“For now we see through a glass, darkly.” The Funhouse Mirror

When Alice ate cake and tripled her size, it didn’t seem like much fun to me. And I should know. If I were to eat cake, I’d become obsessed by a compulsion so powerful, it is terrifying. Not only would I double or triple my size, but Dr. Hyde would come out of hiding and drag me straight to hell on earth. So, I ask you, what is fun about a funhouse mirror? Is it truly possible for someone older than five years of age to look at their body totally distorted and have a genuine laugh without judgement? Or is the fun when you get out of there and realize with total relief that you are exactly the same size as when you went it. The Gospel according to Vogue has most of us in it’s grip. For over sixty years, I’ve tried to drink the Kool-Aid, swallow the message that true beauty is on the inside and is so much more important than how I look on the outside.  The thing is that may be true but one’s insides are not first impressions. 

In the house I’m staying at in Brittany, there is a large wall-sized mirror in almost every room.  I’m sure the objective is to make the place lighter and brighter but….people like me have to walk by them. Talk about a funhouse mirror. Depending on what I am wearing, I look thin or fat or frumpy or gorgeous. Is it the mirror or is it my eyes?  And what, I ask, is fun about this?

I know that Lewis Carroll didn’t have anything against people like me who struggle with body dysmorphia, and that his story of growing and shrinking and falling down rabbit holes had more to do with finding one’s way in the world of adults than making children like me frightened of black magic that can change our bodies so quickly.  But Lewis Carroll was a man, and he wrote in the 1860s. Who knew that food addiction was a disease back then? Did it actually exist?  We know alcoholism raged through the world, but I don’t think there were many mirrors. Women got married young, had children young and lost their looks, their bodies and it was deemed normal.

Of course, I’m wrong!  I want what I think is true to actually be the truth.  Mirrors, as we know them today, were invented in 1835 by Justus von Liebig, a German chemist. His invention consisted of depositing a thin layer of metallic silver onto glass through the chemical reduction of silver nitrate.  “Author Ian Mortimer argues that, before this invention, the concept of individual identity didn’t exist: “The development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics,” writes Mortimer in an excerpt from his new book Millennium: From Religion to Revolution: How Civilization Has Changed Over a Thousand Years.” [1] Perhaps for the normal person (is there such a person?), it was possible to see oneself properly. 

The handheld mirror that was encased in a beautiful setting was popular well into the 20th century. One couldn’t see one’s whole body – just the neck and above. That was always my favorite pose.  For most of my life, I didn’t exist below my neck as far as my eyes were concerned.  I concentrated on what I considered my ugly nose, my too short forehead that made it impossible to wear bangs like my friends could. I even would practice pressing my lips together, so they were less full, looking more like my mother’s thin lips. Who knew that full lips would be the fashion for so much of my adult life, being much sexier? Not me. I was habituated to looking at what was wrong with me – the distortion of the Funhouse mirror.

There is so much to heal from when one is a recovering food addict.  It isn’t just losing weight. In fact, many food addicts don’t have much weight to lose.  For Anorexics and Bulimics, the dysmorphia is far more serious. It is a constant. Every mirror becomes a funhouse mirror. Every projection (seeing oneself through someone else’s eyes) is a distortion of what is true. When a food addict asks how they look, it is easy to think that they might be angling for a compliment. Perhaps they are but the truth is, most of us have no idea how we look.  We cringe if you say something unflattering because what you say might be our worst fear.  We smile if you say something flattering.  We really don’t believe you but are so grateful you aren’t telling the truth


[1] Charlie Sorrel; Fast Company, 11-15-16

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