The Looking-glass Self

As in my previous blog post, I am rethinking my appearance which has devolved during nearly three months of being housebound. A bad fall has resulted in my spending most of my time lately in hospitals and at home in bed. I am now more mobile but still not getting out much.

outdoor-walking-shoe-hiking-sport-military-765924-pxhere.comI have been able to walk around the neighbourhood, and have increased my walking distance slightly.  The first walk, using a walker, got me only halfway down the block. My first walker-free walk, using a cane, got me from 88th Street to 91st Street and back, followed by a long nap.  My walk yesterday got me as far as 93rd Street and back with no subsequent nap, so I’m making progress. The goal is to get me as far as 95th Street which is where I have a dental appointment next month.

But this getting-out-of-the-house business has me thinking about makeup.  Before my injuries, I used to make sure I put on some makeup before facing the public.  The colour correcting moisturizer I use serves to even my skin tone. I also use a powdered foundation on top of that so that my face looks gloriously matte and even. Then there is a little bit of powdered blush, a thin line of eyeliner, and some lash-building mascara.  Then—voila!—I am as lovely as I am ever going to be.

AhxDmj3fTOCEtXp6k7uXgQOf course, loveliness is relative, and I have some lovely relatives.  I used to enjoy some personal loveliness in my youth, but those days are long gone.  I will be 69 next month and, although that is a delightfully evocative number, when applied to my age it just means I am seriously old. My face is imbued with the effects of a million interesting stories, but all of them involve wrinkles, or sags, or bags, or wayward eyebrow hairs.

People who love me tell me I am still attractive, and I appreciate that my friends and family are so kind to me, but they look at me with eyes that remember younger days. They also see me, I think and I hope, with reference to some good times and some good memories. But how do strangers see me, and how much does it matter? I know you are going to say that it doesn’t matter, but when you spend a lot of time alone, it actually might matter.  If Charles Horton Cooley was right, a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. That is to say, what I think of myself depends on what I think you think about me.

Woman looking in a mirror from Bill Branson via Wikimedia

We all care to some extent what others think about us, but I suppose the question becomes whether or not we should care about our appearance so much as we care about how our behaviours are perceived. Probably not, but we often do anyway. Regardless, I am wondering now about what happens to our sense of self when we have few or no social interactions.

If a person spends most of their time alone, and if they have minimal interactions with others, how do they think of themselves? I’m sure someone has thought about this and done some research on it, and I would be interested to know what they discovered. I wonder about people who are isolated long-term through illness, or people who isolate themselves to play video games all the time, or people who choose to live alone on a desert island or in a jungle. If our sense of self is dependent on interactions with others, how do isolates see themselves?

Once a week, one of my sisters visits an elderly woman who stays at home due to her physical disabilities. She also has increasing dementia, and I wonder to what extent the dementia is related to the isolation. It seems to me that if our self is dependent on social interactions, then the lack of interactions must negatively affect the self and hence the mind.  Or am I making it all up?  Maybe. That’s what happens when you spend too much time alone. Your mind goes off on tangents.

Anyway, I think next time I go out for a walk, I’ll put on some makeup first. At least I will feel as though I’m ready to meet people, even if no-one cares what I look like. It may even keep me from losing my mind; you never know.



  1. Anne: You are doing really well with your walking – better than me. I tend to stay in the house when it’s really hot. Also it’s good to make goals for yourself as you are doing. I don’t think 69 is “seriously old”. I have just turned 76, and am doing all right. I don’t look too bad, for my age. It helps to have friends around the same age. Take care. You are getting better.

  2. Anne, I am not one to wear makeup and maybe in the past 2 years I might be more isolated due to my roommates are 4 and 3 now lol. it’s rarely I talk to other adults. My point being I was told many years ago a woman should never leave the house without some make-up . Lipstick and mascara, to be honest I don’t have the energy to put makeup on in the mornings. But maybe I should start with dyeing my hair! I once thought 40 was old….:)

    • Haha! I remember thinking 40 was old, too! I’m letting my hair go grey now, and I don’t dislike it. It’s an adjustment, though. It takes time to like that different person in the mirror.

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