Now, I get this sounds vain, but I look at myself in the mirror a lot. I’ve memorized the location of every faded acne scar, the beauty mark on the lower right side of my cheek, and how my left eyelid has one more fold than my right.
However, not every reflection of me is the same. Sometimes I look more confident, other days I look like I came from hell and back. But throughout my life, people have seen me as many things, a sister, a daughter, or even a competitor. I’ve taken up those versions of me with pride.
But not all of them.
No matter what others perceive me as, the mirror knows me better than anyone else. Whenever I saw my reflection, I tried to hide my flaws. However, my reflection always showed who I really am. Through self-reflection, I could see how much I’ve changed, both mentally and physically.
I was in the middle of my junior year in high school when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Las Vegas. I was at my lowest mental state. I put all of my time and energy into speech competitions, working on “group projects” on my own, and dealing with your average high school drama.
It wasn't until the whole world locked down that I was able to sit peacefully, reflect, and focus on what truly mattered to me.
Looking Back At Me
“The exploration of the self is our conscious attempt to understand more about who we are, what we do and how to behave and think in the future.” -Graham Ramsy and Holly Sweet (A Creative Guide to Exploring Your Life: Self-Reflection Using Photography, Art, and Writing)
Ever since I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be an actress or a performer. I remember all of those times when I only danced in front of my bathroom mirror. The mirror was my only audience. Stage fright and anxiety have always been my two biggest obstacles.
When I was three years old, I took ballet and jazz classes. I also learned two of the most important things in life… The first being,
“Practice makes perfect”
My parents took me to the studio every other day. The majority of the time, I remembered it being just me, my teacher, and the mirror. During those practices, I felt at peace. The dance studio was my comfort place, I was able to imagine myself as: strong, independent, and brave.
It sounds silly now, but I was scared of everything at that age. According to my parents, I had major anxiety issues. They told me that I would cry if I wasn’t with them for less than five minutes. Other times, I would hide behind their legs if they were talking to friends and family.
Occasionally, my parents would visit the studio as I practiced. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see their faces pressed up against the window. Each time they did that, it boosted my morality and confidence. I wanted to show them how much I improved with each visit.
It wasn’t until the teacher told us that we were going to perform on stage in a few weeks. That's when I started to get nervous. I knew my parents weren't going to be behind the stage where I could see them. They would be far away in the dark among hundreds of other strangers in the audience.
But my teacher was there with me. She took my small hands and gave me the second most important lesson
“Don’t think about the people watching you. Just pretend you're in the studio with me, just like we’ve practiced”.
What They Saw
“Even with two eyes, you only see half of the picture.” - Odin (Thor Ragnarok)
Eventually, I started to believe that I could conquer my fears if I just practiced enough.
So I practiced everything every single day. Even something as simple as telling the waiter an order, or even asking my teacher a question.
I wanted everything I did to look perfect and confident.
It worked, for the most part. Years later, I’d leave dance behind for speech and acting. I still continued to carry those lessons from my dance teacher. At the height of my speech career, I got to compete in one of the biggest speech tournaments in the country, the National Speech and Debate Tournament during my sophomore year of high school.
I didn’t look like that scared three-year-old all those years ago. It seemed like I reached my dream of appearing as strong, independent, and brave
Little did everyone know how sick I felt. My mirror saw all of me. It saw my morning sickness before competitions—every nervous breakdown, every mistake during practice, and the bones that showed through my skin. The mirror knew that I wasn’t brave at all.
The truth is, I am still that scared three-year-old girl.
The Reflection Journey
Each of us finds meaning in our lives in different ways. In the middle of my junior year I was starting to break character. I no longer had the motivation to keep up with performances, competitions, school work, or even have an interest in hobbies.
Then in 2020, the entire world stopped. Spring break turned into four years. I spent much of the lockdown staring at the ceiling in isolation. Since I had a lot of free time, I spent most of it reflecting. Self reflection is what made me realize that I was not taking care of my mental and physical health.
The first step was to reflect in isolation. During quarantine, I discovered how easy it was to ignore my phone. Social media is what connected me to most of my problems. Going through it made me feel insecure about my image and self worth. It also gave people easy access to bombard me with negativity. Whether it was about rumors or politics it always came from social media. Once I put my phone away, I realized that I didn't need to know who hated who, what someone said about me, who cared and who didn’t. I just focused on how I perceived myself and my values.
Next was to reflect on my values. During isolation, I was also able to find ways to keep myself busy and find healthier habits for my anxiety. I was able to separate myself from stress and negativity by reflecting on my core values. Competing in tournaments and performances stressed me out, to the point where it affected my behaviors, grades, and physical health. During my reflection, I went back to that three year-old version of me. What would she think if she saw a sick teenager practicing everyday? That made me realize how I wrapped my teacher’s meaning behind practice and confidence. My values became more of an unhealthy obsession. Practice and confidence were two very important values, but no one should do it to a point where it is valued over your well being. In other words, I valued my success over my own life. I knew that I had to leave my obsession in order to survive. From then on, I chose to give up doing competitions and performances until I felt that I could balance my values with my health. I also learned that it is not the end of the world to give up some of my values for new ones. By reflecting back on your past values, I’ve seen how much my definitions of those values affected me mentally and physically. Therefore having a refreshed and new meaning to those values can help understand healthier interpretations to avoid obsessions.
What I See…
Finally, being realistic.
I could not have gotten to where I am today, without letting myself step out of my comfort zone. It took a long time to figure out what worked out for me. I learned int he reflection process that I needed to be more realistic about myself. Nothing is perfect, and no one will ever be perfect. I needed to understand that doing enough is good too, and even the smallest accomplishments should be acknowledged. I learned to accept every reflection of myself. In reality, everyone sees me in a different way and if I don’t agree with how they see me, I just took it as a lesson for self-improvement. Being brave, or living up to anyone’s expectations shouldn’t be everyone's goal in life. We live in a culture where it is not often taught that we should spend time thinking about who we are. Learning how to be more realistic and kind to ourselves is the key to a fulfilling future. Self-reflection also taught me that the mirror was never there to punish me, but to see the truth. The truth is that you can be whatever you want to be. No matter how many mistakes and flaws you have, each reflection shows the lessons you’ve learned.
About The Author
Alina is currently a junior at UNLV. She graduated from Northwest Technical Career Academy in 2021 from the Media Communications program. So far, she has been working as a full-time student, but has an extensive history with reporting, acting, graphic design, social media management, editing, and writing. This summer, she is an intern for both The Love Yourself Foundation and OneSeven Agency for marketing. Since the pandemic, she started making content and streams on YouTube and Twitch. She also has experience with voiceovers and audio and video editing.