I googled a strange thing today. I googled ‘Why does my face look different in a mirror to a photo’?’ As Google searches go, this was odd even for me but I was having a pondering moment, thinking about my changing appearance, and thinking that it is frustrating that my face in real life appears to be back to front. Or, perhaps it is my face in the mirror that is back to front, that would make more sense. The mirror is wrong, I know that. But sometimes I feel like I look much better in the mirror and it hides things about me that I don’t like, such as my crooked tooth and my different shapee eyes. I guess these are features that I see in full technicolor but others may never notice.
So there I am, googling that strange thing. And the voice in my head -the rational one – is screaming at me to put down the phone and step away from the strange thought. Does it really matter if I look different in real life to the way I think I look? Does it matter if I’m not the Goddess I wish I was? Hell, does it even matter how I look at all? I’m a 35-year-old woman. I’m supposed to be thinking like a grown-up. I’m a feminist, so am I not supposed to be rejecting beauty as a myth?
I suppose you could say I’m in the midst of an image and identity crisis, which is less a crisis and more a puzzle. All around me I see signs that tell me I’m supposed to be acting like this grown-up me. I’m supposed to be looking on my younger years fondly, but not actually wishing I was holding any of the features that once made me young. I’m supposed to be mature, wise, learned. But I don’t feel like that. I feel like I’m in a kind of limbo between my fun-loving twenties and this bit now – not yet in my forties but with no real place on the map to stake my identity.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ‘woe is me’ tale about how I wish I looked like my younger self. The thoughts about my physical appearance are a metaphor for how I feel overall. I look in the mirror and see somebody who is changing more than I’ve ever changed before and I see my face reflect every bit of that change.
We hear a lot about identity crises. It isn’t uncommon to go through one, but I always associated them with people much older than I am now. As a child, I viewed people in their thirties as proper grown-ups and that meant they had their shit together, they knew their stuff, and they were in charge. I don’t feel like that at all. Outwardly, I give the impression of being a grown-up. I do grown-up things. I live in my own house. I have a job. I drive a car. I occasionally listen to Radio 4 and I have a strong instinct to complain when neighbours play music too loud. But inwardly, my younger self refuses to go away. Refuses to accept that I’m moving on. I’m not that person now. I don’t look like her, I don’t think like her, I don’t even sound like her. I’m not her. She was from a different time.
That person in the mirror now isn’t the wrong way around, she’s who I’m supposed to be. It’s just that I haven’t got used to her yet. If we think on a basic level, it takes us the first twenty years of life approximately to grow into fully formed adults, and some say that you’re not fully formed until you’re 25, so it isn’t unreasonable to expect that the transition from shiny and new adult into fully-fledged, practical-clothes-wearing adult, should also take a long time to accomplish.
I wonder if anybody else is wondering this wilderness too? Or if anybody else has come out the other side? When do you get to the other side? And when you do, are you older and wiser? Are you now the learned lady you wanted to be? Are you completely accepting of how you think, feel and look?
I would love to have a Crystal ball so I could see when I will get to the other side and become the self-assured person I want to be. I would like to hope, selfishly, that I’m not alone in feeling this. I suspect I’m not. But if there is anybody who has got the t-shirt, all advice is most welcome.
image: The Woman and the Mirror, shared under Creative Commons public domain by MDIrwin99