I Finally Made Peace with the Magnifying Mirror

Because of the temptation to squeeze and pick my skin, I swore off magnifying mirrors — until recently.
Publish date:
August 10, 2016
skin picking, popping zits, mirrors, self-image

I swore off magnifying mirrors a few years ago after staying with my grandma for a few weeks. She put me up in her impeccably turned out guest room, which has an en suite full of her unwanted Estée Lauder face creams (she buys a lot of those). It also has a big mirror with a light strip all the way around.

Getting up close and personal with this mirror was like seeing Liz Lemon in high-def, and I could not resist squeezing every hint of a spot I could find. Needless to say, this had an adverse effect on my skin. I left Grandma's house well-rested and certainly well-fed, but with more spots than when I arrived.

It was then that I realized I could never be trusted with a magnifying mirror. When you're looking at only a small patch of your cheek, squeezing at each lump or bump you find, you think, Cool, I'll just get this last one and then I'll be done. And then you step back and look at your face to find it covered in angry red blotches and fingernail marks. You realize that you were in a sort of daze, picking without really thinking of the consequences. Maybe you were bored. Maybe you were anxious. Maybe you had an idea that if you squeeze out that last little bit of whatever from the pores on your chin that you would be done — no more spots there ever again!

Magnifying mirrors present us with a paradox. On one hand, we think we're seeing the truth. Look at all that gory detail! If I look closely, I can see that I actually have a monobrow. Check out these milia under my eyes — they're so obvious! The texture of our skin becomes microscopically apparent, and we think, Thank goodness, now I finally know where my problem areas really are.

On the other hand, no one else can see you like that. Without the help of the mirror, you can't see yourself like that either. So what's the point of all that visual information about the state of the sebaceous filaments around your nose?

Personally, I found the experience of using a magnifying mirror disorienting. Moving back and forth between micro and macro views of my face, from the abstract close-up of pores and freckles and hairs to the real me, blotchy and regretful, was just too sad. So no magnifying mirrors for me.

I'm short-sighted. My prescription is still not all that strong, but my eyesight has gotten progressively worse since I started wearing glasses nearly 10 years ago. I have much poorer sight in my right eye than my left. I've noticed recently that doing my makeup without my glasses on is a lot more of a challenge than it used to be, particularly applying makeup to my left eye when my crummy right eye needs to do more of the focusing. I've been holding a small mirror very close to my face and just hoping for the best, but it's kind of a frustrating experience.

Last month, I moved into a new apartment with a pretty sweet bathroom set up. We have an en suite with a huge mirrored medicine cabinet that basically sent me into a swoon the minute I saw it. But we also have a magnifying mirror. It's attached to the wall by the sink on a retractable arm. It's very magnifying-y.

I saw it and froze. Could it see me? Did it know I was there? How would I be able to resist its siren call?

Actually, I was able to resist it just fine. I'm having a much happier time with my skin since my last run in with the mirror at Grandma's house. Introducing a good exfoliating toner and serum to my routine has vastly improved the problems I felt I had with texture, spots, and dryness. I still pick from time to time, especially when I'm supposed to be working from home but want to avoid my emails. I figured that the mirror would stay neatly against the wall, never to be touched again.

But it started with liquid eyeliner.

It's difficult to apply liner with just one hand — sometimes I want to pull my eyelid a little smoother to get a good line, and sometimes I need to dip the liner brush back into the tube to get a refresh. That's fiddly to do with one hand while you're holding a mirror an inch from your face. Liquid eyeliner is stressful enough without added complications.

So I found myself sidling up to that mirror. I didn't make direct eye contact and tried to make myself look diminutive while approaching so as not to anger it. I got close and focused on my eyes, resisting the urge to let my fingers stray over my forehead where I just knew there would be a couple of blackheads to pick. And I proceeded to apply my eyeliner with a completely clear view of both my eyes.

It was really helpful! I noticed I could blend my concealer more accurately and fill my brows with precision. I realized that I didn't have to treat the mirror like the Eye of Sauron, and that I could be chill and just use it to help my dumb mole eyes to see better.

I'm certain that there will be days when I'm feeling bored, stressed, or anxious, and I'll be tempted to engage in another picking session with the help of the magnifying mirror. We all have little behaviors that comfort us even if they are mildly destructive. The thing is, I have a better knowledge of what I do when I'm stressed these days, and I'm hoping that those mindless squeezing moments will be few and far between.

If it becomes a problem for me, then I'll just have to remind myself that what I see in the magnifying mirror is not the fierce woman in my selfies, or the happy and silly person in candid photographs, or the real, flawed, but still lovely human that my boyfriend and friends and family see me as.

In the meantime, my liquid eyeliner game just got a lot stronger.