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Eyewitness testimony is reputedly the least reliable evidence, because we see what we expect to see, so it’s tainted by prejudices and desires. But we like to think we see what is.
I’ve looked at myself in the mirror nearly every year since I was born. You’d think I’d be great at identifying me. I’ll admit I’m prejudiced. I want me to be more attractive—not gorgeous but appealing. Oddly, I don’t actually know what I look like and never have. I see me through a filter that changes with my frame of mind. Now and then, I look pretty darned good. Other times, I’m an embarrassment to myself. I also pay attention to the feedback—conscious and not-so conscious—that I get from people around me. Mostly, they don’t pay any attention at all, so when they take the trouble to compliment me or to take an admiring second glance, I’m pleased. I must look better than usual. Recall, of course, that I have no clear idea of what “usual” is.
Recently, I ran headlong into reality, and the collision hurt. With the intention of updating my profile picture to reflect my changing life, my daughter took several close-up photos of me standing in my yard. Sometimes I was smiling; sometimes I was not. Then she asked me to select the photo I want to represent me.
I was stunned. Nearly all the women in the photos were unfamiliar to me. I’m not joking. I honestly did not recognize myself. If someone had asked, “Susan, do you know any of these women?” I would’ve said no—well, maybe the one smiling. I’ve never had this experience with photos before. What’s going on?
I know I’ve crossed an invisible time barrier into a “certain age” when people no longer ask me if I’m old enough for a senior discount. But why didn’t I see the signs of aging in my face the same way in the bathroom mirror where the light was better and I could peer closely as I did in the pictures? I never claimed to be without wrinkles (I’ve spent a lot of happy time outdoors). But when did I turn into a stranger to myself?
This year has forced me over a rocky path of emotional traumas—but nothing out of the ordinary for human life. I thought I dealt with my sorrow well. Did it contribute to this unknown person who has taken over my face?
I turned to my family members and asked them, “Do these photos look like me?” They all said yes. My daughter told me I looked cute. (She’s a gem.) So, the problem lies with the beholder—me. It’s time for me to update what I expect, to redefine beautiful, to refocus my attention on new directions I want to travel. Then maybe I’ll recognize the woman in my photos. Susan who?