I have a terrible habit of standing in front of full-length mirrors.
Mirrors are assholes.
Every time I’m in front of one, I feel like I must be looking at my ugly twin brother whom we keep in the attic. It’s like me, but it’s clearly not me. It’s bizarro Sam, what Sam would look like if he were disfigured, recovering from acid burns, and out of proportion.
Oh, and photos, photos are just digital mirrors, with the added horrible-ness of being shareable. And don’t even get me started on videos. Some real sick human thought thousands of photos in rapid succession would be a good idea. Each one of those things has the potential to reveal to the world how unattractive – nay, repellant – I actually am; any innocent Facebook post could virally take over the internet and become a cultural phenomenon, until I am forced to retreat to Alaska, never to be heard from again.
Some might say that it takes an incredible amount of low self-esteem and grandiosity to come up with that kind of irrational fear, but I could never warm up to a person who would think like that.
In other words, you won’t find many videos of me on social media.
I have a complicated relationship with reflective surfaces. We are not “friends.”
Well, that’s not always the case. There’s one specific face and stance combo I like to make in the mirror that I absolutely love, but a few people have caught me assuming this position and found it hilarious. It’s radically different from the expressions and body language I actually make in real life, which is maybe more like Mr. Bean than Mr. Bond.
The intention is supposed to be kind of a mix between Clint Eastwood and Daniel Craig. The ultimate not-to-be-fucked-with, devilishly handsome, badass gentleman, who can wear a suit like nobody’s business.
So, you know, pretty far off from actual me. I have big Bambi-like eyes that don’t exactly scream action hero. In fact, they scream “send money to the Humane Society.”
I don’t know where I picked up the belief that I had to be a certain level of pretty to be okay, and why the “okay” level was set so unobtainably higher than I actually am (I’m making that a word).
I must love the pain, because I don’t exactly avoid mirrors.
There’s something oddly seductive about thinking you’re an ugly piece of shit. It’s comfortable and safe. Nobody can knock you down if you’re already lying on the ground. Standing tall always means risking injury.
I’ve architected a set of aesthetic rules that only apply to me. They are the universal rules for Sam. I assume the whole world inherently knows them, and judges me according to its scale, and I must abide by them. For instance, I must put on some weight as soon as possible (unless it is one of those times when I need to lose weight).
I’ve never looked at a stranger and thought “Dear lord, sir, your nose is just unacceptable for society—please find the nearest cave and live the rest of your days in it.” But still, it somehow makes perfect sense that I shouldn’t look like this, that my eyes are, as a matter of fact, too big and protruding, like a crab.
There are similar facts applied to my ears, nose, jawline, entire skeletal structure, penis, wrists, knees, and hands, to name the biggest problem areas.
I couldn’t tell you what I did last Friday, but I could tell you the first time some shitty kid made fun of my eyes. I remember the mind-blowing shock of it all, like I’d just been told the earth was flat, and I had to remap everything I thought I knew to make sense of this new information. My mom had always said I was incredibly handsome, but she has failing vision and a lot of emotional problems.
Like many others, I picked up a lot of beliefs about myself in childhood. Kids can be cruel, and from the outside, it seems like some people make it through unscathed, as if they have a nice Teflon coating. Me though, I’m one of the overly sensitive wad-of-gum types. I had enough sticky surfaces to collect all the hairy junk in my path and the malleability to work it in deep inside, until sifting everything out seemed impossible. I belonged in the trash, or under your shoe. Or desk. Or car ashtray. Whatever.
What I “should be” and what I “actually was” grew further apart, and as the two began battling in almost all aspects of my life, my physical appearance became a key battleground for them to duke it out.
Intellectually, “should” is a ridiculously arrogant concept. Should is the denial of reality, the belief that this absurd world, mostly out of our control, has an obligation to meet our ideals, or may someday if we try hard enough. Should is a lie.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I should look like Zack Efron, because seriously, trust me, I should. You’d like me more.
But there’s something worse than all the bad photos and videos and thoughts that suggest I may not actually look like Brad Pitt, and that is that I have lost the ability to actually see myself as I actually am. I went through a phase of bulking up, and gained 15 pounds of muscle. The tape measure said my arms were bigger, and my chest was wider, but when I looked in the mirror, I still saw the scared prepubescent boy.
There is no external offering I can make that satisfies my insecurities.
The mind is reality-bending. The mind bends truth. The mind is a story machine. It tells me the one thing that I believed as a child, that one thing that gives me any sense of, or shot at control: the belief that I am defective.
Something funny started to happen when my life was flipped upside-down over a year ago. There wasn’t an abundance of energy to go around, so I had to pick and choose battles with myself. I was looking at the task of learning how to be a good partner to the right person one day (there was a lot of work to done) and being prettier wasn’t mentioned anywhere on any of the exit surveys.
So, in an accidental act of defiance to the rules of Sam, I dropped how I should look as one of my agenda items and the official new policy was “I have no opinion on the matter.” Previously, this would have been kryptonite to a self-righteous, opinionated contrarian like myself.
In the beginning, it was a bit like getting asked a controversial question at another family’s dinner table. I’d grit my teeth and cringe my way through “I have no opinion on the matter.”
I started getting tagged in photos because when friends would ask if they could post the photo, well, I had no opinion on the matter.
I eventually posted photos that included myself in the photo because I didn’t have to take an entire photo shoot to find one photo I could bare to represent myself.
One day being particularly impressed with how many things have to go right for the human body to work I even got “well made” tattooed across my knuckles. That day, my mom was the one with “no opinion on the matter.”
Coincidentally mirrors got awfully quiet, almost like inanimate objects. Their usual routine of picking me apart piece by piece in a voice that sounds surprisingly similar to my own was replaced with silence.
And sometimes, when it feels right, I’ll even break the new no opinion policy, and blurt out something nice about myself in the mirror and run away before it can respond.