As I find myself staring back at my reflection, the focus of my gaze travels to various parts of my body, and I notice myself analyzing every aspect that my eyes can see. Instead of complimenting or decidedly liking what I see in the mirror, I am critiquing the image that is reflected, and a negative air encompasses my thoughts as I compare my appearance to the standards that I believe I am failing to uphold. And though such self-examination has become almost second-nature to me, I also know that this is the truth for most, if not all, women. Women are always comparing themselves to an ideal self that they have conjured in their minds; an ideal version of themselves that may be come socially accepted and viewed as conforming to the twisted principles that are perpetuated by the patriarchal society that we live in today. And though men are affected as well, it is evident that women are the primary targets of the patriarchy’s wrath.
Women are constantly criticized for their physical characteristics, as though our worth is solely based on the physicality of our bodies. Our weight, height, body shape, skin color, body hair- these are merely some of the numerous characteristics used as tools to further oppress women. There are stereotypes that are propagated by various forms of mainstream media which manipulate women’s insecurities and enforce competition between women to physically appear the most attractive or appealing. I personally struggle everyday with finding satisfaction with the image I see in the mirror, often comparing myself to the edited images of females that are displayed in various media, because even though I can acknowledge the usage of Photoshop, these images are the definition of the patriarchal ideals for women that I believe I am failing to adhere to. Within the feminist movement, there is an increasing amount of encouragement toward body positivity and self-love. However, there is still much more progress to be made in regard to the social constructions that have been created by a patriarchal culture that women are expected to conform to. Such scrutiny of and in women has been normalized as to be instinctual Women are forced to question themselves and their confidence in their bodies; the physical and mental effects of such degradation are detrimental.
Such questioning of the mirror image can be traced back far into history, a prime example is the Greek myth of Narcissus. In this tale, Narcissus sees his reflection in a pool of water. He falls in love with the image he sees, as he has never seen himself before and believes the image is another person. However, when he realizes the image is of himself, he begins violently attacking himself, eventually leading himself on a path of ultimate self-destruction. This myth enforces the notion that image is fictitious, never an accurate depiction of reality, and yet we continue to base our perceptions of self on such an image. The question then remains: is the image a product of our physical being, or are we the product of the image reflected back to us? There is no doubting the correlation between the image and the self, but there is a truth in the inaccuracy of the image that cannot be denied. Particularly, women are forced to examine every inch of their mirror image in order to live up to the standards perpetuated by the patriarchy, despite the fact that the images reflected are not even accurate to begin with. Our perceptions of self are founded by our perceptions of the mirror image, as well as what we believe others perceive us to be. In order to truly be happy with ourselves, we, as women, have to stand united against the patriarchal ideals that are forced upon us and focus on loving every part of ourselves, internal and external, instead of falling victim to the images propagated toward us every day. In this way, perhaps one day, I will gaze into a mirror and decidedly smile, confident in my worth beyond the image reflected back to me.