I was one of those unfortunate young people who developed acne at an early age. Developed everything at an early age... but maybe that's a different story... weird that I have breast cancer now though....
Sorry, mind spaz.
The acne. It wasn't lovely. I spent a lot of time and a lot of my Mom's money trying to deal with it. Trying to make myself look better when in reality, big zits are simply that... big zits.
Lucky for me however, I had enough confidence... swagger? Ego?... to deal with my bad skin and while I hated it, I rarely felt "less than" or "ugly" because of it.
Over the years, I heard many teasing comments and some were a little more colourful than others, but being the oddly overly-confident teen that I was, these comments did little to my overall sense of self.
Except for one.
And it wasn't a mean one per se. It was kind of an off-hand remark that I took as a compliment even though maybe it wasn't full on meant to be that.
"You will be very pretty when your skin clears up. You're not ugly at all".
Huh! Well.... Thank you? I guess.
For approximately 30 years, these words have stayed with me. Every so often, the memories of that moment pop into my mind... and then out again. There is no pain or even joy associated with that moment, it just simply exists in my brain.
Until today when I am wrestling with something deeper.
And first off, I want to say that I feel like she lied a bit. Because while my skin may have cleared up, I certainly replaced zits with other blemishes.. fine lines and wrinkles, random face hairs, 2 chins... I'm not sure that there was enough time between the "no acne" part of my life and the "what else can we do to your face" period.
Today, I'm standing myself up in front of my mirror. My metaphorical mirror. The one that tells me who I am deep down inside. The mirror that is curious about how I show up in life. The one that judges and questions. The one that both condemns and forgives.
Being in front of my mirror is a hard place. And I find that being there alone is not helpful at all. Because here's the thing... you know, when you take a selfie and you get the angle all right and you make a nice face and you give yourself an unlimited number of takes to get the photo just so... that's kind of like standing in front of your mirror by yourself. You could look really fantastic.
Or, the other side, the awful side... the side of the deleted selfies because each one has some kind of blemish that we don't want the world to see... the mole hair, the double chins, the greasy hair, the food splotch on our shirt. The mirror shows all the crap too. Highlights it in fact.
So here I am, standing in front of my metaphorical mirror, wondering just what to do with myself. I'm either fantastic or I'm awful, depending on the day, or even the moment. But my guess, is that I generally fall somewhere in-between with some cranky lady mood swings in either direction.
But how would I know, if all I did was stand by myself in front of my mirror? I'm not sure that I can know. The stories that I tell myself would vary depending on whether or not I was having a fantastic day or and awful day and I'm not sure that I could pull the truth out of either of those.
Unless I ask someone to stand with me.
Because, here's the truth... selfies can either enhance the good and get saved for the ego boost, or enhance the bad and get deleted to fuel the shame cycle. But... when your photo gets taken by someone else, you end up with a vision of the whole package.
One of my favourite photos of me was taken at a friend's wedding. I was feeling insecure and overweight that day. I was struggling with a lot of emotions about being back in Alberta, seeing old friends. I was a year into helping my kids with depression and anxiety. But, at the same time, I was excited to reconnect with dear friends. I was enjoying a night out with my husband. I was eating crepes and wine and dancing. I was having fun.
The photo shows both sides of the coin. Both sides of me. But had I taken a photo of myself, alone, I would have picked a side depending on my feelings in that moment and I would have missed everything else that turns this photo into a favourite.
My high school experience all those years ago, just kind of heightened my awareness of how vital it is to have someone else in the mirror with you. The offhand comment came at a time when I could have looked at myself and see an ugly, acne covered face without seeing the beauty underneath.
Just so, a group photo shows me friends and love and connection and support, despite feeling gross in my body, fighting with heightened emotions.
That mirror is a tricky place to be. It does show our flaws... but we need that. Seeing our flaws keeps us accountable to changing for the better. It keeps our integrity intact. It keeps us humble. It keeps us on a right path.
But when combined with the right person holding our mirror, standing beside us, the flaws don't have to lead to shame, but instead restoration. With the right person, the mirror shows our strengths and beauty.
The mirror is important. It shows us what we need to see.
But being invited into a mirror, being invited to hold a mirror, being invited to share what you see of the one standing in front of that mirror. What a true gift that is. For there, there is vulnerability and trust. There is deep love. There is connection.
Be the very best mirror looker and the very best mirror partner you can be. For the gift of the mirror is precious, but even more so, the human, standing naked and vulnerable in front of that mirror is precious. Look at yourself accordingly.