That Woman Inside the Mirror

What is it about hotel bathrooms?  They have MUCH better lighting than my bathroom at home, and more mirror angles.  I am quickly met with an image of myself that I don’t normally have to deal with. Last Wednesday, I checked in to my room at the Fairmont San Jose for BlogHer14 and discovered a serious design flaw–the full length mirror on the bathroom door and the shower stall line up perfectly if the door is left open.  I had to WATCH myself shower.  Good GOD.  I hung a towel over the glass shower door so I couldn’t make eye contact with myself while I was so exposed.

The next day, when I was getting dressed for the first day of the conference, I sat at the mirror over the dressing table.  My hands shook with anticipation and adrenaline as I powdered away the shine, lined my eyes with black creme, outlined my lips just so.  I scrunched my hair only to smoothe it out then scrunch it again.  I didn’t want to look like the fat old woman I saw in the mirror.  What would people think when they saw me?  Would they even bother with me if I looked…wrong?

That night, after an exciting day of meeting new people and sharing with them the beauy of my best self, my generous self, my abundant self, I returned to the room and that same bathroom mirror. This is the surprise I found:  a pink heart that told me “You are enough.”  I stood in the bathroom and cried.  That word I use so much–enough–isn’t a word I associate with mirrors.  But there it was-ENOUGH. 10549251_10203441253065033_2633416593343239598_o Friday was The Big Day.  The day I gussied up in my new dress to claim my place on stage as one of the Voice of the Year (VOTY) readers.  I skipped the afternoon sessions so I would have mirror time before rehearsal.  The mirror and I were on better terms, what with that pink heart up there still.  I scrunched the hair and left it that way.  Put on a little makeup.  Gold earrings.  The gold bracelet that Big Gay gave me. The necklace made from Richard’s wedding ring.  I thought about Spanx but decided to wear my authentic waistline.  I slipped into the green dress.  Once I finished dressing, I turned to that mirror and liked what I saw.  Facebook friends responded with lots of love and encouragement so I strutted down the street to the Convention Center.  Look at me, out in the world.  Not hiding in black and drab.

1270750_10203441253425042_332187490962721639_o

Wobbly Selfie in New Shoes

Things were going great between me and the woman in the mirror.  Until I got to rehearsal.

That’s when I met August MacLaughlin, novelist and award-winning health and sexuality blogger…and stunningly beautiful woman. One look at her and I felt an instant dislike for her.  Why?  Was she being bitchy?  Nope.  She was sitting there reading through her notes and fighting nerves, like we all were.  She joined in the small talk.  She laughed at the right moments, just like an actual human being.  She rose from the table and poured herself a plastic cup of water. But she was doing all of this while being everything I’ve always wanted to see in the mirror. Naturally, I didn’t want to be anywhere near her. Which pretty much guaranteed that when we were assigned our places backstage, she and I were seated next to each other.  The chairs were jammed together and I was afraid that my ass would lap over my assigned space.  At least, I told myself, I got to go first in the lineup and no one would have to look at my tatty self after seeing August.  I could say my piece then get off the stage and go back to being plain.

(Pause for a deep authentic breath. I know this is all bullshit.  I knew it at the time but I had to process it all in my way, which passes through CrazyTown along the way.)

10536522_10203441253825052_520004444753948874_o

Pre-VOTY Smiles, Before the Ugly Crying Started

Once the show began, I got a handle on myself and decided to shut up the nasty voice in my head.  Both of us had earned a place in that lineup.  I asked August if I could read her story, “My Big Brindle Heart: A Love Story.” I’m not going to tell you what it’s about because you need to click that link and read it in her own words.  But I will say that by the time I finished it, I reached over and gave her a side hug.  I finally started treating her like a human being. It’s a beautiful story by a great writer, and a great story by a beautiful writer.

The next day, I woke up with a party hangover and dragged myself back to the mirror.  I smiled.  Scrunchy hair, smeared eyeliner, wine puffs under my eyes.  I looked like MYSELF.  And that’s when it hit me. I spent so much energy fearing that someone might discount me and not listen to me because of how I look.  If I’m not pretty enough or thin enough or nice enough, I don’t get SEEN.  And that’s exactly what I was doing to August.  I discounted her because of how she looked.  Because she was too pretty, too thin, too nice–I wasn’t open to listening to her, to seeing her.  My snap judgement of her came from that awful, stingy place that I stumbled into in my anxiety.

On Saturday night, I bumped into August at the Reverend Run party and confessed all this mess that I had projected on to her.  She thanked me for being honest with her.  And she gave me a hug.  Because she is enough and I am enough and I’m so glad I met August this July.  10535671_10203441251905004_9079957571851257617_oBlogging is one way that I am cleaning this poison from my mind and my heart, this idea that people, including myself, have to be judged and measured before they can be heard.  And going to events like BlogHer14 is like immersion therapy, where I surround myself with astonishing women of every walk and shape and style–in order to realize that I have a place, too.

46 thoughts on “That Woman Inside the Mirror

  1. abbybyrd

    I was seated with August at breakfast and talking to her casually. It wasn’t until later that I realized she was an established, successful blogger. OMG, she’s like FAMOUS and I talked to her like she was a REGULAR PERSON. THAT’S when I hated her. (I’m just kidding, obviously…she’s incredibly likeable.) I think that knee-jerk response we have to a pretty, successful person has less to do with said pretty, successful person and more to do with us. I don’t begrudge anyone beauty, happiness, or success, but I sure do fret about not having enough of it, and encountering someone who seems to have it all reminds me just how insecure I am.

    I had a similar reaction to yours when I saw my “enough” sticker (after I got over being weirded out about someone being in my hotel room next to my toothbrush). I hope you did the “magic mirror.” It was powerful for me. Contrary to what I expected, I was actually able to open up to some people at this conference about all my negative self-talk. I was sitting there thinking exactly what Jenny Lawson said during her interview: “I don’t know why I’m even here. I don’t deserve to be here. I’m not as good as [person a] or [person b].” How refreshing to hear that I matter, my voice matters, and there is a place at the table for every voice.

    Thanks again for the beautiful piece you read at VOTY and for your honesty.

    And those hotel mirrors? Excessive. I don’t need to see myself on the toilet.

    Reply
    1. WordPress.com Support

      I did do the voice in the mirror booth–from both sides! I was so JOYFUL when I got to be the voice inside the mirror for a total stranger. Then when it was my turn to receive, I could barely look in the glass.

      When Jenny Lawson said “imposter syndrome,” I felt like I was in the right place at the right time. I’ve written about that before because it puts a name to this strange feeling that someone will see me one day and take everything away that I thought I had earned.

      Well, talking about it is the way to escape…right?

      Reply
  2. tanyadiva

    Well, Ashley, you are as beautiful and authentic as you were more than 20 years ago (that’s as far as I’m willing to say!). And you must know how proud we all are of you. Getting perspective on these things takes time, and sometimes even that doesn’t work!? I had a lunch at work back in May with the two successful, wealthy women I worked for. It was the end of season and I was leaving. Would I get asked back for more contract work? I still don’t know…But I sat at that lunch feeling they were better dressed and more successful than I could ever be. And then they both ordered salads and I said, “f*&# it, I’m getting an oyster po boy.” Because you only live once, right? This summer of not working has given me the ability to be at peace with myself, my weight, my looks. I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else. I am happy in an old T-shirt and shorts and sandals. My goal is to carry that new confidence in whatever occupation I enter in the future. It’s easy to say as I sit here alone, but it’s a goal, right? Girl, you star shines so brightly. Never doubt it!

    Reply
    1. WordPress.com Support

      Thank you, Tanya! Taking that new comfort in your own skin out into the world is the challenge. I’ve been antsy since I hit Publish on this piece because it’s so hard to confront my own demons. But damn, any oyster poboy sounds GOOD.

      Reply
  3. Michelle

    Nailed it. Thank you for being honest with yourself and with us about those voices that have to work their way through CRAZY TOWN. The crazy part is … even on some rare occasion (for me, less rare than one might imagine) we have those voices that lie to us – and when we stop believing the lies, the changes that happen are incredible. THANK YOU for allowing me to take this journey with you. HUGS MAXIMUS.

    Reply
    1. WordPress.com Support

      Amen, amen, amen. The people say AMEN! The thing I’m trying to root out is that pack of lies that I carry around about myself and other people.

      Reply
  4. usingourwords

    And I thought I was done with all the BlogHer tears… This was beautiful and I relate all too well. You were stunning up there. Absolutely stunning. And more than enough.

    Reply
    1. WordPress.com Support

      Thanks, Amy! I think that’s why I wanted to write about this. I remember what it was like last year to sit in the audience and think, “THOSE women have it all together and I am such a mess.” We all have messiness inside but it can’t stop us from being authentic if we choose to get honest!

      Reply
  5. Danielle Barnsley-Cervo

    If only you knew how many of us do all of these things. How many of us did these things this weekend.

    Can I tell you what I saw when we met? I saw a beautifully spoken, joyous woman. I saw a woman full of life and love. One that I wanted to gravitate toward. And when we spoke, I saw that your insides also matched your outside.

    Fuck the mirrors and the self doubt.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      You are so right, Danielle. The older and more honest I get about this stuff, the more I know that we all have something we think is too ugly to love. And it’s just not true!

      Reply
  6. Dyteya

    As you know, I know a lot of people….we are very similar in this way. I am ashamed to say it but I often encounter people who know me but I have no idea who they are. Though I rarely ever forget a face, I do forget where I’ve seen the face. If I am really honest, as I age I am not as sharp with the face recognition as I used to be…just depends on how long ago it has been. Ashley Garret, I remember the first day I saw you; I remember our first conversation; I remember everything you ever said about Richard and how I loved those stories; I remember when Vivi was born; I remember the feeling of being around greatness every time I was in your presence; I remember you proofreading all of my papers for college; I remember the fight we had at Aqua Linda, and that feeling of utter despair I had because I thought our season was up….but me being the “glass half full” type, said a silent prayer to God just to thank Him for allowing me to have met someone who was so great and also saying, “God if it is your will, please let me keep her”. I could go on and on about everything I remember about you…honestly Ashley, I remember everything because you are unforgettable. It is impossible for you to be invisible because your light shines so brightly. You ARE enough, and then you are some more. Knowing you is like knowing a celebrity (not a 15 minute of fame(er) but an icon). I am so proud to know you and call you friend. Are you enough?? Girl please!! You are EVERYTHING!

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      DANG! Move back here so I can give you a hug! Isn’t it funny–I can’t remember at ALL what that argument was about at Agua Linda, but I remember hollering for you when you graduated! I love you exactly like you are, every day, my friend.

      Reply
  7. Aussa Lorens

    I’m glad you chose to rock the green dress on stage. It was lovely, you nailed it up there, and we were all crying.

    It was great to meet you and get a chance to talk with you at the wordpress panel on Saturday 🙂

    Also– those angles sorts of mirrors are imported from the bowela of hell, just FYI.

    Reply
      1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

        Bowela, sassy heroine of your first romance novel. Dark romance.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Thanks, Charming Aussa! I did discover that if I turned the bathroom door so that it didn’t show me in the shower, it showed me on the toilet.

      Reply
  8. Joyful Girl

    I resonate with this so much. I keep thinking I desperately need to work on developing a healthier self image. If I can’t look in the mirror happily now, how am I going to accept my body after I have a baby, or in 10, 20 years… And I HATE that I’ve been conditioned to view other women as competition. It’s a hard habit to break, even knowing we’re all in this together.

    Whenever I say something negative about my appearance my partners tell me, “you better not talk like that if we have daughters,” and it reminds me how much work I have to do to avoid perpetuating the cycle.

    For the record, you not only looked beautiful over the weekend, but in even a short conversation it’s easy to tell you’re a beautiful person.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Oh, S——! This is so illuminating. You look on the outside EXACTLY how I wish I looked, but from the inside, you only see what you want to change. GAH!!! And it’s true what you say about children. I never talk like this out loud in front of my daughters. I save this crap for the privacy of my own head because I would never want them to soak this up. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it so I can escort it from my brain. I like your idea of not seeing other women as competition. Wouldn’t it be cool to retrain ourselves to think, “Look, Brain! A successful, engaging, brilliant woman! I should go sit next to her to learn all I can!”

      Reply
      1. Joyful Girl

        Yes!! Why when we admire other women do we automatically feel worse about ourselves? Like there is only so much talent and beauty and smarts to go around, so if you notice it in someone else you must have less.

        I once confessed to a girl that I was jealous she was so petite, which surprised her because she wanted to be taller and curvier like me. So yup– all just focusing on what we want to change.

        I’m going to affirm what I’m grateful for the next time I look in the mirror. I’m grateful that I am healthy and able bodied to be able to dance. I’m grateful that I was born the right gender. I’m grateful for a lot of things that make all the superficial insecurities seem utterly ridiculous to waste emotional energy on.

      2. WordPress.com Support

        Amen to that! I sometimes do a catalog of my body: I love my legs because they are strong; I love my neck because my son hugs me there; I love my breasts because they fed my children; I love my hair because it feels good in the sunshine. There is something to love about every part of me!

  9. August McLaughlin

    My goosebumps have goosebumps. Thank you for this poignant post, Ashley. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have met and shared the stage with you. I’m in awe of your openness, courage and true, far-more-than-enough beauty. And that wit of yours? Geesh — I was smitten straight away! I hope you don’t mind if my followup post explores this a bit, too. I want my readers to know how awesome you are and the thoughts you’ve inspired.

    Perhaps it was no coincidence that we crossed paths how and when we did. 🙂 Please stay in touch!

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I hope you will write about this, August! I am grateful for the chance to KNOW you more. Let’s lift each other up.

      Reply
  10. Pingback: BlogHer ’14 Recap (The Post With Eleventy Billion Links) | Another Version of Mother

  11. Pingback: Is “Pretty” A Privilege? Thoughts From #BlogHer14 | August McLaughlin's Blog

  12. Lillian Connelly

    I thought your reading on the BlogHer stage was riveting. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to listen to what you have to say. Your story was so good and the way you read it was amazing.

    I struggle with all of these same insecurities. I cried when I watched the magic mirror videos before The Mrs. sang “I’m Enough.” It all just resonated. As soon as I got home I put the sticker on my bathroom mirror.

    Thank you for writing this. It makes me feel less alone.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Lillian, thank you for reminding me that I brought one of those stickers home to do that very thing! Did you partcipate in the “magic mirror” at the expo? I got to be the voice inside the mirror for a stranger and it was lovely. Then when it was my turn to be on the receiving end of the kind words, I had trouble meeting my own eyes in the mirror! Well, it’s all about the baby steps. You are NOT alone. I wrote a piece called “The Triple Nipple” that gets into that idea…http://baddestmotherever.com/2013/08/29/the-triple-nipple/

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      You said it, Carmen! Let’s put all that energy into lifting ourselves and each other.

      Reply
  13. Kim Tackett

    I loved meeting you at BlogHer, and I loved hearing you read (and yes, you did make me cry). I also suffer from the “what if they see me?” shit…which is ridiculous ’cause I pretty much can’t be missed. You were beautiful, wise, funny and authentic…and you looked fabulous in that dress! And now I am loving reading through some of your other posts…you may be one of my bonus prizes from BlogHer. And damn, I didn’t get the sticker, and I didn’t go in the booth…I may have to make one of my own!

    Reply
      1. Brett

        ok bozo.. i was talking about the picture of the two of you. The last picture… YOUR ON THE LEFT, BEAUTIFUL.

  14. Molley@A Mother Life

    So awesome that you felt like you could be honest with August! And may I say you had me sooking like a baby when you read your story. Blogher really does need to provide tissues! We are all enough and we all need to beat that stupid little voice up because that voice? She sucks! So glad to have met you.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: Friday Favorites (July 28-August 1) - Project Underblog

  16. pileofbabies

    Wow, Ashley. I had no clue you were having these feelings at VOTY! Here I was sitting there all blown away by your humor and confidence. I wanted to hang out with you for days. This is a brave and beautiful post. So glad to have met you!!
    –Meredith

    Reply
  17. Yvonne

    Wow, how wonderful that you realised that you were doing to August what you feared would be done to you. And how great that you then told August about it!

    Reply
  18. DebbieLB

    WOW! I really feel what you said! I am afraid I’ve judged women that are too perfect, too beautiful and too adorable. I have been proud of not judging other women that are more “authentic” but why are the gorgeous ones any less? Thanks for making me think about the mirror in yet another way.

    I, too, had a beautiful experience in the mirror. I’m so glad I took a few minutes to listen. It was hard; it made me cry; but it was powerful! I blogged about it too!

    And as I told you in the session we met in, your message in VOTY was also very moving. You are amazing…you are ENOUGH! Bless your beautiful heart!

    Reply
  19. Pingback: BlogHer ’14 Recap (The Post With Eleventy Billion Links) | A WordPress Site

Want to Leave a Comment? Please Do!