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Statue in Ljubljana. PHOTO: Sarah Lofgren

When the Face in the Mirror is a Dread Goblin

And how to avoid letting it happen to you.

This story was written to serve as a public service announcement.

Do not get a magnifying makeup mirror.

(Unless, you’re visually impaired and actually need it.)

If you’re just a dorky teenager like I was, who believes the 1 centimeter varience between your heavily-penciled cat eyes will signal social defeat, then take that makeup mirror and chuck it at the garbage truck as it makes its way down your street. (Not really. That is a joke. Donate it to Goodwill like you would any other cursed item.)

Once you get a magnifying makeup mirror, you can never go back to the vision of yourself you held before.

I was young. I dreamed of sun-cheeked perfection in the style of Seventeen magazine, where it seemed everyone had stepped out of Sweet Valley High with a boyfriend and a summer gig modeling in Paris. That could be me. I had the raw materials: all the standard facial features and a small army of Wet n Wild beauty products. I just needed to perfect my game. And for that… I needed a makeup mirror.

Or so I thought.

It came in a box printed with promises and when I pulled it out, it was encased in a shroud of bubble wrap.

(If I ever build a time machine, that will be my first stop. To that second story bedroom in the suburbs. To leave the mirror in plastic. To stop my younger self from unwrapping it and unleashing a veritable Pandora’s box of insecurity gremlins upon myself.)

Because when you look into a magnifying makeup mirror, the face that looks back at you is not your own. It’s not the face the rest of the world sees when you interact with teachers and family and peers.

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“monkey looking at mirror” by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

It’s not “pretty” or even “normal”.

No, the person who looks out at you from that makeup mirror is a contender for eternal first prize status in The World’s Ugliest Warthog contest. Magnifying makeup mirrors are a portal to an alternative universe where no lipstick could ever make a dent in the epic, life-altering horror that is your face.

I unwrapped the mirror. I plugged it in. The light switched on and I caught the first glance of myself, a reverse Narcissus who could only stand her reflection for one half tick of the clock.

I turned away.

It was terrifying. It was horrible.

I should have burned it right then.

But I did not.

Because I had yet to learn the many ways mirrors lie. I thought, if that reflection was truly me, then I had to face it, had to learn from it, had to do what I could to fix it.

So I looked again.

There were entire swamp worlds living within my pores, whole ecosystems I hadn’t known before. Red veins shot through my corneas like deadly tributaries. The semi circles beneath my eyes, which I’d barely even noticed, were now crescent moon bruises so big and so dark they could pull waves from their courses.

And the acne… oh acne, was a hostile, crimson force fighting for dominance across the kingdom of my face. The acne was winning. How had I not known it was winning?

This was no crumbling temple that could be resurrected with a few dabs of paint, a few swipes of the makeup brush.

This was an emergency.

Someone needed to call the National Guard.

When something like this happens, a person doesn’t have a lot of options. I could have just hid in my bed with the covers over my head for the rest of my life, but that kind of defeatist attitude has never been a natural fit for me.

However, I knew the things I’d seen would haunt me forever. Even if I tossed the mirror, I’d never forget.

So I took out my scissors and some glue. The good kind that sticks forever. Then I opened my old friend, Seventeen magazine.

And I… sort of borrowed the faces inside.

All the beautiful, happy people. This one’s eyes. This one’s eyebrows. The perfect nose that’s never seen a single zit. Lips made for telling secrets. Carefully pasted over my own.

There aren’t any pores in paper. Not that I can tell.

I made sure not to look in the makeup mirror ever again, once my new face was in place. I threw a towel over the device, then buried it deep in the back of my sister’s closet, where no one would ever find it.

But, even with my new face, I knew the old one still waited underneath, with all its terrifying imperfections.

And sometimes it rains, or the paper gets sort of wrinkly and I need to add another layer.

But that’s okay. We all have struggles. And I’m doing the best I can.

This whole situation could have been avoided if I’d never brought that magnifying makeup mirror into my life. Looking at the whole situation with the wisdom of adulthood, I see that now.

So, for your own sake.

Just say no to magnifying makeup mirrors.

Sarah is a freelancer who exists on twitter and instagram and redbubble.

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Engaged in inadvisable wordsmitheries and other creative acts.

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