Rejecting the Mirror
2 min read

Rejecting the Mirror

Photograph of a bathroom mirror and blue wall behind it framed by a doorway
Mirror. Ann Arbor, Mi. 2021

Many nights during the week I find myself stopping in front of the mirror while holding my son. He's just finished a bath and I've wrapped him up in an oversized towel to somewhat comic effect. It's a sight I find hard to walk away from.

I catch a glimpse of him first, then I see the two of us there. My eyes lock with my reflection, my arms wrapped around his still brand new body. I've never been involved in something as both meaningful and demanding in my life, but right now I can just look. His eyes, however, dart around everywhere but the mirror - usually transfixed on his mom but sometimes studying the toilet paper, his toy airplane or the empty towel rack. Maybe the skylight above. This relieves me greatly.

I think that, to a degree, narcissism is learned. So I need to remind myself not to pause for too long in front the mirror. It's not a lesson I want to teach - this study of the reflection - though I am sure if I manage to avoid it, someone will find a way to teach him. At the very least I know that the advertisers and influencers are waiting to tell him that his vision of himself isn't sufficient. The best of us fall victim to this pathological sales pitch. That what we see right there isn't enough.

Most likely though, he'll learn about his reflection, his image, his likeness from me. I am, perhaps, a little too proud of us. I vow I won't condition him to smile when he sees the camera, though. But I will probably fail here too. Because I hope that he is happy, and will remain happy.

This learned and conditioned response and the inauthenticity it brings with it always made me bristle as both a journalist and a photographer. People like to see smiles though, other things can be more difficult to look at.

In many cases, most cases probably...the mirror doesn't engender warm feelings for me. But here it does. Every time. And every time I stop in front of it I fear his eyes will stop darting around, he will lock on his own reflection and become interested in it.

I am publishing this in July of 2022, while the post was first drafted in November, 2021. My son now looks at his reflection not only the mirror, but in stainless steel bowls, panes of glass and of course, the phone.