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VOGUE - Paris, Dec/Jan 2000

The Truth in the Mirror

It comes from New York and promises to show our true face.

Here are the directions for use.

According to the concepts of the two behind it, the final objective of this mirror, where you see yourself as others see you, is to better know yourself, better like yourself, consequently to better succeed in life. How? In knowing the image that you present to others, in seeing it directly without reversal or reflection, you can correct certain flaws, improve the way you hold yourself, your makeup, you hair, (according to them, placement of the hair part plays a main role in social perception, if it is left, it gives you more confidence as a businesswoman, if it's right, one is more likely to palm off a romantic rendezvous). But, before all, you have to have the courage to look at yourself in this strange mirror for at least a month to get the full benefit. Especially, if (like 80% of people) you have an asymmetric face around the nose or the mouth. Or even more so a particular spot, a beauty mark like Cindy Crawford, or a scar. All these little anomalies appear tenfold in this non-reversing mirror until you get used to your new image "and when you get used to it, you'll prefer it" affirms John Walter and his sister Catherine who have tested their True Mirror for five years.

To buy this mirror, telephone New York at 212-614-6636.

Mirror, My Handsome Mirror

Narcissus, would he have been seduced by his image if he had use of the True Mirror, the only mirror that reflects the real such as it is? An experience that drove writer Linda Le to share, for Vogue, the unpublished fruit of her…reflection.

When she was a child, her mother was accustomed to hold a mirror out to her while saying, "Look, look at the frog!" She looked and saw a sickly head that drooped at the end of a long neck. The skin, dull, uneven, sprinkled with scars left by chicken pox, reminiscent of the look of paper mache. The mouth, big, with irregular teeth, was that of a gluttonous animal. The nose, little and flat, with dilated nostrils, seemed made more for burrowing in the dirt, rather than for taking in the violet. The thin hair, frazzled in the back, broke loose on a forehead where jutted out two lumps, roots of horns that hadn't pierced through. Most pitiful were the eyes, hidden behind thick magnifying glasses that gave them a bewildered expression. Her mother was justified. A frog, yes, that's what she resembled.

The frog was swollen with conceit. She loved to look at herself in the mirror. Her ugliness fascinated her. Often, in the guise of a game, she put herself in front of the mirror and made all sorts of faces, sticking out her tongue, twisting her mouth, mimicking the cries of women in full childbirth, inflating her cheeks and imitating the grunting of the sow. She wanted to make herself monstrous, approaching a beast, to strip herself of all childish prettiness. She would hold herself squatting down like the monkeys, and scratch herself under the armpit. She walked on all four paws in the garden and dug her fingers in the ground while uttering sharp yelps. It gave her pleasure to think that she was repulsive to her mother. The beautiful woman had given birth to a failure, and looked in vain for her reflection in that grotesque figure of a tadpole, that farce of nature.

At school, she learned the legend of Narcissus. Like him, she went in search of an origin, looked at herself there, and produced kisses on her image. Like him, she cried, "Oh, if I could separate myself from my own body!" She would possess this unpleasant face, embrace this sickly profile. There would be no one there except for her and her shapeless cheek. They reveled in their similarity. They made of their common ugliness a bubble that protected them from the world and the bursts of beauty that wounded them.

Growing up, she knew that others existed. Their gaze slid away from her or lingered without kindness. She understood that there were queens and frogs, and that she was part of the latter. The frog, it's said, is a subservient flatterer, an opportunist, full of self-content. She applied herself to correspond to the portrait. She wanted to make herself hated, because the hatred of others augmented the agitation that she experienced in seeing herself in the mirror, so alone, so unlikable, congealed in a grin of scorn for the world that disdained her.

At twenty years old she exiled herself. It was noble to know how to live and die far from home. The foreigner, she believed, is an enigmatic entity, an imaginary being, a dream that escapes the categories of beauty and ugliness. In the unknown land where she arrived with illusions of a frog that wanted to transform into a princess, the mirrors spoke a different language. They gave the knowledge that she was an exotic flower. Her far-away origin enveloped her in some sort of something that was proud and untouchable. When she walked in the streets she watched in the eyes of the passerby for the glimpse that made of her not a frog but a creature set apart, with a halo from the crown of the foreigner. She amused herself in imagining that her face woke up in the natives the nostalgia of strange contrasts, that they questioned them and left them uneasy, overcome by the mystery of the absolute other. Until one day, when she was surprised in a glance that flayed her live, the hatred and the contempt of her origin. She lowered her head and took herself off like an insect menaced with suffocation. From that time on, the mirrors changed language. They mirrored to her the whisper of the words of insult, "pariah, dog, rat". The exotic flower was trampled. The whitewashed foreigner was nothing more than an "alien", you might as well say an upstart ape.

The alien, when he looked at his self in the mirror, saw nothing but a false self, a denied identity, with mannerisms of an illegitimate child in search of legitimacy. In him, the dislike of the natives was disputed of which it was only forgery and the toadyism of the bastard who meddles with a family and dreams of another ascendance. The alien was a man of excess. He didn't exist except by the denial of self and the enlargement of the imitative instinct. He was a caricature. He was nothing but grimaces. A seducer, like a child greedy to be loved, he showed himself suspicious, defiant like a porcupine when one approached it. In his dealings with the natives, he was the eternal candidate for the diploma of belonging, if someone shook it off him, he withdrew into himself, lamenting on his difference that nevertheless he flourished like a flag.

The alien was doting. He was devoted to a contradictory cult of himself. The mirror, which he didn't allow himself to interrogate, deceived the phantom of Dr. Jekyll, expert in the art of whitening the areas of shadow and to enter in the good graces of his fellow men. But, it's much better to appear as his real self, the tortured Mr. Hyde, the enemy brother, the original double that knew himself undesirable, planning a vengeance against the humanity guilty of condemning him to a clandestine existence. Because in him triumphed the primitive being, the archaic creature that defended himself from policing talk. His stuttering conveyed what there is extreme among us, of desperate self love, this self in the apparel of the harlequin, woven with antagonisms, and of the distracted hatred for the outcast for whom the memory of his origins refused repair, recognition and anchorage.

His roots were at water level, for him, the native sun failed to recover his forces, he had never found a point of support to raise himself. His public immaturity was only equal to his private decrepitude. He sheltered a demon who bestowed upon him eternal youth, that of a voyager without family, without country, unburdened by the baggage that weighed down the shoulders of the native. But this same demon undermined his confidences, sneering at his parasitic state and put into every day the sickness that gnawed at him, the sufferance of not being from here or from elsewhere, the feeling of having usurped his place.

The image that the mirrors sent back was one of an imposter. The more he studied it, the more the mystification burst in his eyes. Where did he come from? Of what right is he here. Is he a child of the land where he believed himself adopted? Or is he nothing but a cutting thrown here, a grafting that never took?

Since the stranger had the revelation of his other-alien, she stopped demanding from the mirror a gratification, of questing in the look of others for accomplices. Like Medea, she said to herself, "In such a huge reversal, what is left for me? Me, I said, me, and that's enough". This shrewd self, who penetrates her paradoxes, the reasons for her shame disguised as pride, of her aversion for herself that translated into a haughty solitude, this me, driven into a corner by admission of her forfeit, pushed her to write, to substitute the mirror for the white page.

The words became to be her country, the writing took the place of roots. The frog, the alien, all of which in her was on trial with herself and with the world, found peace in grammar. She corseted her rages, conjugated her aversions, invented a syntax for her confusions. In the room where she sharpened her thoughts, polished her sentences, the mirrors were killed. They no longer scoffed at the frog, no longer insulted the alien. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she no longer saw her reflection, as if the white page, in filling itself, had absorbed her image. The suffering Narcissus was dead, changed into a flower where literature bloomed. She became a stranger to herself, having stopped imploring the mirror's verdict on her illusionary belonging to humanity, because words had given her the truth of her exile. She no longer begged for approval in the eyes of passerby, words having supplied her the certainty of her singularity in becoming friends again with her with her dark side, ready to make a covenant with the devil for one crumb of discovery. From now on, she was the dissident who had found refuge in literature, the monster splitting in two, who weaves the course of beauty. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continued to live in her bosom, but their service together brought forth sentences where every one has their day where she could cry in the presence of the world, "I am beautiful, oh! mortal, like the dream of stone".

[translated by Catherine Walter - not a perfect translation…corrections welcome!]
Illustrations by Tristan Galdos del Carpio from a photo of Kate Barry