Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

On my dresser stands an inlaid wood frame, which holds a portrait that, judging from its subject's hair and clothes, must surely date from the 1920's. Like those of many people seen in old photos, the age of the woman captured in the portrait is difficult to establish. Somehow, these sepia images seem peopled with creatures much like us but not exactly so. She wears finery and a corsage at her bosom, so perhaps this sitting occurred on her sweet sixteenth birthday. Maybe she has just graduated from high school. She may have just been confirmed or have celebrated her bat mitzvah. I acquired the photo in a roundabout fashion and I haven't a clue whom the young woman is.

I do have this clear image, though, that someone (and I feel certain it was her parents) dressed this young woman up in fine clothes, adorned her with a silk flower and stood to the side, beaming with pride, as the photographer captured that moment in the life of their beloved daughter for posterity's sake. It's a touching image. One is moved by the pride this couple must have felt for their daughter. To them, she must have been the most beautiful girl in the world and I'm sure they told her as much, often.

The truth is, bless her heart, the poor thing is nothing short of plain. Hers is a face only a mother could love. Now, we know, if we've been paying attention at all, that it is not a book's cover that matters, but its contents. Still, I find myself musing over what direction this young woman's life took. Did she believe it when her mother told her she was lovely? Or did she, deep down, have an inkling that, barring some ugly-duckling-esque metamorphosis, she was not going to be the belle of any ball and set about,then, to take advantage of her other natural gifts? Perhaps she was so rich in heart, in soul, in energy, intelligence and personality that her looks were unimportant to potential suitors.

Let's face it, precious few of us belong at the head of the class when it comes to appearance. Most of us rely on the fact that we'll be graded on the curve and end up with C, or maybe a B-. Thankfully, it's very subjective, more ink blot test than true-false quiz. What one person sees in the blot, the next misses entirely.

I'm not sure when I began to sense that I was rather, well, average-looking. I got the requisite positive feedback at home regarding my appearance but I was no fool, I took that with the grain of salt. A mother is required to dole out such praise, it's in the job description.

I often cringe at scenes in movies and television shows that portray one character or another as grossly unattractive. I wonder how it must feel for that actor to know that he or she has been cast specifically for their horseface or rotund physique. I mean, a person of intelligence can portray a moron but makeup and costume can do just so much to alter one's appearance so that if one is cast as the homely woman or the obese man, one can pretty much assume one fits the bill, physically. One could try to view it as making the best of a difficult situation, I suppose, but it can't be easy for the performer. Inside every charactor actor hides a leading man or woman yearning to be free.

In a perfect world, each of us would be attractive to the rest of the world one out of every five years. Tall or short, slim or stout, blond or brunette, button-nose or humongous honker, every five years we'd get the opportunity to revel in waves of admiration. I could stand a four-year dry spell if I knew that the Year of the Skinny, Stoop-Shouldered Boy-Next-Door type would follow. That in, say, the year 2000, I'd smile with satisfaction as cooing women admired the atrophied tissue I call my biceps, as they furtively sneaked peeks at my utterly pedestrian buttocks, as they gazed longingly into my blue eyes with the dark circles under them. Such a glorious twelve months would make the dreary 48 that preceded them worth suffering through. At least, we'd all have something to look forward to. With my luck, though, I would finally be given that long-dreamed-of chance of a face-to-face meeting with Helen Hunt...on New Year's Day, 2001! As usual, a day late, if not a dollar short.

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