I was concentrating my focus on a single, coarse, black stub protruding just below what I have deemed the acceptable border of my thick, Portuguese eyebrows.
I angled my tweezers and brought them toward my face in front of the mirror. Just as I was about to pluck the unlucky stub, I suddenly leapt backward and screamed bloody murder.
Shrieking in horror, the metal tweezers clanking to the floor, I was only beginning to process that the large jumping spider I’d witnessed walk across my face was, in fact, on the mirror and not on my physical body. Thank God.
I really, truly hate spiders and have for as long as I can remember.
When I was a little girl, the sight of one would cause to me to uncontrollably scream at the top of my lungs, so loudly that my weary mother, covering one ear and shaking her head, would mutter, “You could break glass with those screams. I never have to worry about anyone kidnapping you without a peep.”
To this day, 30 years later, my reaction to spiders is the (hopefully the only) aspect of my personality that has yet to evolve or mature. My husband says I have gotten better, but I don’t believe him.
One thing that did evolve over the years was my obsession with body image and “mirror checking.”
“Mirror checking” is the term I’ve coined—that probably already exists and means something totally different—but to me it means having to check my reflection in a mirror, multiple times per day, especially before an important phone call or leaving my house, after eating, and sometimes even after a particularly satisfying evacuation. (This is real life, folks.)
Along with my obsessive-compulsive body image issue comes perfectionism, that manifests for me in…let’s just say interesting ways.
For some, it might be something productive, like an unyielding need to organize a closet.
For me, it’s a need to proactively fight nature by tweezing out the tiny dark hairs on my face that have gone unchecked, demarcating me from white culture and proving my otherness—how special I am.
Life has also brought along the awareness that not all mirrors are created equal. That’s right. Let this be your validation if you too have noticed that some mirrors reflect your best self and others simply exist to mock everything about you and your appearance.
Some mirrors—borne from the fires of hell—prove that what you’ve always feared about yourself is true, and worse yet, you never knew it. Those mirrors should be burned, melted, and thrown into the sea—ahem, I mean—recycled.
If you are lucky enough to own one, replace the hell-borne mirror with the kind that will make you look Instagram-hot, even after wearing your pajamas for three pandemic days straight.
Those amazing, angelic mirrors do exist. I know because I have one, and that’s the one I was using joyfully, as the morning sun provided the perfect lighting, to pluck my encroaching eyebrows. The same day a large jumping spider nearly murdered me by walking across the reflection of my face.
What do spiders and mirrors have in common though, and what’s the point of this story?
Well, buckle up 2020 because your mind is about to be blown like a Brazilian hair salon during a Fourth of July special.
Late in the year 2019, I was in a good place physically and emotionally. I felt balanced within my body, and less obsessed than I’d ever been with weight, food, and body image.
I’d noticed that I was suddenly feeling much less afraid of spiders than I had been in my entire life. For the first time, I could see a small one without screaming.
If there was a small one in the house, I could kill it or ignore it, instead of screaming, crying, and trapping it under a cup until my husband got home, taking a shower, and setting my clothes on fire.
“Interesting,” I thought as I put down the lighter fluid. “This is new.”
It was new and unfamiliar territory for me. I quickly began to realize how much relief it brought to feel less terrorized and paranoid all the time.
I still cringed at the feeling of a hair falling down my arm, holding my breath until I knew for sure it wasn’t a spider. But, if I saw one on the outside of my car’s window, I no longer panicked, and considered objects I could use to squish the spider in transit.
Similarly, around the same time, I observed myself feeling less and less caught up in worry and anxiety about what my body looked like, or whether I was losing or gaining weight.
Again, “Interesting. This is new.”
This novelty lasted until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—obscure reference—you may have heard of it?
Suddenly, I found myself having more obsessive thoughts and negative feelings about my body.
I checked the CDC website and confirmed it is not a known symptom of COVID-19. I became annoyed with myself and how often I was “mirror checking,” only to find that the more I tried to stop, the more I compulsively had to.
Leaving the house was now scary, because I had to remember a mask and didn’t know how long the socially distanced lines would be to get into the grocery store.
Also because nothing I tried on was right; even after putting on my shoes, I’d have to trek back into my bedroom to check my reflection just one more time.
At the same time, I began noticing spiders everywhere, including in places they weren’t.
I felt like I was walking on eggshells, looking over my shoulder constantly, sure that a spider would be right next to me, hanging down from its creepy web, asking me how my day was, and telling me to “just smile for him.”
I found a large daddy longlegs in the shower, and only avoided it landing right on me by jumping out and splashing water everywhere, my shampoo only half-rinsed and blinding my predator vision.
I couldn’t go into my garage—Lord knows that is where all the spiders live—spiders waiting patiently for me to open the door to ambush me, or climb into my hair and hide like sleeper cells.
Knowing that my fears and habits had become overly irrational, I spoke to a counselor, of course. I told her that my body image issues had resurfaced with a vengeance, after a long remission, and so had my arachnophobia.
I watched her eyes grow as I told her that instead of seeing my immense fear of spiders as a curse, I could see it as a gift: something to use as a gauge for myself to know when to be gentle and step up my self-care—to protect myself from body image hell.
Instead of trying to forbid myself from looking in the mirror too often, I surrendered to the idea that maybe some part of my mind simply wanted to see a friendly, familiar face as a way of coping with isolation.
Befriending that desire lessened its grip and intensity.
Since this realization, I’ve arrived at another place completely foreign to me: recently when cleaning my bathroom, I found a small spider. I felt compassion for it, apologized to it for having to kill it, and explained to it that I wished it would have just stayed outside where it belonged. It had no retort, but admittedly I do not speak spider.
For the first time since childhood, I have come to a place of feeling delighted in my body (take that, diet culture!) by observing its natural fluctuations and rhythms as interesting and beautiful, instead of threatening, ugly, or scary.
I no longer feel the need to check my reflection in my favorite angelic mirror several times per day. That mirror is my favorite, not because of the way it flatters my body or makes my legs look longer, but because its light, turquoise, carved wooden frame is beautiful and unique. Oh, it’s beautiful with or without me.
The other day while sunning in my backyard, I noticed dozens of tiny jumping spiders in the grass. Instead of packing up my lawn chair, sprinting for the shower, and researching natural, safe methods for destroying all living creatures with eight legs, I let myself just observe them and their happy jumping.
They weren’t out to get me—they wanted nothing to do with me.
Blissfully unaware of my presence, they danced and hopped from one blade to the next, celebrating nature, probably listening to Mozart or discussing local politics.
Until one jumped on the chair. I can only self-improve so much in a few months—you motherf *%#$@.