I awoke to sunny strips of light beaming through the cracks in my shades. It wasn’t the next morning; it was several months later. Padding across the hardwood floor, my toes sticking a bit, I crossed my room into the small dorm hallway. Flicking on the light, I stood in front of the full-length mirror.
My mirror is not Sylvia Plath’s. Though I am young and often lost, I do not drown in it; it is thin, it is only an image reflected in front of me. I could smash it to teach it a lesson if I wanted to, but I know its secret. Its lack of true power.
I look myself up and down. My hair is fluffy as a lion’s mane from sleep. My quad muscles bulge from below my running shorts. These make me happy, though buying jeans is an unmitigated pain in the ass. Society, as demonstrated by women’s clothing stores, tells me that I can either be stick thin or plus-size. You’re beautiful either way, doll, societytells me. (Society clearly didn’t care enough to bother learning my name.) Just for a bit of background: Society has already plastered my life, all our lives, with images of what we should be, paper-thin, glossy images of paper-thin, glossy women. Then, feeling a bit guilty, Society tacks on a campy addendum about how it’s okay to be fat, too, that someone, (though we haven’t quite figured out who yet), will love you anyway. This footnote is still somewhat nascent, as noted by its weakness of content.
Excuse me, I say to Society, to the mirror. I think you’ve forgotten me. My shoulders bulge through most tops and sweaters fond at the mall. But that’s not fat, kids, that’s muscle. Who has shoulder fat, anyway?
[Insert magazine with caption, “Lose Shoulder Fat Now!”]
Society, you’re interrupting me, I huff a bit impatiently. Now where was I? Oh yes. My shoulders. So what if I can’t fit in that blazer? I’ve won so many ski races in double-pole fights to the finish, in steep ascents, in races where the wax is so bad there’s nothing propelling me forward but my arms. Thick, strong arms, real arms.
What about those skinny girls at your school? They’re real. Society raises an eyebrow. This is where Society throws me for a loop. Here I hesitate. I glance back at the mirror, searching for a counter-argument but instead finding an entirely different person.
I find my mother.
I find my mother starting in my face, my eyes, my eyes the same hazel as her own, the same warm glow. My laugh echoes hers. Her tiny ears hide beneath my mass of fluffy brown waves, fluffy brown just like hers before it went grey. I let my hair go fluffy. My face is clean of make-up. I’ve dabbled halfheartedly in straighteners and mascara a few times, but I feel like I look presentable the way I am. As a small child, I didn’t watch my mom put on lipstick in the morning. I watched her tie up her running shoes and slip out the back door. The woman I later found out was a Division One runner despite lacking the skinny build, and even the toe mobility, for it. She doesn’t cover herself up, she builds herself up.
Society’s eyes dart away from my own. I turn around, noting in the mirror the definition lines in my calves. My mother taught me to run. My mother also taught me to set my own expectations for myself. Turning away from Society, from the mirror, I sit down by the door and slip on my running shoes.