In order to achieve a sense of Not-Being-In-The-World late last year (a desire that owes a blog and a small psychiatrist bill all its own), my wife and I escaped to a hexagonal yoga studio in the rainforest for a week. No phone reception, no neighbours. A pool, and an outdoor bathroom. A natural toilet with no door. In the pleasant rainforest heat, and with no one around to tell us any different, we both spent a large portion of our time naked. Clothes became a pointless inconvenience.
I was surprised how quickly the novelty wore off. Within an afternoon it was barely a second thought. It wasn't until twenty-four hours into our isolation that we noticed something about the property that made our nudity acceptable to the harshest critics around: ourselves.
There were no mirrors. Not a single one. The outdoor bathroom came with a small shaving mirror, but even this was smaller than a dinner plate, making it difficult to see any more than a snapshot of your head at any one time. It came as a sharp relief that I was no longer constantly assaulted by my own image. I suddenly had a lot more brain space to think about other things besides my own pitiful body and face.
Because, let's be straight, like all apparently sane and reasonable Western people, I absolutely hate my body and my face, even though it's never said a bad thing about me. The loathing comes in waves, as I make an upward struggle to self-confidence before tumbling back down again. There's the long war with my hair. All hair, everywhere. It's acted out daily with all of the resentment of an ugly, hate-filled battle. At different times I've surrendered and become what God almost certainly intended me to look like: shaggy. After all this time, however, I may have struck an important victory. I have time on my side. I am winning. But at what cost? My scalp is suddenly more easily seen amongst my receding frontline. It's retreating, weary from battle.
This is not to mention the posture, the belly, the curved upper back, the weird marks on my lower back, the unattractive labyrinth of chest hair, the monobrow, and the bizarrely long nipple hairs. I'm not sure what my adolescent body was trying to prepare me for with long nipple hairs, but they've never come in use.
It's not like these things are yelled out of car windows everyday as I walk down the street. It would be easy to blame the media, the constant DaVinci like portrayals of men on the covers of health magazines and trendy beach towns - so lost in their search for a personality that they take to the gym for five hours a day and eat 24 egg whites for breakfast.
But, in all honesty, the greatest abuser is probably the mirror. I've spent a lot of time with it, countless hours prodding, preparing, smoothing, battling, and the times I leave it feeling better about myself are minuscule compared to the pile of times I don't. In the short week I spent without it, I didn't miss it a bit. I don't believe my wife did either.
I'm not sure I need a mirror. I keep myself clean, I don't smell bad, and I know how to look presentable. I know how to dress for a formal occasion and I know how to dress for a friendly BBQ. I'm not entirely sure why I would need a mirror except for strictly utilitarian purposes.
I think about old mate Narcissus, the Greek douche who loved himself so much he fell into a river and drowned staring into his own image. I'm not so certain it was love. Perhaps it was harsh interrogation that drew his face closer to the water until it swallowed him whole. Like a drunk cop staring down an indifferent perp, drawing in closer until the lines between hero and villain, real and unreal, are blurred beyond recognition. We probably can't be trusted alone with mirrors.
In the time since I've put my clothes back on and returned to civilisation I've seen endless reflections of me, and who I'd rather be. Maybe one day I'll not notice the reflection. I won't even think about it, because mirrors will be of no concern to me, I'll be too busy just getting on with my life. Or I might find myself sitting at the bottom of Narcissus' river, letting the dreams of a prettier me dance up to the surface, waiting to taunt another down to the bottom to join us.