Mirrors are not my friends. But these days, they’re not my enemies either, anymore. And I wouldn’t hate them nearly as much if I’d been braver in my youth.
When I was a teenager, I’d never even heard of the term “emo”, and goth kids were sort of weird and exotic, or… I don’t know. They weren’t “normal”, certainly. I guess what they were – well, what they still are, really – is brave. It doesn’t matter what the reason is for trying a certain dress style or lifestyle. The point is that you find your style. And at 40 years old, I’ve only just begun to find mine.
I’ve wondered, sometimes, if the people around me assume that it’s some sort of midlife crisis. The idea makes me snort because the truth is that I’ve never not been in some level of crisis, and while people who don’t know me well may look at the recent changes and think that there may be something wrong, it’s quite the opposite.
For too long, I worried about what society would think of the choices I made rather than what I liked, or what felt right to me. And this goes for my clothing, my hair, my makeup, and most of the rest of my identity. It was paramount that I do nothing to cheapen my family’s good name, even if it meant never exploring things I wanted to try.
When I was in high school, I dyed my hair. It was a red that leaned toward purple, and when my mother suggested that I not dye my hair purple again, I took it to heart. I shouldn’t have. That was a time for me to explore myself, and to find what felt right. But at the time, criticisms like my mother’s combined with the lies my mind has always whispered, and I accepted them as fact. I absolutely should not dye my hair purple again. Only natural colors are acceptable to use for people like me. And from there came similar ideas about makeup, clothing. By the time I went off to college for the first time, I had a very clear view in my head about exactly what was an acceptable look for someone like me.
The thing is, acceptable doesn’t mean right. The style in my head was the wrong style for me, full of natural color palettes and no self-expression. And so mirrors became my bane. When I looked in a mirror, all I really saw was this stranger I was trying to be, instead of who I was inside. On the outside, I was a perfectly acceptable girl next door: the sort of girl you probably wouldn’t look twice at because she tries to blend into the wallpaper. On the inside, I was snarky and sarcastic, quiet but sharp, and as ready to cut you down as lend you a hand.
Let’s back up for a moment, though. Two paragraphs up, I noted that I had “a very clear view in my head about exactly what was an acceptable look for someone like me.” The inner me didn’t match the look, and to some people, that might’ve been a clear clue that the look was the wrong one. Hampered as I was by the lies my mind whispers, I got it the wrong way ’round. It was the inner me that didn’t match what was “acceptable” so it was the inner me that needed fixing.
Two decades ago, these thoughts crashed together, and my level of crisis hit maximum. I got help, and things eased off, but they never went away, and mirrors became a thing to be avoided at all costs. Pictures were allowed for family – grudgingly – because I love my family. But I could not, and still cannot, abide those pictures.
Around 2013, I dyed my hair red. I thought that what I wanted was to be bold, to be free, to be more than I actually am. I see now that what I really wanted was to finally resolve the crisis that hit two decades ago, not by fixing the inner me, but by shifting my view of an acceptable look to one that would accommodate the person I actually am. From red, I dared to add a streak of blue.
And then my glasses broke. When I got new ones, I got something rather different. Gone were the thin gold frames. Gone were the colors that faded into my skintone so that it was just more wallpaper hiding. And with the new, bold black-and-blue-swirl frames came a chance for me to dare to do something I’d only dreamt of until now. I dyed my hair again, and this time I went full-blue, dark and vibrant.
And then came the makeup. And now I’m starting to think about clothes, but not in the way I used to. Oh, I’ll still rock my nerd-shirts and jeans, but I’m starting to want to maybe find something a little fancier, and a little bolder.
I’m finally starting to figure out that what needs fixing isn’t the inner me: it’s the way I listen to society, and to the criticisms of others and my own mind. I’m not who I want to be yet, but I’m on my way.
I will get there.