A strange thing has happened since I’ve started dieting that has challenged my expectations. After having lost close to three stone in the past 7 months, you’d have thought that standing in front of a mirror would be a much more elating experience than it once was. But it’s not. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just exactly the same. The version of myself that I see reflected back at me is the same as it ever was: overweight but not unhealthily obese. As the weight continues to drop off, friends and family have been (very kindly) commenting on how healthy I’m looking. I smile and say “thank you”, but in reality I struggle to see any real difference myself.
Back in my days of overweight denial, I would swerve mirrors and cameras at all costs, such was the intensity of my desire to avoid confronting the truth of my situation. Shops were the worst, with wall-to-wall mirrors exposing the magnitude of the issue I’d tried so hard to bury. I would resist being photographed whenever possible, and if I absolutely had to be, I’d make sure it was just of my face and shot from a flattering angle (above of course). Then I’d whack a load of filters on it to soften the harsh reality of my reflection and hey presto! I could continue living in the alternate reality that I’d created where yes, I was fat, but not seriously so.
This all worked perfectly until a photo would surface where I’d been caught in the back of a shot in candid reality, rendering me unable to convince myself of the lie my imagination had been spinning. I remember one time crying on a bus while looking at my best friend’s wedding pictures. Yes, they were beautiful, she looked breathtaking and reliving that magical day would be enough to bring a tear to even the hardest of hearts, but there was something else going on in that precise moment. There were multiple unposed shots where I’d been caught off-guard. As I struggled to look through the pictures, I just couldn’t understand it. Who was that person? It looked like me, but a much more obese version of me than the one I saw every day in the mirror? How could that be possible? Who was this other Rose? Is that what other people saw when they looked at me? The shock hit me like a punch in the gut, and as my eyes started to sting with tears, I wondered if I’d ever be able to reconcile these two distinct versions of reality: the one in the real world and the one in my head.
Much like Lewis Caroll’s interpretation, I’ve always considered that mirrors are like a portal into a parallel universe, in which your perception guides your sense of reality and everything you see becomes your version of truth. In this case, no matter how much weight I’ve lost, my reflection continues to look exactly the same, because to me, this is how I’ve always looked. In many ways, I think that a lot of what you see in the mirror is the projection of your inner-most feelings reflected back at you. Don’t like your nose? Worried about wrinkles? Hate your tummy? The mirror can act as a magnifying glass on all your insecurities. But feeling good after a work out? Pleased with a new haircut? Loving your new outfit? Suddenly you look totally different. A lot of what you see is an echo of how you feel inside. In my case, even when I was at my heaviest, my inability to confront my reality meant that I never saw myself that way. I think I’ve always seen what I wanted to see; then, as now, I saw someone who was overweight, of course, but never to any sort of serious degree.
When I tell people this, they always seem disappointed that I can’t see the progress that I’ve made for myself, and I can see their point. But I like to think of it differently; for the first time in my life, I really look like the person I always felt I was, and suddenly the gulf between my inner and outer realities has narrowed, and my self perception is no longer governed by denial. I can only think this is a good thing. Only time will tell whether as my body continues to change I begin to perceive the difference, but for now, I feel happy that I’ve managed to take the positive image from inside the looking glass and bring it back into the real world.