What happens when we see ourselves in the mirror? Are we truly reflected? Our culture ponderer Weiss Kelly, PMAFA shares some history and insight on an everyday object fit to examine once again.  

When we look into a mirror, we are of course seeing what everyone else sees, but it’s opposite since it’s a reversed projection (that’s why sometimes when we see a photo of ourselves and it doesn’t look right to us – the image is capturing the actual vantage point that’s the antithesis of what we see in a mirror). But, really, what is a mirror? We all know it’s an object that reflects light, in some range of wavelengths that can reflect light, sound and matter. A mirror can also split light beams (our modern use of it is used in many scientific instruments, technology, medicine, electromagnetic radiation, architecture, interior design, constructional engineering, and for our own personal use.) We’re all familiar with mirrors; we consider them at least once a day, sometimes more. They bring us a sense of self and identity. We all have at least one in our homes, and many times, within arm’s reach. They come in all sizes and shapes, flat, curved and dimensional with various uses and functions.

The history of mirrors is fascinating. The first one was found by reflecting in a pool of water in the dark ground. Since time began, man has been fascinated by his image as seen in the still waters. People began making mirrors as early as 6000 B.C. using polished volcanic glass as reflective surfaces. The German chemist Justus van Liebig made the first silvered glass mirror and throughout the centuries the shiny object has kept up a consistent pace with evolution, or has evolution kept up a consistent pace with the mirror with advancements in reflective sound, light and dimensions?

We all need mirrors in our life to reflect to the past, present, and the potential future. A beautiful example of the architectural use of mirrors is found in the Hall of Mirrors in Château de Versailles, with 17 mirrored arches, encompassing 357 mirrors reflecting 17 opposing arcaded windows. Who can forget Walt Disney’s iconic animated film Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs and those haunting scenes of the wicked Queen starring daily into her ornate framed magic mirror, asking Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?, to which it would faithfully answer each time, You, my Queen (with a bit of narcissism) until one day, the Queen asked again, to which the magic Mirror replied, Snow White. One of the best-loved uses of mirrors in literature is Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, which was later made into another iconic animated film by Walt Disney, Alice In Wonderland. In more current times Harry Potter’s magical objects includes “The Mirror of Erised” and two-way mirrors.

La Toilette (Madame Poupoule), 1899 by Henri de Toulousse-Lautrec

The mirror is the also the focal point in some of the greatest of European paintings like Titian’s Venus With a Mirror. Jan van Eyck, Diego Rivera, Paolo Veronese and Pablo Picasso have utilized mirrors to create works and hone their craft. One of my favorite mirror paintings is by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the Impressionist known for his images of the Parisian night scenes that featured actresses, dancers and courtesans. In fact, in La Toilette (Madame Poupoule), the 1899 portrait of a courtesan in which Toulouse has the mirror performing many tasks as seated at a dressing table. She considers her mirror as she considers preparing her outer illusion. As she sits like a slave to it, you wonder if she is looking inwards to herself to perhaps as a discovery and realization of the path she has chosen for her life.  Without a mirror, the great self-portraits of Dürer, Kahlo, Rembrandt and Van Gogh could not have been painted. A mirror reflects, a painting interprets.

Nowadays the mirror moves into the evolution of artificial intelligence, light and sound technologies, magnetic energies with wavelengths from other realms. Now you can go shopping, picking out clothes without physically trying them on with the magic of a life-size computerized mirror. Haute couture designers, high-end boutiques and even luxury department stores are using them. You stand before a life size computerized mirror and tap the mirrored screen to view your choices, styles and colors. As you view your selections, you can mentally ask, Mirror, Mirror, what is the fairest choice of all? And, it will perhaps answer: The pink dress, my Queen! Plus, there is always the insight of my favorite reflective quote from Roman Price: If you are looking for the one person who will change your life, look in the mirror.