When I look in my bedroom mirror, I see a tall, slender figure with legs for days. So does everyone, actually. At the time of purchase, what I thought was a six-dollar, slightly warped mirror from Home Depot has turned out to be the Western Beauty Standard Edition of Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised.
Initially, I loved this mirror and its insanely flattering effects. Less warped at the top so the user’s head looks normal, the mirror lengthens and slims the body, especially the legs. It makes me look like a supermodel. However, this means two things:
1. No matter how unflattering my outfit is, I look great in the mirror. Unfortunately, this doesn’t affect the real-life effects of a bad outfit; it just keeps me blissfully ignorant, thereby defeating the whole purpose of having a mirror anyway.
2. All other mirrors make me feel stumpy as hell, leading me to exclaim to passerby “Do my legs really look that short and thick?” a question to which there is no real response.
For the sake of full disclosure, I have to commit one of the greatest crimes a young woman can commit – I have to admit that I am actually self-confident and I like the way I look. Rare as this is among women my age, after being raised on a steady diet of magazines, movies, and advertisements full of Photoshopped supermodels, I like my body and I think I’m beautiful. But having a positive body image doesn’t completely shield me from the crushing societal pressure to be slender, hence why the mirror was so “flattering” in the first place. But after the novelty of the first couple of times I looked at my mile-long legs in the mirror, I just wanted to see myself, the way I actually look.
Before you puke in your mouth I’d like to formally recognize my copious amounts of thin privilege. Fatphobia and fat-shaming are real problems in our society, and I recognize that it’s a little sickening to read about a girl who can fit into a size 4 skirt congratulating herself for her positive body image. Of course, there are women who wear size zeros and still suffer from body dysmorphia or negative body image, but I definitely get more societal support in loving my body than I would if I were a different size, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Anyway, for friends visiting my room, my mirror is still a novelty, and an enticing, hypnotic one at that. Many a conversation has been interrupted by someone falling silent and angling her body in front of the mirror, perhaps while murmuring “I love your mirror.”
In Harry Potter, Dumbledore warns Harry of the dangers of the mirror that shows the viewer their greatest desire. “Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible,” he tells Harry. That’s what I hate most about my mirror.
My mirror makes it abundantly clear that no one feels completely positively about their body. To see my gorgeous friends gazing into it like it’s showing them their greatest desire is disheartening. I would never fault a woman for wanting to be thinner given the hostile, body-shaming environment in which we live, but it’s a shame that we aren’t taught to think of our bodies as tools and instruments that we can strengthen and use. I may be happy with how I look, but I value my body for just that – the way it looks. The focus should be on strength and capability, but it’s incredibly difficult to break free from seeing yourself as an ornamental object.
Besides, there’s something unsettling to me about the glorification of thinness. If you think about it, the aspiration to be thin is essentially synonymous with wanting to have less of a physical presence in the world. It means wanting to take up less space, wanting to weigh less, and wanting to be able to fit into constricting pieces of fabric sewn together by sadistic
capitalist pigs clothing manufacturers. We’re taught that that’s what’s desirable.
In the fairly recent past I’ve wished that I weighed less so I could sit on people’s laps without potentially crushing them beneath me. But is that really what I want? Maybe I do want people who put me on their lap like a Pomeranian to be slowly crushed to death or at least lose feeling in their legs. Okay, not quite, but maybe I don’t want some guy to be able to easily sweep me up and carry me off into the sunset. I’d rather walk – or run, depending on the guy and the sunset.
We shouldn’t be wasting away in front of fun-house mirrors and we shouldn’t be wasting away to look like our reflections in them either. I think the key about working through or living with body issues is to think about what it really means to want to lose weight, or be smaller, or whatever the case may be. (Apologies for the gross oversight re: body issues outside of wanting to be thin.) I think it’s helpful to deconstruct the ideas around which we try to change the way we look. My mirror may show the most Gisele-like image of the viewer’s body, but as Albus Dumbledore would probably say, the Mirror of Erised can bugger off.