Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mirror, mirror on the wall ...

Right you are. The mirror is not on the wall but a car. Fascination with mirrors extended to the chance realization that I could photograph the bison, from the back seat of the car, and photograph Rachel watching the bison. Since Narcissis looked into that pool of water mirrors have fascinated people, be they quiet pools, polished metal [lots of ancient Egyptians are shown admiring themselves in hand mirrors] or the glass mirrors we have today, nothing is much more fascinating than our own face and body in reflection.

Some years ago a friend who is that many years older than I told me shortly after her 70th birthday, "I can't look in mirrors any more." She was a lovely young woman and is definitely not an ugly old woman but she is quite changed as are more of us. I wondered then how it's possible to avoid the bathroom mirror, or any other for that matter. But now I partly understand, I find it is possible to go in and out of the bathroom without looking into the mirror -- not from a conscious avoidance but because some part of me simply isn't so interested any more. But I am not like my friend; sometimes I do consider the changes at length -- and try to do what little can be done to make the reflection more pleasing.

Yesterday's NYTImes Science Section had a lead article about the uses of mirrors in medicine, especially to understand people's depth and dimension perception, and to understand their ego quirks/strengths/weaknesses. They said that elephants are among the few non-human creatures who recognize themselves in mirrors. I feel that someday people will understand the great intelligence of large animals like elephants, whales and gorillas. [And as an aside, I am heartened by the recent law of the Czech Republic that gives rights to large primates].

Back to self-refection [I know, pun-pun!] I will admit that for some time I've realized that I like my reflection most when I am not wearing glasses or contact lenses. Imperfections are fuzzy to unnoticeable and a few years fade away. The Times article says that adults recognize their faces in panels of faces on experimental viewings most readily if their faces are slightly enhanced -- Photoshopped, say they -- and are slower or less likely to pick out their own unenhanced face among a panel. Is this bad? So what if we think we look a little better than we do? It gives us confidence in a world that prizes attractiveness so highly, where photographs of the young and fine looking are in our faces every day. Yes, let's like ourselves and think well of our appearance. And perhaps we should act on what we can observe any time in a crowded place, people become several degrees more attractive when they smile. The attractiveness goes beyond the features and contours of the face, it suggest this is a likable person, someone you just might want to smile back at.

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