The Little Girl in the Mirror

by Susan T. Wolfson '77

She is ugly, she is sure of that. Her first recollection of her own image in the mirror was when she was no more than five years old. Wearing an ankle-length flowered nightgown, the little girl caught a glimpse of herself in the glass. It was not yet her custom to appraise her own appearance, and she never leaned into such a custom, as it was too painful from the very start.

That night, after her bath, in the yellow flowered nightgown, she saw herself in the mirror and her instantaneous feeling was ugly. A split second later the word “ugly” formed itself in her mind. And thereafter, whenever she looked in a mirror, or passed a plate glass window and inadvertently saw herself, the immediate impression was ugly.

She fought it, starting in adolescence. She experimented with various dietary malfunctions, makeup, tinted contact lenses, perms and other hairstyles. She purchased expensive clothing she could ill afford. She puckered her lips, winked seductively back at herself, leaned forward on her elbows covering her bosoms in an après le bain cheesecake pose. But nothing dispelled that initial gut feeling. She tried to separate herself from herself in order to think about it without reactivating the original trauma. She took to writing her memoirs in the third person. And years of therapy never unearthed its origin.

How did this begin? It was tempting to blame her mother, but it was hard to locate the trigger when it was so primordial. Had something been said to her, or was she born this way? It didn’t seem to matter much as a practical matter. She tried to just live with it. She put her appearance out of her mind as much as possible. She avoided getting ready for special events, leaving everything to the last moment. People chided her for that. But she never could stand to stare for long into the hated mirror. For that preliminary self-loathing still resides there.The first instant before she can think it away, there she is: a little curly haired girl wearing a long nightgown littered with little flowers, homely in her startled big brown eyes, hopelessly homely forevermore.