I caught my reflection in the mirror.
I realised something – I rarely looked at myself in the mirror
Why? I wondered.
I do not have any memory of mirrors in my house until I was 7 or 8 years old. There must have been some bathroom mirror I guess.I realized that many Indian households have 1 or 2 bathroom mirrors and rarely any full length mirrors in the hallway (This was back in the 90’s and I guess things have changed now). I do not remember having any mirror in the hallway either.
I associated mirrors with vanity and conceit. People telling you to go and study instead of wasting time in front of the mirror. That girls should focus on studies instead of wasting their time on beauty. That only vain and conceited girls spend a lot of time in front of the mirror and vain women are bad. That good women do not care about outer beauty. That good girls study and do not talk to boys. That good women have no time for beauty because they are too busy loving and taking care of their families. People need not tell this to your face. Society sends out such sublime messages.
The other reason I avoided mirrors was body shame. I disliked being a female (because men had it better in India) so, I did not want to look at a woman staring back at me in the mirror. There was nothing wrong with my body and I had no body issues whatsoever but we have such a huge sense of shame as a society towards nudity, women’s bodies and being a woman and most Indian women are affected by it.
We look down upon nudity. Women’s bodies should be covered up. They cause men to go wild. Nudity is associated with dirty unmentionable things – sex. When I came up with this point, I spoke to a couple of Indian women on being naked with your own body. Most of them were shocked and instantly rejected the idea. One of the girls I know is never ever naked unless she is showering. She does that quickly and puts her clothes on in the bathroom. When she changes clothes, she takes off one piece and puts another. She never undresses completely. Another lady and a mother I spoke to also, did the same thing. She felt awkward at the thought of it. I asked her “what about when you are having sex?” She replied “Even then, I will have some bed sheet over me. How can you expose yourself completely?” Why are we taught to be so disconnected to our bodies? Women give birth but are uncomfortable being naked with their bodies. Like looking at themselves could cause bad things to happen. In a lot of Indian middle class houses, there is rarely any privacy and people often do not have rooms of their own. So, in some ways I can understand where these women come from. They had to get dressed completely in the bathroom before emerging out due to modesty.
Another reason was that I used to associate mirrors with girls preening themselves (which was frowned upon anyway). When I thought of women preening, what came to my mind was Indian cloths (dislike), loads of jewellery (dislike), women pretending to be all girly and happy at weddings and other ceremonies in grand clothes and jewellery (big dislike), women bowing to traditions (dislike), women being dumb and doing what old women and men told them to do (big dislike).
No wonder, I avoided mirrors because I had so many negative associations with them. Things improved when I was living alone and I had a big mirror in every room I lived in. And since I do not share a room ever with anybody, I can walk around however I please. I now look at myself every day and every time I can in a mirror. I spend more time in front of a mirror. It actually feels nice. Sometimes, you have to know where your conditioning comes from and break it. It is freeing.