How To Look At A Mirror:
A mirror is something that everyone looks at. A reflective surface typically made out of glass with a metal amalgam, that reflects a clear image – this is the definition given to us by Merriam-Webster. You can find them in any bathroom, in any store, on any car. It is such a common item that perhaps one does not think about it, or perhaps not even notice when walking by one.
In its basic form, mirrors help us look. They help us look at ourselves- help us look a certain way. They help us look at something that we cannot see- our faces. They hang high up on walls, exposing the lookers onto themselves. It is hard to imagine getting ready in the morning without looking into a mirror. According to Dr. Jay Enoch ,the first mirrors used by humans dates back 8,000 years ago in present-day Turkey. They used polished obsidian- volcanic glass. And before that? Many suspect that people used any polished reflective surface. It was in 1835 when mirrors started to resemble what they are today. Dr. Justus von Liebig developed a formula to make metallic silver that would then be applied to glass. Thus allowing the mass production of mirrors.
But if the definition given to us for a mirror is, a reflective surface, then perhaps many other things are mirrors themselves. Perhaps a lake on a clear day. The water is still. A look down would reveal someone’s face. Could a body of water be the earliest form of mirrors? A puddle? Maybe it is not important to think about what a mirror could be, instead to think about what it shows. In its complex form, mirrors tell us a story about the time we live in.
To think about what a mirror shows, brings up a number of questions. In a period before traditional mirrors existed, how much time passed before someone saw their face for the first time? How did they know what they looked like? Besides being described to by others. Was this a period when beauty was not considered imperative to a person’s character? And after this period passed, how did things change? Was it a shock to see what everyone else saw? The curves of your cheek, the freckles on your nose, the width of your forehead? To look into your own eyes?
Was the manufacturing of mirrors a cause for the beauty-crazed society we live in? Did it fuel the hate we feel about ourselves? The worry and the anxiety we feel when we look into a mirror and see a pimple on our nose? What would our world be like if mirrors did not exist?
When anthropologists brought mirrors to Papa New Guinea in the 1970s, the Biami people screamed when they saw their reflection. To take a look at yourself is to look into a mirror. To look at a mirror is to look at the way we as individuals feel about ourselves.
Castro, Joseph. Who Invented the Mirror? www.livescience.com, 2012
Chatfield, Les. Mirror Mirror. 2009, digital photograph.
Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.