Since Meg is currently finishing up her second book (and therefore doesn’t even have time to look in the mirror right now), this month’s Letter from the Editor is brought to you by Maddie. Because who better to talk about mirrors than APW’s Style Editor? —The APW Team
Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with my reflection. Pass by a mirror, a window, any reflective surface really, and I’d be rendered instantly useless, lost to the allure of my own facial features. At the dinner table, my sisters and I would get reprimanded for pulling faces in the giant sliding glass door in our kitchen. (Parents just don’t understand when you’re trying to get your Vogue on over some Kraft Mac ’n’ Cheese.)
I grew up in the suburbs. I got my eyebrows waxed when I was twelve. Highlights at thirteen. Went to my first tanning salon at fourteen. My vanity did not exist in a vacuum. I learned by experience and observation that good looks are social currency and when you lose that currency, you might spend your whole life trying to get it back (a lesson I learned a second time when I gained fifty pounds just after getting married). But my fixation with my own visage wasn’t always about vanity. Sometimes I just liked to be reminded that I was there, that I was real. I wanted to see what other people saw when they looked at me.
Seeing our faces reflected back at us is an important part of the human experience. It validates and reinforces our existence. It’s why representation matters. It’s why we’re so damn obsessed with selfies. As University of Copenhagen’s Bent Fausing says in “Self-Media: The Self, the Face, the Media and the Selfies”:
We are distinguished from the animals through our self-consciousness. If we hold a mirror up in front of an animal, it thinks it sees another of its own species. Apart from certain chimpanzees, animals do not identify themselves as themselves. To look at yourself in a mirror… is a form of reflection that not only separates us from the animals but also from other human beings because, through self-reflection, we step into character and become individuals.
Which I guess explains my near obsessive hair-checking habit. I’m just trying to distinguish myself from the animals, while developing a better sense of my character. (I’d like my character to be someone who has good hair, thanks.)
In a lot of ways, wedding planning is like a months-long exercise of looking in the mirror. At some point you’ll find yourself asking: Who are we as a couple? How do we want our community to see us when we make this commitment? How will my partner and I reflect on each other and our values when making our promises? I think that’s why it’s so easy to get caught up in the details; because they’re not frivolous exactly. (I mean, they are just details. And you should totally be making sure you’re focusing on your vows while you’re worried about your centerpieces.) For many of us, they’re a reflection of our partnership and our values; just one more way that we say this is who we are, and this is what we’re about, and this is how we’ve chosen to express what matters to us. And it’s a process that continues well into marriage.
This month we’ll be exploring more of the places where self-reflection and self-expression intersect. We’ll take a good hard look at our identities as partners, parents, and friends, and we’ll figure out how our current selves measure up against our past- and future-selves. We’ll talk body image and the aging process. And we’ll forgive ourselves our vanity, because that shit’s just human.