Narcissus is rumored to have fallen in love with himself while gazing at his reflection in a pool of still water. Had he been born in later times, after the advent of the mirror, would he still have been so enamored? A pool of water is not without it’s ripples and rills, perhaps his appearance was bettered by them and had he been faced with the harsher reality of his dimples and pimples, creases and crags he might have not been so smitten.
Kjerstin Gruys, a rather upbeat realist has spent a year without using a mirror. This not because she’s avoiding a fatal episode of narcissism but because she came to the conclusion that by obsession with our appearance, we end up loving ourselves less. You should read her blog, if you are female or a fashion conscious male that primps and swims in cologne. It has some interesting insights, the media caught up with her through it and her little experiment and it’s worth a glance.
The history of mirrors relates that dating from the first dark pools, to polished obsidian stone and bright metals and shards of silvered glass, our obsession has largely been with ourselves, determining how we truly appear and trying to make improvements, (I gave up early but still use a mirror to get those pernicious ear hairs.)
Art from antiquity is full of people full of themselves making adjustments to their complexions, their clothing, their powdered wigs. It was only recent history that gave mirrors a truly useful role in science, technology and medicine. We have gone from mirrors that darkly shone a ghostly reflection of who we are to those that have measured the vast distances of galaxies and the intricate workings of the cell.
Animals, when shown a mirror, are largely ambivalent. Chimpanzees are prone to inspecting their nether regions when given a mirror to toy with. As an animal we are closely identified with, what does that say about us? Having spent a number of hours clipping and scraping stray hair off my face I can honestly say, “Not much.”. It’s a reflection on humanity that we have as many mirrors as we do, use them for what we use them for and place so much importance on appearances. But, you go with what works. Bikinis have sold more wrenches that metallurgists have.
On a side note, perhaps the greatest natural reflection I’ve ever seen was on a bitter cold night high in the Washington mountains where millions of planar hoarfrost crystals as large as nickels and quarters covered the surface of vast snowy hills and glittered the reflections of uncountable stars in the heavens like a field of jewels scattered about.