Mirror Mirror on The Wall…What the Hell Happened?

Allison Paynter
one comments

Something has happened. I have stopped looking into mirrors. Or perhaps, mirrors have stopped being kind to me.

I turned 50 in 2016 but without the fanfare I envisioned when I had celebrated my fortieth birthday. In my blessed 40’s (the new 28’s?), I felt relatively secure in my profession, in my relationship with my teenage children, and with life after divorce. Then, my mid-forties hit me like a mac truck. I fell in love again. Marrying a complex and witty man whose love and affection for me were unparalleled. All was good in the world.

But my mirror. My mirror was showing signs of wear and tear. Mold was crowding its corners and little fissures appeared in odd places. I took only cursory glances at the face I thought I knew so well: moderately pretty brunette with wildly curly hair, brown eyes, full lips and hips, all supporting a cocoa-buttered belly rounding none too gently.

She looked familiar but there was something wrong with the mirror. In the mirror, her eyes seemed tired continuously, and her hair betrayed silver and gray strands. Her hands had touched to many dishes ungloved, and her neck became a circus of rings.

Time for a glass of . . . what? Beer? Wine? Metamucil? No matter what I might drink, no one cards me anymore even if I hide my neck with a brilliant scarf. I think they know my tricks. I’ll take a Metamucil please, with a stool softener chaser!

Surprisingly to me, I began to question myself, my career, even my new husband. That ridiculously clichéd question circled in my thoughts and obstructed my bowels: who the hell am I?

Mother, wife, professor, poet, goddess? Scholar, writer, low-life hag? Witch, bitch, sage?

Can I be all these things and none at once? Do I have to take on a definitive role? Join a gym, a yoga class or a reading circle? Volunteer for a non-profit or a bake sale to account for something, to be counted as someone?

Truly, my changing hair color reminds me I am in the gray zone –  where black and white applications to challenges in my life are more dangerous than honorable.

This is what I know: my time on earth is clearly limited and there is a complexity to being human that belies any of my attempts to create a single, consensus designation of who I am or what I should be doing.

I’d like to say I came to a brilliant conclusion and have reconciled my face, stomach, thighs and emotions to the aging process, or that I suddenly and graciously accepted my flaws, defects and family with renewed commitment. It isn’t true. The truth is I’m still trying to be a better human being, a better person, and a better woman.

Obviously, I’d love to drop twenty pounds within one week as well!

Some days, however, that personal goal to be better seems barely achievable; other days I am a gladiator in Olivia Pope’s crisis management firm.

Today, I’m trying to gift myself monthly massages, a glass of champagne on weekends, laughter with girlfriends, family movie nights, a renewed love and respect for my husband who I’ve wounded deeply during my identity quest.

I am taking one day at a time, and allowing the questions to surface, even if I have no answers.

Tomorrow, I might buy a new mirror. One with soft-glow, energy saving bulbs. What I won’t do is shy away from my own reflection in other people’s eyes or any other mirror I see.




About Allison Paynter

Allison E. Paynter, formerly Allison E. Francis, Phd, 2017 is a Full Professor of English and Coordinator of the English Department at Chaminade University of Honolulu. Prior to moving to Hawai’i in 2003, Dr. Paynter taught literature at the American University in Baku, Azerbaijan, and American Studies at the University of Leicester in England.
She also is a budding community theatre actor, and a performance poet who has been featured at venues in London, Edinburgh, New York, and Honolulu.
Somehow, she still finds time to play on a national tennis league, and take weekend swims in the Pacific Ocean.
Allison’s fields of study and publications include topics on Women’s Literature, Victorian Literature, Vodou in Haiti, 19th century African American & Caribbean women’s literature, and representations of the African American body in media culture.

1 thought on “Mirror Mirror on The Wall…What the Hell Happened?”

  1. I loved posting this piece because it was so honest and spoke to how I felt in my earlier fifties! I think the shock I felt about life after 50 was that leading up to it I believed it was a destination. That when I arrived post 50 I’d have my accomplishments lined up on a shelf on the wall, that I’d lean into my expertise, I’d take stock of all that I had done and that there would be this calming sense of satisfaction.

    What awaits us, instead and at first, is a rushing sense of all that we haven’t done, all that we haven’t become. I was fortunate to have my choice to retire from law early in my career to be a stay at home mom only to find myself at 52 wondering if I could still make partnership somewhere! The fleeting feeling that we have to come to terms with as modern woman over 50 in this media saturated post internet world is that our self-worth and the decisions we made leading up to the big 5-oh! aren’t dashed because a new time clock begins tick, tick, ticking away or because the mirror, as Allison points out, shocks us with the truth of gray hairs and lines. We are, and always have been, works in progress. Our bodies, our skin, our hair, our eyes change as we age. No amount of $50 creams, exercise or diet is going to stave off the inevitable. So, I agree with Allison! Let’s look deep into the the reflections of ourselves we see from the people we love and who love us back. Let the mirror reflect the woman we are yet still to be and what we are yet still to accomplish. Beauty runs far deeper than what the eye can behold and we get to define it over and over again throughout our life!

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