What Your Mirror Reflects

How Many Mirrors Do You Own?

I was listening to an interview with an artist who truly inspires me, Cheryl Anne Webster. She told a story of a friend who went to Africa and worked in a village. She took lots of photos, and when the photos were developed and she showed them to the children, they were delighted to recognise all their friends.

Without exception when shown a photograph of themselves, they all said “who’s that?”/

It seems astonishing to we westerners, so obsessed with every detail of our appearance and studying ourselves in the many mirrors we all own, that anyone on this planet might not know what they look like.

Mirrors were a rare commodity until about the 1920s; they mostly only existed in large stores because they were hugely expensive. It wasn’t until the 1920s that mirrors really became cheap enough that ordinary people could afford to have one in their home, and even then they were a middle class luxury item, and were quite small.

It was a far cry from the choice we have now: mirrors that can magnify our reflections so we can examine our pores, lament over our wrinkles, and tweeze out that stray hair ruining the perfect arch of our brow. It was something that had to be saved up for, unlike today when we can drop into a dollar store, choose what size and shape of mirror we want, and walk out with several and change from $10.

What fuelled the desire to find cheaper ways to manufacture mirrors?

In the 1890s the Metropolitan Life Company produced their first height-weight charts, and you can read more about it here. They spent the next 50 years educating doctors and public about the life-shortening dangers of body fat. By the 1920s that movement was really gaining momentum. It’s no accident that household-size scales also started to appear in the 1920s. Of course the Depression interrupted the progress of that movement a little, as did WW2, but the success of it is something we live with every day, as we try to deal with the consequences of being so highly critical of every part of our bodies.

Before mirrors, we relied on those we loved and trusted to tell us if a colour suited, or our hair was in reasonable condition.

After mirrors, we were able to see reflections of ourselves and compare them to everyone else we saw around us. Research tells us that most of us over-estimate the real size of our bodies. To me that says mirrors are not an accurate way for us to compare ourselves – and I have to wonder why is it we feel the need to compare ourselves, what drives us to do it, what’s the competition about anyway? What do we gain by having a mirror?

Count up the mirrors in your house. I have two in my bedroom, plus a little magnifying one for makeup. There’s also one over the basin in the bathroom and a magnified one that Larry uses when he’s shaving. There’s also one over the handbasin in the toilet room.

There’s two people in my house. That’s three mirrors each.

How many mirrors compared to people are in your house? Are any of those mirrors really your friend?


  1. Lenore on January 8, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Hmmm think I would be a little scared to count up the mirrors in our home – a full length one in the main bedroom and my son has one as well. Of course mirrors above the basin in both bathrooms, a mirror over the mantle piece in the lounge room – now that’s 5 before I even think abut what’s in the bathroom draws or make-up purses.
    This means that I cant even brush my teeth without looking into a mirror.’
    Then there is the rear view mirror in the car, my reflection in windows as I walk by when heading to my post office box or to the supermarket – I hate to think how often I look at myself and judge what I see!!
    Something I am going to be way more aware of now Sandy, thanks:)

  2. Stacy Ryan on January 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    I agree that mirrors are not necessarily good reflections of our true self. This is especially true if we have a long-standing negative body image dating back to childhood. It’s often difficult fore to look into a mirror and NOT think it makes me look like an oopa-loompa!

    And yet, I have 7 mirrors that hanging on the walls in my house, a handheld mirror, and several mirrors inside compacts…and it’s just me in the house!

    • Sandy on January 9, 2011 at 12:25 am

      I love the quality that mirrors have to reflect right around, but we such emotion attached to reflections don’t we?

  3. Lynn Brown on January 9, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Thanks Sandy for such a insightful post. I never realized that such a simple day to day item like a mirror for us, is not even used in other parts of the world. It really makes you stop and think. I enjoy your blog very much.

    • Sandy on January 9, 2011 at 12:26 am

      Thanks Lynn – we do take a load for granted, we’re so abundant 🙂

  4. Sandy on January 9, 2011 at 12:14 am

    Ahem – I didn’t count the ones in my drawers either – every little bit of makeup seems to have a convenient mirror in the lid. And they are convenient, it’s what we make our reflection ‘mean’ that’s at issue… and how easily we’ve fallen into it…

  5. Danielle on January 9, 2011 at 3:00 am

    Great post! Yes, I think mirrors certainly put us in a precarious position sometimes. They can be confronting and they can cause us to start the cycle of negativity. I think mirrors only become our friend when we can begin to love ourselves… everything about ourselves 😉

    • Sandy on January 9, 2011 at 4:02 am

      Specially when we think that what we see in the mirror means anything about who we are….

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  7. Amy Warden on January 9, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Great food for thought! We do have an abundance of mirrors around, don’t we? Of course, I can’t imagine getting ready in the morning without one!

    • Sandy on January 18, 2011 at 12:24 am

      Amy, I think getting ready with a mirror is necessary, the avoiding looking in it, or spending way too much criticising ourselves in front of it, is the tough bit… 🙂

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