Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marsi White: Mirror

I have mixed feelings about the mirror. Sometimes it glares at me stonily. Sometimes it boosts my confidence. Sometimes it is indifferent, as if I am just one of its many minions for which it does not have time to pass judgment. Always, though, the mirror reveals the ravaged scars on my chest where breasts once perched. Always, it tells me if my wardrobe choices succeeded in hiding said scars. Always, the mirror shows all, tagging me awake, as if to say, “you’re it!”, as it turns and runs away.

Mirrors have been my enemy this year. They were the impoverished newspaper reporter thirsting for a real story who always settled for the scrupulous scandal where truth was subjective and lies breached even the sweetest memories. When I lost my hair and wore my buttery soft sleeping hat for the first time, I did not recognize the person in the mirror. That person was a cancer patient. I cried. I remember the moment clearly. Months later, a steady gaze in the mirror revealed one remaining eyelash on my lower right eyelid. I became practiced at only employing focused glances to check specific features of my appearance.

However, I love clothes. In fact, I am not ashamed to admit that retail shopping is almost guaranteed to change my mood. Putting together a really great outfit will do the same. You need mirrors for that. Sometimes more than one.

My colleague teases me about my extensive wardrobe. Truth be told, she is right. I have a lot of clothes. However, I work in an industry where appearance is crucial, where shoes are shined and shirts are pressed. I feel justified in always having “the right” thing to wear. It feels good. It helps me walk tall.

I have needed that lately. Clothes fit awkwardly and I consistently misjudge necklines I think will completely hide my scars. That said, dressing usually requires time to try on two or more outfits, my discerning eye for fashion not easily satisfied. For example, a typical flip through my closet reveals an article of clothing that I would like to wear. Sometimes it is a shirt, sometimes just a belt. I then go about deciding if my clothing inspiration covers all it should. As the layering of the outfit progresses, I feel like I am donning a costume, the costume that helps my mind go on, even if my body has temporarily lost its will.

Stuffing my bra is another morning ritual, one I usually complete with haste. Seeking perfection has no place right now. It is an odd thing, really, and it’s further complicated by the fact that I have no nerve endings in my chest wall. As my bra and its contents slip around throughout the day, I don’t receive any sensational warning that something is out of place.

Carefully, I spot check throughout the day, still avoiding the mirror.

I think nearly everyone has a love-hate relationship with mirrors at some point in their life. There is a particularly vindictive ceiling-to-floor mirror residing on the wall with the elevators in the building where I work. It is impossible to avoid, unless you plan on tramping up and down the ten flights of stairs leading to the fifth floor. In the sordid moments spent waiting for the elevator each day, this mirror takes pleasure in reminding me that my clothes do not flatter my shape as I thought they did when I put them on in the morning. I think it also conspires with the overhead lights to accentuate the bags under by eyes, usually making my skin look painfully sallow. I make it a practice to hit the elevator button and then stand five feet back and to the side. It’s a little dance I have learned over the years . . . not letting the mirror have a spot on my dance card.

These days, my bathroom mirror is sometimes kind. I enjoy a sprinkling of good hair days, make-up helps to accentuate eyebrows, and my eyelashes have grown back and don mascara. I think I will always have misgivings with every glance in the mirror; I cannot imagine a woman who does not. But one day soon, I know the scars will not be all that I see.

Marsi lives in San Diego, CA with her husband, two children and dog. A private foundation grants writer by trade, Marsi explores her creative side by contributing to Writing Writer Writest.She is a breast cancer survivor and keeps a blog of her journey, entitled Nip It.


  1. I've read this piece several times now and it still takes my breath away. Marsi, you are just amazing to me. So courageous. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story here on WWW. And hey, the rest of you people, make sure you go read Marsi's blog about her battle with breast cancer: Nip It. See link in her bio above.

  2. Really really amazing. Thanks for writing this. I love love love it.

  3. Thanks, ladies! Comments like these really inspire me!