I am no Narcissus: far from it. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like to take a vacation from myself. A sabbatical from my hazel eyes that never seem to become blue, my short legs that never seem to grow any taller, my oily chin, frizzy hair, and tummy that will not be flat. An all-expenses paid break from my mind and inner critic would be perfect, but I would go regardless of whether or not I was getting vacation pay.
I have been looking at my reflection for 33 years; more often than not, I have seen imperfection.
I wish I could remember the first time I looked in a mirror and saw myself looking back.
I wonder what thoughts were swirling through my little head about the person in the reflection. Did I like her? Did I find her beautiful? Or was I critical, already seeing a flaw in every detail and wondering how I might fix it?
When I was in elementary school, my closest friend told me that I had fat thighs and my half side ponytail didn’t look as good as hers. I am not sure if it was that moment that I began to see myself as chubby, but the commentary certainly didn’t help.
I fell in love with a pair of my mom’s old Levi’s when I was twelve and vowed to never try to dress like all of the other preppy girls I knew. I was tired of trying to fit in and be like everyone else.
I stayed true to my word and wore those jeans until they literally disintegrated off of my body. But realizing I was not and did not want to be like everyone else did not mean that I instantly became accepting of who I was.
Every now and then, something happens that tells me the person I see in the mirror is very different from the person the rest of the world sees.
This happened recently, when I was asked two questions:
What does grace mean to you?
Why do we have a need or desire to connect with grace?
I wrote the questions down on a blank piece of paper and looked down at them, frozen. I realized that I was filled with enmity. In my mind, I imagined a church full of people and a lithe ballet dancer moving slowly on empty stage. I saw tall, willowy women and trees with long, slender branches.
I did not see myself.
So I wrote down two responses to the first question: what grace has meant to me, and what grace could mean to me.
Grace has meant: something I always thought I could never be because I was clumsy, unfeminine, frumpy, short, thick.
Grace could mean: acceptance of who I am and how I am.
In response to the second question, I wrote the following:
Because I will never be free until I accept my self wholly without judgment or trying to change my self to be something I am not. It causes discomfort and stress in my body when I try to be and feel something counter to my values and sense of self.
Even though I was worried that my responses were wrong, I read them out loud to a group of women, who each read their own responses in turn.
As I was putting on my shoes and getting ready to leave, one woman turned to me and told me, we sure see ourselves differently than the rest of the world sees us.
We do, don’t we? I responded and smiled.
In my memory, it hasn’t been love at first sight.
With time and practice, however, I am learning to open my mind and my heart, to think of imperfection as perfection, and to see grace in my reflection.