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?