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Allure, February 1995

The Great Mirror Mystery, by Karen Catchpole


Put me in a bathing suit, stand me in front of a department-store mirror, and once I regain the use of my tongue, I am forced to ask myself, Is it me, or could it be the mirror? Fortunately, I'm not necessarily suffering from low self-esteem just because I'd rather regrout the bathroom than go swimsuit shopping.

The real problem is that each mirror can reflect a different image, making the same person look taller, thinner, greener, more wrinkly, wider, or younger, all depending on which mirror she happens to gaze into. Unfortunately, flattering mirrors, which are expensive and difficult to install, are few and far between.

The key to creating a flattering mirror lies in finding the right combination of glass, physics, and light. Ingredients include a thin piece of glass (thicker glass can make a person look green); natural light (it softens potentially unflattering shadows); and warm pale colors, like beige, peach, cream and rose, on the walls and floor (pale colors impart a flattering warmth to skin tone). Finally, a full-length mirror should rest on the floor and tilt away from the viewer (a flattering effect that makes you appear taller).

Armed with this information, my notebook, and the promise of follow-up therapy, I spent three weeks looking into nine mirrors at clothing stores, hair salons, and gyms in search of just one that I didn't want to shatter. Here's looking at me.

SoHo Natural Light Studio, New York

In dire need of an accurate representation of myself after seeing the fat, the thin, and the red-haired, I go to the SoHo Natural Light to check out a True Mirror. Conventional mirrors (flattering or not) all have one thing in common: They reverse the image being reflected, which is why type reads backward in a mirror. The True Mirror, however, provides an uncanny, unreversed image by placing two mirrors at a right angle, with the silver coating that turns glass into mirror on the front of the glass instead of the back.

The Result: You do have a crooked nose. You should be parting your hair on the other side. Your head does tilt to the left. But to John Walter, who manufactures the True Mirror (based on a 100-year-old idea), those idiosyncrasies (don't let him hear you call them imperfections) are what make you beautiful.

Special Effect: When I first step in front of the True Mirror, the shock of seeing myself the right way around - the way the world seed me - is enough to make me practically drop the glass of water I am holding (in my left hand). The lasting effect of the True Mirror is a profound self-consciousness. For days after my run-in with the True Mirror, I am preternaturally aware of all my body language. Which is neither flattering nor unflattering. Just true.

While mirrors will always be like 12-car pileups - we stop and stare even though we know what we see may make us sick to our stomach - the image we see is ultimately influenced by how we choose to view ourselves.

"The most unflattering mirror of all is the mirror we have in our head," explains Thomas Cast. " One of the things I encourage people to do is to be more aware of the extent to which they look in the mirror to criticize. If you spend two minutes criticizing your hips, spend two minutes complimenting something about the way you look.

"And remember," he adds, "nobody else stares at us the way we stare at ourselves in the mirror." Thank goodness.

You can put that rock down now.

Photo: Holly Harnsongkram