When I close my eyes, my sense of myself is nothing like what I see in a mirror. That's partly for physical reasons, bone and hair and age and clothes, and partly to do with how I carry my presence in the world in contrast with how my spirit moves.
I used to think the mirror self was my true self. I made choices based on that - choices which bemuse me now, and which I know led my spirit down wrong paths. Thankfully, I received the blessing that comes to some women as they age : an understanding that you need to go with spirit rather than face if you want to be truly fulfilled.
I don't berate myself for those wrong paths taken. The world speaks to us always of our physical appearance, and it's hard to ignore. Even those women with a wild and weedy spirit tend to present themselves according to certain styles. You seldom find a tarot-reading, myth-singing woman in crisp, clean-cut suits and with an expensive haircut, living in a sleek city apartment. And if you meet a woman in flowing batik and dreadlocks, you know she's probably not a high-powered corporate lawyer. There's no reason she couldn't be. It just seems to be that people tend to align their appearance with the common idea of what their spirit, clothed, should look like.
It's strange to me how humans, who are so very complex within themselves, have created a society which doesn't cope well with such complexity. For example, I can tell you that, if you are a quietly-spoken woman who wears delicate chiffon and tends to walk around with your nose in a book of poetry, you may cause considerable cognitive dissonance to people when you inform them you're listening to Nirvana on your ipod.
One hundred years ago, women had far fewer choices for self-expression than they do today. It seems we've come a long way. And yet, with all our choices, so many rules remain. Only when we get older do we start realising the world doesn't reward us much for our self-sacrifices, and it's far more interesting and comfortable to rip up the laws of proper behaviour, take off our shoes, let down our long and tangly grey hair, and listen to hard rock and Celtic folksongs while we go for a walk in the hushed and gentle rain.
Thank you to everyone who was kind enough to click a button on my poll.