Let me start off with this nugget. Sadly many women avoid looking at themselves even in the beauty salon. Yet, the mirror can be an illuminating vehicle for understanding oneself and how one is viewed in the world.
I am a New Yorker. I’m a diehard New Yorker that walks everywhere and has never had a driver’s license. As such, every two inches or so it seems, I have a chance to look at myself in the mirror (or rather catch my reflection) in the countless storefronts that I pass on my way anywhere in the city. I used to walk around the city with a very tall friend of mine who would steel a glance at her reflection any opportunity she got. She would then do the hair tuck move and sway her hips even more (not that she really had any hips). That move of hers would annoy me to no end. Why did she feel the need to constantly check herself out? I kind of imagine that is how Giselle Bundchen struts about Boston, or wherever her and Tom Brady call home.
One day I went to a new beauty salon that I never returned to, but had a major impact on me. I went to a salon that specializes in curly hair. They are all about the curls and making them shine and frizz down. My hair is one set of hyper curls that have a mind of their own. My mom, bless her soul, never knew what to do with my hair for it like my soul (in her mind) could not be tamed. I was the Puerto Rican that didn’t want to learn to cook in order to please a future hypothetical husband. I was the Puerto Rican that didn’t eat beans or avocados. I was the Puerto Rican that was a vegetarian. I was the Puerto Rican that left the hood. I was untamable and so was my hair. People at boarding school and in Spain loved my hair because it made me exotic! But when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see exotic. I didn’t necessarily see the mysterious being that strangers on the street seemed to classify me as. Thus, when I passed the countless New York City storefronts I looked at my reflection the in the mirror, more often than not, to make sure I wasn’t walking around with my skirt tucked up into my underwear.
Back to the curly-haired people’s beauty salon. This salon has been written up in New York City as one of the best. I thought I would give them a try and see what I could do with my mass of curliness. I am seated with my hair stylist, who was this grand male with a mass of curls atop his head as well. As I am seated in the chair and he is cutting away, he starts making conversation as hair stylists are prone to do. He asks me for my profession and I tell him I’m a psychologist. I didn’t go into specifics as my job is actually a little too complicated. I was looking down at my phone when I noticed that he was trying to catch my eye in the mirror. I look at him and he tells me “you would be amazed at the lost souls that come in here.” I answer “I can imagine. I can imagine that you are probably treated as a psychologist confidante as well.” He then notes “most women that come here are so broken that they do not look at themselves in the mirror. They are either too afraid or ashamed. They don’t love themselves.” I was struck by that statement and then made a pointed attempt to keep looking at myself in the mirror. Then I wondered as to why I hate my curls so much. Everywhere I had been, I stood out because of my curls that made me slightly unidentifiable to many. I am often asked “what are you?” I was even once stopped in Seattle by a woman reportedly working for a modeling agency who came up to me, handed me her card and noted that I had a “very exotic” look that she liked. She asked me to come on in to the agency. I took the card, pocketed it, and eventually lost it. I was flattered but didn’t need that going forward.
Back at the hair salon, the hairstylist did a few things with my hair and tamed the ends a bit. However, I didn’t care for it. I went home and curled it back up while I stared straight at myself in the mirror for a bit. Ok. I am exotic in that I stand out and that is fine with me. I am often the only female in business meetings. I am often the only behavioral scientist in meetings. I am often the only Latina on conference panels and the like. But I am not a token. I am unique and have a wonderful set of combined skills and perspectives. I still mostly look at reflection in NYC storefronts to make sure I am not walking around disheveled but I do sneak a peek at just my face and hair and smile.
Other thoughts on Mirrors