Mi Vida Loca

My mother, my mirror

Lining the wall of my mom’s hallway are family photos.   One of those photos is of me; I think I was 20 or 21 when I took it.  The roll of film was on its last picture and I pointed the camera at my face and clicked.  It’s an awful picture, so when I saw it hanging on the wall the first time I questioned my Mom about it.

“Mom, where did you get that picture, and why is it up on the wall?  It’s hideous!” I said.  “I love it. I think you look beautiful,” she replied.  I didn’t get it; it was really not an attractive picture at all.  I wasn’t smiling; I was looking at the camera expressionless.  Not one to argue about petty things, I let it go.

Months later, I thought about that picture again still not understanding what she saw in it.  A few days later, after a conversation with her, I finally understood.  She thought I looked beautiful because in that picture, unlike in real life or other pictures, my skin looked clear.  It didn’t matter that I had no expression on my face or that my eyes lacked a sparkle; my skin looked clear and therefore to her, I was beautiful.

Now, my Mom would never admit to this reasoning, so I never asked her to confirm, but I know my Mom, so I know I am 100% correct in my assessment.  See, my Mom has never thought of me as beautiful, perhaps because she also had problem skin and didn’t consider herself beautiful either.

Growing up, I was an adorable little girl—the proof is in the pictures— but when I hit puberty, things went downhill.  My skin broke out at the same time my hair frizzed up.  Add to that the fact that Iwas super-smart and shy, and to say that I was an awkward teenager would be an understatement; I was miserable.

Seeing Mom follow society by valuing beauty over brains only helped to instill in me that beauty was important above all.  I cursed God for giving me brains instead of beauty and began a hateful relationship with myself.  I spent my hard-earned babysitting money on magazines like Seventeen and Teen, in hopes that somewhere in those pages there was some advice that would make me beautiful.  Those magazines, I realize now, only served to make me feel worse as their advice never worked. Looking at models only served to raise the bar on my own expectations.

Slowly, I allowed the obsession to be beautiful to take over and I sacrificed my studies to reach my [unreachable] goal; eventually dropping out of high school.  The girl who’d been invited to a summer program at Harvard University became a statistic; it was a high prize to pay.

Those years are long gone as are some of my obsession with beauty and a few  of my issues with self-esteem.  Though still obsessed with beauty, I now value my brain and my kind heart more.  There are even moments of absolute clarity,when Mom’s voice that lives in my head is quiet and I look in the mirror or at a picture and I think, wow…I am mesmerizing.

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7 thoughts on “My mother, my mirror”

  1. Ay ay ay, the things our mothers do out of love! It’s a miracle we’re not all in therapy. Truth is I think those magazines worked on our moms also. They looked at the pictures and thought that’s how their daughters should look.

  2. Yep, know how you feel, girl! The heroine in my novels feels just like that. She can’t even look into a mirror ’cause she doesn’t want to set sights on the train wreck she’ll undoubtedly see. But this character was based on me, so, yeah, it was me who had the fear of mirrors (still do, acutually) because I never thought of myself as beautiful (or smart.) And, no, seeing all the thin, pretty models didn’t help either. But, in spite of all that, I still like being who I am, warts n’ all.

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