s famous ‘moisturizing bar’ for use in the bath.  At some point in my grown-up life, I switched to products from St. Ives (inexpensive but very effective), and I still use them (body washes, hand creams, body creams, face creams). I’ve avoided (or refused to waste money on) more expensive products that make absolutely outrageous claims (and don’t get me going on Botox!)  By the way, does anyone actually pay attention to the wording used in advertising for all those fillers, creams, and other ‘anti-aging’ products? The claims made are that they ‘reduce THE LOOK OF fine lines and wrinkles’.  No product is going to get rid of wrinkles – they simply add volume/moisture to the skin so the wrinkles ‘puff up’ and LOOK like they’re smaller or less noticeable (or they fill in the cracks like so much bond-o on your face. YUCK!) 

Anyway, my point is that some things are 100% inevitable. You ARE aging (second by second – even as you read this article – you are getting older!)  The extra pounds, the grey hairs, and the wrinkles are like hard-won battle scars that remind us how far we’ve come in our lives, and what we’ve experienced along the way.  For better or for worse, they are part of who we are.  Instead of continually fighting the idea of aging, maybe we should just accept it and acknowledge that the things we’ve done in our lives are what make us extraordinary, knowledgeable, and beautiful.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should stop doing things that make us feel better inside and out (because WE want to – not because someone else [including the media] says we should, or because we think we can somehow turn back the hands of time).  For me, that means covering my greys, moisturizing my skin, eating right, and exercising (although probably not as much as I should).  And, to be perfectly honest, I’ll probably keep on avoiding looking directly in the mirror – not because the woman looking back at me is clearly not me, but because the spirit of the woman I think I (still) am keeps me young at heart and, just occasionally, allows me to forget that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

Magical Weave Mirror

View more of Daniel Rozin’s Interactive Art (including his Magical Weave Mirror, shown above)

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