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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Unlike Snow White’s step-mother, I have never felt the need to ask a mirror, “Who is the fairest of them all?” I’ve never suffered under the delusion of even being in the running. Now, had it been the opposite question, “Who is the least fairest of them all?”, when I was younger I would have believed I’d have a shot at that. I hated seeing myself, and I avoided mirrors as much as possible for that very reason. They never showed me anything I wanted to see, after all. For example, I recall with utmost clarity when I was sixteen and unthinkingly really looked at my face in the mirror – it was the moment I realized I had a double chin. A small one, but still, it was there. It filled me with horror and disgust and shame. Which is why, when I recently stayed at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, I thought almost immediately, “I would hate it here if I was still heavy.”

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The mirrors hit me the minute I walked into the lobby. The entire ceiling is a mirror. Between that and the highly polished, reflective floor, the room felt much larger than it was, and also somewhat surrealistic as I tried to figure out where it began and ended. All the columns were metal and glass, unpitying as they reflected the weariness of thirteen hours of travel on my face, as well as highlighting how out of place I was. Me in my jeans, sneakers, shirt, and backpack (all courtesy of L.L. Bean), compared to the elegant and immaculate attire of the staff and stylish outfits of other guests. I retreated to my room as soon as I could, hoping to escape. But no, more mirrors. One extended the length of the bathroom’s double-sink, one covered the entire bathroom door, another floor-length one was next to the TV, and three others hung on the walls. I couldn’t escape seeing myself.

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It reminded me of how long it took me to own my reflection. For years, if forced to look in a mirror, I focused only on specifics, patting down a bit of hair, perhaps, or adjusting my necklace. I never wanted to look at my whole image because I didn’t want to accept that it was me. And the idea of seeing myself emerging from the shower was the stuff of nightmares. Even after losing weight, it took me a long time to be comfortable looking in a mirror. I remember a few times unexpectedly glimpsing myself and thinking, “She’s pretty.” It took a concerted effort to change “she” to “I”. What a strange, novel concept – I, pretty? The mirror seemed to think so, even if I still wasn’t in the “fairest of them all” category, and eventually I came to believe it. Even so, my history with mirrors means that our relationship is an uneasy one at best. I never seek out mirrors, nor do I linger the times that I stand before them. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one with such conflicted feelings. Why, then, so many mirrors in the hotel? Perhaps because Vegas is all about glitz and glamour and image, and nothing deeper. Perhaps the designers assumed that only pretty people would stay in their pretty hotel. Whatever the reason, despite the other amenities in the room, I was not sorry to leave its reflections behind.

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