Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sum of Your Parts

Thousands of years ago, I stood in front of a large, full-length mirror with a friend. We were out dancing at a club and had taken a break to reapply lipstick (this was in the early nineties, thus Coffee Bean by Revlon).
"Look at you," my friend said. You look like a person, all of you goes together into one thing, but I look like a bunch of parts that don't even match."
I knew exactly what she meant and insisted that actually it was me in parts, and her who looked like a real, whole girl.
I sometimes still focus on parts, but generally feel whole (don't really mean that as deep as it sounds). In just the last few years, I finally have a grasp of what I look like. I can, for the most part, turn myself around in my mind and mentally try on outfits. When I was younger, I really had no idea how I looked or how anything would fit, and usually felt surprised when I looked in the mirror. Not because I looked better or worse than I expected, but different.
I was reminded of that time in the mirror this morning on the subway when I started reading The Women's Room, the classic 1977 feminist novel by Marilyn French. My mother gave it to me some time this year but I just got to it.
The story opens with Mira hiding in the ladies, no make that the women's, room and suffering some sort of panicky angst.

"She stepped back again and tried to see her whole self. She couldn't do it. Ever since she had changed her style of dress-- that is, ever since she had been at Harvard-- her self refused to coalesce in the mirror. She could see bits and pieces-- hair, eyes, legs, but the pieces wouldn't come together. The hair and eyes went together, but the mouth was wrong; it had changed during the past years. The legs were all right, but didn't go with the bulky shoes and the pleated skirt. They all looked too thin under the thicker body.-- yet she was the same weight now she'd been for the past ten years, She began to feel something rising in her chest, and hastily looked away from the mirror. This was no time to get upset. Then she turned back jerkily, looking at nothing, pulled out her lipstick, and applied a line of it to her lower lip, her eyes careful to look at nothing but the mouth, In spite of herself, however, her eyes caught her whole face, and in a moment her head was full of tears."

Funny her outfit should be described that way. I was probably wearing a short plaid pleated skirt and bulky doc martens in the flashback above. But there were no tears, only puzzled head tilts.
So do any of you know what I (and Mira) mean? Do you see yourself in parts or as a whole?