Understanding The Perils Of ‘Unkind’ Mirrors As A 50-Year-Old

Photo: Jay Dickman
I looked up from where I was dozing in the passenger seat of the car to a glorious blue sky that rested on top of a grey-green mountain range. My eyes trailed forwards across the skyline, then hit my reflection in the wing mirror. I stared for a few seconds, then reached my hands up to pull and tug at the skin that seemed to have gathered at points on my face, like small groups of people in a quiet marketplace. The surface of my skin was full of lines and crevices I hadn't really seen before. The energy of my skin looked waning. This bloody mirror was foreign to me. This mirror was not my friend. This wing mirror was needlessly harsh and condemning.

I turned to my friend, who seemed intent on breaking the land speed record.

"Do I really look like this?"

"Like what?" she said.

"Old, lined and tired."

"No, of course not, these are harsh mirrors. With the bright sunlight they make everyone look terribly old."

"Do they really? Or do I look terribly old?"

I didn't want to look again but, despite our speed, we still had another hour to go so periodically I glanced at my face – at me – and wondered, 'How have I not seen this before?' Accepting that these mirrors were harsh, they still had to be telling some form of truth. I am in my early 50s and it struck me that for the past five years, maybe more, I had selected mirrors as friends and confidants; as dishonest ornaments prepared to sugar-coat the truth. This mirror, this wing mirror full of spite was here as a harsh therapist-cum-torturous reflector, pushing me to accept a new age and a new dawn – or more appropriately, dusk – in my life.

The age of the slip south, the angry lines; the age of "Why doesn't she smile more?" Fuck off, I am smiling (inside).

I have to make a confession here that for the past 10 years or so, post-transition, I have convinced myself that I look like a foxy Goldie Hawn circa Private Benjamin, with a smattering of 1970s Lauren Hutton (sans gap). I frequently imagine myself striding into somewhere impressive (preferably not Waitrose) in heels and a cream Yves Saint Laurent trouser suit, pert nipples underneath. I suspect I am wearing a super-slimline thong. It is a repetitive, closed-eye fantasy.
Photo: Berry Berenson/Getty Images
Now let me make a really honest confession: I have a rounded belly which no amount of sit-ups or hula-hooping lessens, stretch marks – from hormones not childbirth – very tiny tits and big but odd nipples with a smattering of fine hair. One nipple faces down and the other is constantly looking left, out the door. I have a long body but short legs (think dachshund) and a small hernia in my belly button, which makes it stick out and expose a row of dark hairs that show in the light.

We, my body and I, are resolutely and royally middle aged.

So in order for me to go on believing that all-too-frequent fantasy, I have surrounded myself with acolyte reflectors (cheap mirrors). And, planning an outfit for an upcoming awards ceremony – me 'Campaigner of the Year' – I imagined a skinny version of said trouser suit.

Can I blame the surface of a mirror or do I have to take responsibility for editing my own eyesight? Have I really just been seeing a fantasy version of me for all these years, is that why I avoid photographs at all costs?

I decided to carry out an in-depth investigation of all the mirrors in my house, and they have one thing in common: placement in a 'subdued lighting environment' (SLE). My mirrors are placed within SLEs that are kind in daylight and fabulous in bulb light. Nothing too harsh. With my quite poor eyesight, in the evening they almost have their own hazy-Californian filters.

On Instagram I feel very honoured to be able to utilise the filter called Juno – it fits me and my lifestyle, and I'm easily pleased by this sort of coincidence. The Juno filter gives me the digital equivalent of SLE. It intensifies some colour but gives a 1970s haze to the whole picture. I view me, Juno, through Juno, so to speak and we are incredibly happy with the results.

So, all my mirrors have this filtered quality.

As I was stocktaking my mirrors, I noticed that my house and my furnishings had been collected, arranged and designed to support my ongoing 1970s delusion. My house looks like a faded Habitat catalogue. Once, at primary school, I wrote a letter to my teacher stating that I thought I must be adopted and by sleuth and deduction I had worked out that Adam Faith and Olivia Newton-John must be my real parents, as they had blonde hair and so did I. The letter's accompanying illustration was a picture of me sitting between them on a large, comfy bohemian sofa, looking up at a grey sky through a large skylight in our loft apartment on the Kings Road. A row of blondes. (Yes, I named and labelled the illustration, complete with Chelsea postcode; I was always going somewhere and nowhere.)
I'm genuinely shocked to realise that what I see reflected in my mirror – my surroundings and me – is actually a moment in time that I have frozen. Does this mean that my glory days are encapsulated in an out-of-date catalogue and I have acquired and placed mirrors that merely support this strange collision of styles through filtered lenses; blonde hair, cream trouser suit, pared-back Scandinavian furniture and a skylight?

I have been locked into one vision, one look, my whole life?

Mirrors and SLEs have aided and abetted; my waning eyesight has only increased the distance from the truth. My nostalgic view of a certain point in my history has enabled me to live life looking through, at best, a rosy lens.

When I carried out the recent, vastly deep and meaningful investigation into my collection of mirrored surfaces (let's be honest: the cooker, when clean, serves), I left out one set that has always occupied an entirely different space and has never been placed in an SLE – the complete opposite, in fact; these mirrors need glaring, torturous light. They are the mirrors of truth.

The hair mirrors.

Not hair-on-your-head mirrors but hair-on-your-chin mirrors. Mirrors that show your skin in depressingly magnified detail. A few years back, x5 magnification, then x10 and now an absolutely vital x20 plus reading glasses. I view my errant hairs through lenses so powerful and thick that they could, with some adaptation, view the surface of the moon.

These mirrors are so far removed from me and my experience of my body and face that when I pluck and scan and search for stubbly hairs, I genuinely feel like I'm trekking across a different land; a delta, a savannah, a wasteland, flatlands. These mirrors and their reflections are not now and never have been me. Does that make sense, in a nonsensical kind of way? I don't see me; I just see hairs.

Put simply, without telescopic vision, I can barely see my face, let alone single or clumps of hairs. My fringe covers my eyebrows so from a distance they are 'Cara bushes' and close up, without help, 'caterpillar blurs'. Magnifiers don't count as true mirrors – they are merely used in the process of finding and eliminating, across vast, minute landscapes.

But the enemy deep within the wing mirror has now become my fully paid-up, overpriced therapist, the one I have been avoiding all these years. The therapist that slams 'STOP' down on the table; 'LET GO' of all the impossible goals you have spent years creating for yourself. You will never look like Bianca Jagger in YSL 'cream and narrow'; you have reached an age where you might want to consider a nip or tuck, or a few shots of Botox; you may want to start shopping for tunics in stores that sound like Cornish villages; and you may want to forget that bed-hair product as it makes you look unhinged, not recently ruffled. That wing mirror, that journey became a turning point in my rather lightweight life. I realised then and there that looking back at me was the lived-in face of a woman who has hit her 50s, sat atop a neck which is starting to concertina, like a salmon-pink Austrian blind.

As the youth would say: I need to fix up, lose the Habitat interior and get some much better lighting for all of my mirrors, big and small. I need a non-reflective makeover, don't I?

@justjuno1
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