“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
These are the famous words from the vain Queen in the fairytale, ‘Snow white’. So obsessed was she with her good looks, that she sought reassurance from the mirror each day. One day the mirror replied with the unexpected response that it was no longer the queen but Snow White who was the fairest in the land. The queen’s self-esteem sank to an all-time low, and she sought to kill Snow White so as to regain her title as most beautiful. If we are honest we would also confess our incessant tendencies to peer into the mirror, not merely to check whether there is food stuck between our teeth, but to confirm whether we look good enough to meet others’ approval. Though you may have hitherto regarded the mirror as your best friend, it can be your worst enemy. When many women look in the mirror they see advancing wrinkles, a pale shadow of the woman they used to be or a reminder of the woman they will never be. They allow their image to rule their emotions, forgetting that it is but a tiny aspect of who they really are. Our bodies house our souls, and we must be careful of getting so busy decorating the house that we neglect the soul which is of far greater worth.
The current obsession with plastic surgery is disconcerting. Women can never really attain happiness in a vain quest to look like someone else. Perhaps it’s high time women begin the process of freeing themselves from their self-image, as reflected by the mirror.
Can changing one’s exterior appearance really change one’s life fundamentally. If, for example, a woman is full of low self-esteem and self-loathing, can a new hairdo, make-up and wardrobe, and maybe some dental veneers thrown in if absolutely necessary, erase this mental baggage she may have been carrying around for years, if not decades?
We have an image problem. We get so captivated by the image we see in the mirror or in the popular culture spun through magazines, billboards and tv and internet advertising, that we may fail to appreciate that it is the image we carry in our mind that is more important. What we focus on is what will dominate our thinking and our lives. There is a double standard operating which seems to have reached its peak of illogicality – women are applauded more for their beauty than their brains or skills. Men have never had to deal with this disproportionate emphasis on their physicality. There is nothing wrong with beauty but it poses the question – should it take centre stage in our lives? Does it pre-occupy our waking moments, and to what lengths would we be willing to go to acquire it?
In a world where words can no longer be trusted, we are increasingly relying on images to tell the truth. But pictures are not as trustworthy as we may think. Truth can never be gleaned from a spit-second click of the camera. We tend to judge solely by people appear so we are so easily shocked when the truth, like an air bubble, finally ripples to the surface. When will we learn that pictures lie? Hence, we should not be so shocked or traumatised when:
-We see a celebrity without makeup or in a less flattering light
-Celebrity marriages break up.
– A public figure makes a startling revelation
-People we thought had it all together show themselves to be flawed after all.
Deep down we would like to think that someone has cracked it – the secret to eternal youth, never having a bad hair day, the perfect marriage and family. We are only setting them up for a fall and ourselves for disappointment. What’s more, why would we think that these external ideals imply an absence of pain and suffering?
We take a picture, and for a lifetime are able to savour the memories attached to that split-second representation of reality. In our Day, we have become so picture-bound and obsessed with trying to become picture-perfect. We are altogether pre-occupied with how we are perceived, even if it has little or no connection with how we truly are. We must allow ourselves to be human – to have our off-days, and allow others to have theirs as well. When two people are truly intimate, they will see each other in all types of guises without fear. It was reported that Zsa Zsa Gabor used to get up early before her husband to apply her makeup before he woke. She failed to realise that we can only know we are truly loved when we are loved for our inner self and not material things such as what we own or how we look. How can a bride and groom take the vow “in sickness and in health until death do us part” when they have little or know understanding what that looks like. Sick people are usually unattractive and the older we are, the more wrinkles, grey hair and sagging we tend to acquire. Modern, western society is in denial about this and so has invented many procedures to give the appearance of youth, but they can only work for so long.
We must be careful not to get out of balance. It does not matter if we go through the whole day without a compliment about our appearance. Does it matter if our hair is not at its best; surely we can still smile.
It could be that the celebrity you are hero-worshipping because of an image of them which has been captured and publicised in a magazine, is at this very moment lying sick in bed, depressed, suicidal or even dead. This would have happened with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, and even more recently with Whitney Houston. It wasn’t until they died, that we realised how miserable they had been. Some like Elizabeth Taylor seem to lose their good looks all too soon whilst others like Joan Collins seem to hold on to it for a lifetime. Yet, there is really no virtue in being a beautiful corpse.
Renewing our minds
Despite our theoretical understanding that physical beauty is fleeting, and that “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”, many women spend an inordinate amount of time preserving and seeking it whilst neglecting other areas of their lives which will stand the test of time. The loss of her looks is more traumatic to a woman than a man. That’s because in many cases, she has used it as erotic capital and been trading on it for a lifetime to achieve special favours. First she notices the attention she receives usually from the opposite sex. Girls must be raised to know with confidence that there is more to their essence than their looks. An attractive girl cannot do anything about the way she looks, but she can condition herself to value other more substantial attributes more highly such as sociability and intelligence. There is nothing inherently wrong with being attractive, but she must understand that in God’s economy it counts for nothing. Furthermore, the value of this commodity will decrease with age.
Why do women view it as liberating to bare as much of their bodies as is legally permissible without falling foul of indecent exposure all in the name of fashion or female empowerment. The fact that many women are signatories to their own female objectification does not detract from the fact that women are enslaving themselves to their appearances.
The image we hold of ourselves in our hearts is far more important that what we see in the mirror. A woman must have skills and attributes she can use as she gets older, which have no bearing whatsoever on how she looks – it may be the ability to cook or create, to instruct with her wisdom or regale with amusing anecdotes to spread good cheer in an often gloomy world. Perhaps too we can redefine new attributes we admire or appreciate in a woman besides her looks. Three such women –, Margaret Thatcher whose 11 years in office as Prime Minister, has been captured in the film biopic ‘the Iron Lady’, Queen Elizabeth II on her diamond jubilee year, Aretha Franklin whose recent passing, reminded us of how her amazing voice touched our lives.
To overcome this trend of bodyshaming, we need to move beyond viewing the female body’s purpose as primarily for posing and begin to celebrate it, and indeed any body for its functionality. The ultimate question is what does my body allow me to do in the world? That’s worth celebrating because an image is temporary but an impact of noble and worthy deeds, can have untold benefits for others even after we are gone