Have you ever tried to take a side-on picture of yourself? When you look at such a picture (and moreover when you edit one, making it in the end look all the more uncommon) you cannot immediately say – or think – “this is me”. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you usually recognize yourself, and with this recognition comes a self-awareness that Lacan considered being a major step on the path of becoming a human being. This “mirror state” happens around three years, when a child begins to know that the face he sees in the mirror is not a stranger but himself. But what part of our mind actually grasps that the face we are seeing is ours? And is it, really?
Does a young human compare himself to the image in the mirror? Does he understand that this is his reflection because he knows that the clothes on that body are the clothes on this body, the features of that face are the features of this face, and the gestures of that person are his own. There, the important word is “his”. The “mirror state” is the one major step towards becoming an adult (meaning a grown human being) because it teaches the sense of property. The only way I can recognize myself in a mirror is if I am aware of what is mine and how it looks. I know this is me and not a stranger. I no longer only feel myself being, I also interact with the rest of the world, I include myself in the surrounding space and feel the shape of my body as I begin to explore what lies around and beyond myself.
If this state is properly completed, the young person should not have any problem recognizing himself in any situation. One can no longer merge with the world, because of one’s individuality that is now shaped in the form of one’s body. One cannot either abstract oneself completely because one understands that one exists only as part of something bigger than him.
With the consciousness of being an individual who can recognize himself in a mirror must come a sense of property of one’s whole body and mind. When you see yourself and recognize yourself, you are able to say in any situation “this is me, this is mine”. If this is true, the harmony and balance we are all thriving for would mean returning to the mirror state: finding an inner peace is nothing more that finding that root that connects you to yourself and to the world, making you are your own mirror. Amazing, don’t you think?
Well, imagine taking a picture of yourself. When you see a portrait of yourself, you know it is you. You recognize your features, the color of your skin and hair, the clothes you wear. Today, with all the possibilities we have for instant pictures, pressing the button on the Photo booth app or on your Ipad is even easier than walking to the nearest mirror and looking into it. Your mind now has to work twice as hard at the little game of recognition you are constantly playing with yourself: you recognize yourself on the screen of your phone or computer (this works as a mirror, and although it all seems very natural, there is a second when your mind wanders – literally – in the picture, looking for those signs that will link it to yourself); then you recognize yourself a second later, whilst looking at the picture you’ve just taken, that is now still, that is you (because you know it) and not you any more – it was you a second ago. This is why a picture, a photograph doesn’t work in the same way as a mirror: it doesn’t show you the reality as it is, but it shows it to you, from a certain angle, in a certain frame, as it was one second and not the next. Technology allows you simultaneously to get closer to your inner you and to watch yourself from a distance, put yourself on a timeline and lead you to a level of abstraction only art is capable of.
Though frenetic picture taking is not art, the estrangement you get from looking at yourself from an angle you couldn’t reach in a mirror (that is, a side-on picture) is pretty much the same as the one you get from looking at the reality as if you saw it for the first time. The danger of it is quite different, though. By transforming a picture of you to a point where you’re not able to recognize yourself, you end up seeing yourself as a work of art and thinking that you can use the material to craft whatever you want. But can you, really?
The motivation audio programs I listen to suggest that I “picture myself thin”, or “at my goal weight”; in other terms, by picturing myself as I want to be, I give my mind a signal and a goal to attain, which supposedly will make my body shape itself like I intend it to. Only by looking at myself from a distance, from the side, can I make this kind of transformation happen. Unfortunately, the picture I have in mind, the one I try fit myself into, is not a genuine one. It is a picture I have picked up somewhere in the media, on the Internet, in my mind, maybe, when I was a child and people had certain expectations for me. If I have never been fit before becoming “unfit”, it is all the more difficult to picture myself “the good way”: without any point of comparison, I can only base my expectations on other people’s achievements. It is very true that looking at one’s profile is useful: it makes you realize that – almost always – you don’t see yourself the same way others see you. And if not for the look of other people, we all should take sido-on pictures of ourselves from time to time, just to make us see that we are not the center of the universe. But this should be the only reason. Going back to the mirror state and finding that “inner reflection” shall be the one thing to do to recognize oneself in the dream picture we are trying to sketch of ourselves. Of course, this means putting aside all considerations of size, numbers, looks, perfection even that other people live for and mostly use to their advantage (that is make money on it). This is harder than it looks. Standing up for oneself (and for the child in you), trying not to use any terms of comparison to describe your relations with other people (he or she might be “bigger”, “slimmer”, “fatter”, “better-looking” than you), because the only relationship you should have with the world is the one that allows you to find your place in it, to move enough things around to fit in it (and not the other way around), and to match its inner limits to your outer features.
If conclusion, don’t let anything (neither physical nor mental) stand in the way of your “being to” the world; avoiding melting in while defining our own limits is, correct me if I’m wrong, one of the main purposes of human existence. So rather than looking for answers and ways to change (what is change, by the way? – this for another post maybe) in other people’s lives, look into yourself: no one has the same features or the same shape (and really it would be stupid to want things to be different – the mirror state teaches us individuality), no one interacts with the world in the same way as you do. Look in the mirror and tell me what are your links.