Monday, May 9, 2011

Day 45 - Ode to George and Martha

Does anybody else remember George and Martha?  No, not the first American president + wife, but the sweet cartooned hippopotami featured in the classic children’s books by James Marshall. I'm grateful to one of my dissertation advisors, and his young daughter, for re-introducing me to these wonderful characters. The George and Martha tales tell short stories of these best-of-friends who really look out for each other and have a lot of fun in the process.
One story - titled "The Mirror" - is of particular relevance for this project. It goes like this:  Martha was having a bit of a vanity crisis (remind you of anybody we know?).  She couldn’t stop looking at herself in the mirror!  George was getting really annoyed by all of this (after all, Martha was even waking up in the middle of the night to admire herself in the mirror).  So, he devised a plan to teach his friend a lesson.  When Martha wasn't looking, George taped a horrid picture of her onto the mirror.
Martha was horrified (as most of us would be, upon seeing ourselves with green skin, wonky gold teeth, and eyes stacked on top of each other!).  She cried out, "What has happened to me??"  Sly George was ready with an answer: "That's what happens when you look at yourself in the mirror."  The tale ends with Martha's enormously cool/brave/awesome decision to never look in the mirror again.  "And she didn't."  (according to the story)

Ms. Martha and I have more than a few things in common.  (M has even started calling me "Martha" every time he's had to point out mascara on my cheek or spinach in my teeth!).   Yet, after considering this tale over the past few days, I've identified a few very important differences.

First: George and M make a great comparison.  As George is to Martha, M is my best friend.  We really look out for each other and have a lot of fun in the process.  But... instead of drawing a yucky picture of me on my mirror (which only feeds into vanity - no?), M helped me pick out some sweet "She & Him" album covers with which to cover the two mirrored medicine cabinets in our bathroom.  To put it plainly, Mis at least a little bit nicer than George and has much better taste in decor!

Second: Martha truly enjoyed looking into the mirror (at least until George fooled her with his unflattering drawing).  I, on the other hand, have struggled in my relationship with mirrors.  At times I've admired myself in mirrors and felt pride and pleasure in my appearance.  I have distinct memories of this: the day in 8th grade that my braces came off, getting reading for my first high school dance, prepping for (and then nailing) a corporate job interview at Abercrombie & Fitch.  On these occasions, and many others, I've felt beautiful or glamourous, and, indeed, vain; very Martha-esque.

Yet, I've also experienced the flip-side of this mirror coin.  I had crippling (indeed, disordered) body image throughout much of my high school and college years.  Nobody ever drew an unflattering picture of me on my mirror, but I managed to look upon myself with horror nonetheless.  Thankfully, I've enjoyed much healthier body image over the past 5 or 6 years.  Still - as recounted in my first post - the pressures of my upcoming wedding triggered a renewed - and very unwelcome - sense of vain insecurity about my appearance.

And this brings me to the final difference between Martha and me: Martha stopped looking into the mirror to protect her vanity.  Indeed, she abandoned mirrors only when their use threatened her looks!  In contrast, I've chosen the same path with the hope that avoiding mirrors will reduce my vanity.  I've accepted (nay - embraced!) the fact that my appearance will suffer a bit during this project.  Think about it: what better way to "prove" to myself that happiness and looks are not so tightly intertwined?

Question: What "prize" could motivate you to look a little less put-together on most days?  Emotional satisfaction?  What kind?  Money?  How much?  Anything else??

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  1. I think working at a sport company is probably the best thing I ever did. You're more concerned with getting from the gym to your desk in record time than you are pfaffing around with a blowdryer and makeup. Plus when there's a spin class on your lunch break you really could care less about re-applying makeup. I was probably a total mess the whole time I worked at Nike, but I got some great PR's!

  2. I'm really inspired by your project and might start too! Mirrors themselves, not too much of a problem as my house doesn't have many, but I CONSTANTLY look at myself in reflective surfaces in the street (car windows, shop windows...etc).

    Good luck from the UK!

  3. B.W.O.G.A.G. - Isn't it crazy how much your work environment can shape your body image and confidence? I remember back when we both worked at A&F the image pressures were a bit outrageous (no wearing black?!?! How did you ever survive!)

  4. Kathryn - fantastic to hear from you! If you do start a similar project, let me know how it goes and what you decide to do! I agree that those sneaky "reflective surfaces" are killer. Just this morning I forgot to avoid the front doors to my office building, which are glass and basically mirrors thanks to the AM lighting. Argh!

  5. Money, hands down. If someone gave me 5,000 and told me to wear stained gross clothes, not wash my hair or put on makeup for a week, then I'd do it. Hell for that I'd do it for a month. Ah the joys of being young, single and fresh from college.

  6. I'm reading your blog and it's really striking how mirrors affect all of us. In the last 2 years I personnaly have been avoiding looking into mirrors or reflective objects because I feel horrified by what I see in them (I gained a lot of weight because of endometriosis medication and I keep on gaining, not a happy thing to see...)

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