Mirror, mirror...

Mirror, mirror...


Mirror, mirror...

One day, I looked up, and saw a woman looking at me. Not just any woman, this one was gorgeous. Her eyes caught my attention first: big shadowy eyes, dark with mystery.

 Then her small nose, a firm little chin, and lush lips, which curved in a subtle dreamy smile, captivated me. Thick black hair sprang back from a broad forehead, a paean to tousled perfection. I reached out to her, but my fingers felt only cold glass. With a start, I realised that I was looking at my own reflection.

Wow! Was I really this beautiful? The dreamy smile widened shyly, before the mysterious eyes frowned mock-reprovingly. Beautiful or not, I had to hurry. 

A few seconds later, I wiped my eyes free of excess saline solution and looked back into the mirror.

Aaargh! Who was that now, looking back at me? Black circles under the eyes, wrinkles at the corners, lips that looked parched, and was that a blackhead on my chin? And definitely my black-turned-gray-turned-black-again-hair needed a touch-up at the roots. I stared, stricken at my own visage for a second, before I exited the bathroom in a hurry. Since then, I’ve never made the mistake of looking at myself after putting in my contact lenses.

However, that incident started me thinking about mirrors. The first mirrors used by people must have been pools of dark, still water, or water held in primitive pots. The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished obsidian stone, like the ones found in Anatolia, Turkey, dated around 6,000 BC.

 Mirrors were accessible only to the rich for a very long time, and only since the invention of the silvered-glass mirror in 1835 by German chemist Justus von Liebig did they become more affordable. Isn’t it remarkable that, in the old days, looking at oneself was a luxury few could afford?

Mirrors are also used by psychologists in the mirror-test to check for self-awareness. They paint two scentless dye spots on sleeping animals, and then introduce a mirror to see how the animals react.

Monkeys that have a spot painted on their face while they’re asleep tend to touch their own face when they look in the mirror, showing that they know that the reflection is themselves and not another individual. Human babies over 18 months of age, bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants and European magpies are all known to exhibit this self-awareness.

All these facts and factoids aside, the encounter between my severely myopic eyes and the mirror clearly showed me that my perceptions of my own self were based on what my mirror had shown me. Our mirrors show us how we look, and we base our ideas of what we are on them, instead of just what we know of ourselves.  In short, we are dependent on mirrors to give us important information about how we look, and that determines how we view ourselves. 

It is for this reason that I say that mirrors represent an important step in evolution. Mirrors not only showed us how we appear to others, but it also showed us what we could do to look better to the world. In this way, mirrors were not only a step in evolution, but they also caused evolution. Anthropologists speak of the Stone Age and the Iron Age, but to my mind, the Mirror Age is also a very big step in evolution. Don’t agree? 

Just imagine your life without a single mirror in it. There would be no need for fancy haircuts, because, all we need to do is to make sure that our hair doesn’t get in the way of what we want to do. Clothes would perform the basic function of protecting us from the vagaries of elements and uninvited looks.

 Above all, there would be no such thing as make-up. In short, everything would be geared towards comfort. Imagine a life where you didn’t have to squeeze into an uncomfortable dress or wear a cosmetic that is incompatible to your skin or get your haircut only in a certain way. Yes, it might offend the aesthetic sense, but it would be the aesthetic sense of the viewer that would be affected, not your own.

Mirrors do more than show us how we look. They also give a clue to some aspects of character of the people we meet. When someone praises when we know we’re not at our best, thanks to our mirror, we recognise flattery. Similarly, our perception of someone who derides our looks when we know it is untrue is that they either don’t like us, or are plain envious. If we observe ourselves carefully, we can also see that we are friendlier with people who agree with our perception of ourselves.

Fact is: it is an exceedingly rare person, a man or woman who can pass a full-length mirror without looking at his or her own image. Our mirror-image is what we base our perceptions of ourselves, therefore, our day-to-day feelings of happiness or misery are dependant to a good extent on mirrors.

But, what if the mirror itself has faults? We have all been in houses of mirrors where convex, concave or curved mirrors give us distorted images of ourselves. Mentally too, we often view ourselves through mirrors distorted by expectations, misconceptions, and emotions, and get distorted images of ourselves.

In the famous ending sequence of Enter The Dragon, Bruce Lee finds himself in a room of mirrors, unable to figure out how to get at the villain. Finally, he smashes the glass obstacles to find the villain and defeats him. Maybe, sometimes, it would be best if we too sometimes smash our mirrors and go with what we know of ourselves. I know I’d be better off for it.