What Do You See?

Recently, armed with a discount coupon, I went shopping for jeans. I like to rotate them. When my “good” jeans start to look worn and grungy, when I’ve walked on the hem for too long and it’s frayed, they get demoted to “everyday” jeans.

Mostly, my jeans look more or less the same. I’ve ranged back and forth between the same two sizes for enough years now that I don’t stress about it too much. Sometimes for Christmas I’ll be given a pair that fits whatever the style is that year, tapered or flared or whatever. I have one pair with butterflies embroidered on them… they got a hole in them when they were still pretty new, and my mother happens to be a brilliant seamstress with an embroidery machine. Perfect fix. I like those ones a lot. But mostly, my jeans are just jeans.

I saw a sweater I liked, plain and comfy looking, and tried that on, too, along with my usual jeans in my usual either-or sizes. The saleswoman came by to check on me, just as I was thinking the sweater would be even comfier if it were bigger. (For those of you who don’t live nearby, we in southern Ontario are enjoying a pretty wicked winter… large warm layering things are our friends right now.) I stepped out and asked if she could please grab me the larger size.

This particular saleswoman was younger than me, quite pretty, and as it turns out, quite adamant about fashion. “No,” she said. “You don’t need it.” She surveyed the jeans I was trying on, too. They seemed to meet with disapproval. “I’ll be right back,” she promised.

I waited. She came back with different jeans. I suspect they may be stylish. I tried them on, with the sweater I was still wearing. “How are they?” she asked.


She pulled me out and stood me in front of the three-way mirror, then wrapped a scarf around my neck. “There. Now what do you see?”

Oh, my dear. Have you any idea what a loaded question that is?

I saw me. In different jeans.

I saw a woman who’s turning forty this year. Not old, but not quite young, either. Old enough to know that changing clothes doesn’t change who you are. Comfortable enough with myself, good and bad, not to want to try.

Those of you who are older than me might be rolling your eyes, thinking that I don’t really get it, not yet. That’s okay. I accept that. But as much as anyone can at this point in the journey, I get it.

I saw a woman who’s going through some stuff. Who’s had a bit of a challenging year, but who’s been through worse and come through just fine. One who loves her husband and daughter and family in a way that has nothing to do with surfaces, and is loved back the same way. One who’s lucky enough to have really great friends.

Mirrors are complicated things — or maybe it’s that self-image is complicated. Just as when I look at my daughter, I sometimes see her at all the ages she’s been, I can’t look at present-me without seeing past-me as well. A skinny girl, pretty, with dark hair and big eyes. Although at the time I had no idea of being either pretty or thin, except that my friends all had bras before I did.

But that girl… she didn’t know much. I wouldn’t go back to being her. Not for anything.

A few years ago, I had the slightly surreal experience of catching a glimpse of myself in a photograph taken from behind. In the split second before I realized who she was, photo-woman looked okay. The instant I knew I was looking at myself, photo-woman gained fifty pounds and had ridiculous hair. I know better than to trust my eyes. And I’ve never been big on mirrors.

“You look great,” the girl proclaimed. “You should always feel great when you leave home, or what’s the point?”

Silly question. The point is whatever you’re doing, whomever you’re going to see.

In the mirror, I saw someone with lumps and bumps and scars and stretch lines and tired eyes; life leaves marks. But most of the lines on my face come from smiling.

I saw a woman who’s happy with her life, but not quite sure about the future. I saw someone who doesn’t like change. Not even when it comes to blue jeans.

But that woman in the mirror, she was still me.

The new jeans are fine. More fitted at the bottom than what I’m used to. Maybe that means I won’t step on them as much.


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3 Responses to What Do You See?

  1. This is a beautiful post from a beautiful woman. Think about submitting it to the Globe’s Facts & Arguments.

  2. Jenn R says:

    “…life leaves marks.”

    Perfection, Erin. Perfection.

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