By Lucy Wormald (she/her)
Getting ready before going out for an evening is a hallowed sort of time. It is a space lit by possibility, charged with anticipation and giddiness. The evening stretches before you like a broad river. The day been is always tedious with work and errands but now a gladness settles around you. There will be a fraught evaluation of your wardrobe, visions of your imminent glamour, music, singing, willful prophecies of the night ahead, a floor mole-hilled with discarded outfits. A glorious portrait of self-curation.
For many, getting ready to go out is a contender for the best part of the night. There is a joy to the process kindled by the act of celebration it foreshadows. Though what it means to get ready changes as one grows and passes through the phases of youth, the moments in which we style ourselves are valuable to our sense of self. Talking to a friend on the phone, she shared how much she loves getting ready by herself before going out. The ceremony of it, the promise. It is a pause, a consideration, before setting off. She told me how palpable the lack of observation feels during this time. It is a rare space void of facade and judgement.
There is something extremely intimate and vulnerable about the process of deliberation and transformation that occurs before going out. The time spent alone with your own anatomy, with the geography of your face. The way you look when you are bare-skinned and stark. The way you look when you are bejewelled and adorned. And how each state makes you feel. Both reveal a truth, a shade of who you are and who you want to be. Sometimes they are contradictory, sometimes complementary. The only witness to this shape-shifting is your mirror.
And so the mirror stands before you. In its presence you are both truly alone with yourself and yet your reflection is also somehow a visitor; a record, a confidant, an informant, a wish. Isn’t it strange how you and your reflection are one and the same, and yet can be so very independent? The two do not always converge seamlessly. Your reflection can be fickle, capricious, not always what you thought. And in this duality there exists no third-party to confirm where the truth may lie. How curious that we can only ever see ourselves through reflection. An image cast. What game is this? To never quite tell with utmost certainty who you are? As you twist and turn and squint and try to truly see, you can never be sure. This is both exhilarating and terrifying. As is our human nature, ever sweet in its innocent belief we can always control, we try to govern and shape this uncertainty.
I always feel weightless while getting ready, an apparition anchored to a body. The borders of oneself are opened and the mirror and I are alone to negotiate who I am. Sometimes this process is messy. When my reflection refuses to yield to what I wish to be, my perception of myself is confronted. What I thought I knew about myself is assaulted and banished. And I am left with a reality often a little less cool, my foibles a little more exposed, than what I had hoped for. Other times, it is an exercise rich with self-determination as I mould myself into who I want to be. I try on different outfits, sweeping my hair this way and that. I comb and tweeze and powder away at the canvas of my body. I listen to Stevie Nicks or Weyes Blood, hoping their songs will elicit in me the same self-assured force I admire in them. It is a ritual of both re-familiarising with, and creating, myself until eventually I am looking at a reflection that ties all the ideals I have for myself and all the facets I know about myself together.
Seeing yourself is a fragile project. During this time we are often on the threshold of who we think we are, and who we want to be. Often, we are not fully conscious we are in this liminal space, preparing to be seen by both the world and ourselves. Few people see us there, caught in a spotlight, half-formed. In these moments I am strangely both extremely critical of what I see and at my most tender towards myself.
Perhaps it is the process of getting ready itself that reveals who we are. The decision to wear yellow. A beret, your constant companion. The decking of one’s ears with the hoops. These things both beget and reveal a slice of who you are. You can be seen in the way you apply lipstick or button your collar. In your choice of rings, what they mean, what they don’t. The taking care of scars, the covering of body parts you do not like, the delicious exhibition of those you do all render a part of who you are. In the smaller gestures we can see in greater clarity than that offered by our thoughts and our image in the mirror. An attentiveness to these gestures, the body, the beauty codes you interpret, the choice of clothing, the way you take care of yourself are all informed by your experiences, your histories, your interests, your beliefs, and feed in to who you are. This material extension of identity and the ritual of pulling all of this together and leaving for the night is a way of making you feel like yourself, and being okay with what that looks like. In his novel Diary, Chuck Palahniuk says “your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It's all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.” In my mind, getting ready to go out, how you style yourself, how you see yourself, how you want to be seen, is another iteration of Palahniuk’s sentiment. The way we curate ourselves and perceive our reflection reveals to ourselves, most clearly, who we are.