Mirror Mirror on the Wall
At 24 years old, I was a woman who made headlines across the country for fighting city hall. A woman even lauded by NEWSWEEK for winning. You probably think I was swimming in self confidence. Wrong! My lack of self love blinded me.
How many of us are blinded by our internal self image? Dr.Maxwell Maltz, M.D., F.I.C.S., author of Psycho-Cybernetics says, "Our present self image is built from our personal imagination pictures of ourselves in the past, which grew out of our interpretations and evaluations." Dr. Maltz has done cosmetic surgery on thousands of women. They look in the mirror and say, "you did nothing."" I am still ugly." He says we mentally construct a picture of "self." Once an idea or belief about ourselves goes into this picture it becomes "true," as far as we are personally concerned. We do not question its validity, but proceed to act upon it just as if it were true.
I agree with Dr. Maltz. My ugly mirror image stayed with me until my mid 30's. None of my accomplishments improved how I saw myself. The battle that landed my name on the pages of NEWSWEEK should have initiated changes. It didn't.
In 1961, I and several other mothers fought the educational system of Arizona. Our husbands worked on the Glen Canyon Dam at the Arizona-Utah border. Page Arizona was the closest
town and had a school funded by the federal government for dam workers' children. Some of us had a problem. Page ran out of mobile home spaces so several families were forced to live in Glen Canyon City, Utah. We were only 9 miles from the Arizona school, but we lived in Utah. Glen Canyon City wasn't a city. It was a mobile home site with two pay phones, a gas station and a 2-aisle grocery store. The nearest Utah school was 63 miles one way, but Arizona would not accept our children without full tuition. Although, we weren't residents, our husbands paid an Arizona school tax from their paychecks. We shopped, banked and attended church in Arizona. The school was built for ALL dam workers children. It wasn't fair! It was time to fight!
I became ring leader and we made second section headlines in major papers throughout the United States. It took three weeks of picketing, meeting with senators, being on radio and tv but we won. Arizona and Utah shared the cost and our children attended the Page Arizona school. Fighting two states over their educational policy is something few people would attempt. Ironically, it did nothing for my personal self image. Instead, it was in total opposition with the reflection in my mirror.
This was the bravest thing I'd done but there were many other examples that should have triggered a better picture. As a young wife, I held several positions. I was Captain of my bowling leagues, Secretary of the Women's Republican Club and even a P.T.A. President for one year. At 14 years old, I walked off my job because my employer promised me the day off. Hank Williams was in town for one of his last appearances and I wanted to see him. Mr. Brownlee, (funny I still
remember his name) said his daughter wanted to play tennis rather than work. She was a spoiled "little rich girl" and I was the "poor little ticket taker" who needed a job. I walked anyway. Logically, I should have seen a better self. In those days, I just couldn't see what there was to love.
This lack of self love and self respect led me to marry an abusive alcoholic. My mirror said he was all I deserved. After almost 15 years of beatings and verbal abuse, I ran, not because I believed I deserved more. I ran for fear of my life. He never harmed our five children physically, only me, but my terror was affecting their emotional health. One stormy night he loaded a 44-magnum gun and said, "I'll shoot you, bitch!" I hid in the woods until morning. When he left for work, I grabbed my children, our clothes, took $500 from our savings and caught a Greyhound Bus to Portland Oregon. Our innate need to survive often helps us make decisions that we aren't aware of. Running was the beginning of a new life physically and mentally. I was unaware but it was the beginning of a new mirror image.
Here I was in a stranger in a big city, making friends, holding two jobs, supporting five children, but still not seeing anything special about myself. I was very open so most everyone knew my story of running away on a Greyhound bus. They would often say, "How could you pack up your children and their clothes with only $500.00 and start all over? If it were me I would be frightened to death." It was simply what I had to do. There were no shelters in 1968 to offer safety.
Other people saw a gutsy woman.mother of five, working two jobs, always smiling, never tired, and positive that each day would be better. Employers praised me. Strangers complimented me and became friends. Men found me attractive and witty. My mirror couldn't see this. Instead, staring at me was a dumb blond. I was too tall, too fat, no personality, and a crooked mouth with a lopsided smile. I continued to wonder why people were so kind to me, why they said such complimentary things. I thought, "I do work two jobs to support five children, but it is necessary. It's true I work hard, but doesn't everyone? As for the men, they're famous for trying to pick up waitresses anyway. Of course they pretend to find me attractive and witty thinking they can sleep with me, right?"
Somewhere along the way, I began to question myself. I decided to try and see what other people saw. Once I made that decision, I concentrated on pin pointing the origins of my ugly pictures. Mental health experts say our images of self begin at a very early age. Negative images are contributed to many causes. My poor self image was probably a combination of changes that are difficult for children.
We were extremely poor. My clothes were usually made overs or hand me downs. Other kids got new outfits for Easter and new toys for Christmas. The Salvation Army brought us a basket and left it on the front porch. My mother divorced and remarried four times when divorce was not popular. Kids asked, "Why is your last name different from your brother and sisters?" It made me feel different. I didn't think other kids liked me. It didn't matter that my mother hugged and
kissed me, or that she told me I was smart and pretty. We had a lot of love and affection. Maybe that love and affection helped me see good in others, but it did nothing to help me. My family teased me a lot, unaware of how much it hurt. They told me I was found under a rock, that I was clumsy and had two left feet. I have a cross bite and under bite so I was often accused of pouting and stepping on my bottom lip. These pictures invaded my mind and I believe they are part of the reason I grew up thinking I was nothing. Yet, I reflect being a fairly happy child accepting of the circumstances. I promised myself it would be different when I had my own family.
After carefully looking at my past anger and resentment, I started the road to new pictures.
Gaining a new self image is not easy but it can be done. As a start, I read book after book on positive thinking. I practiced all their philosophies. Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziegler became my bed partners. I listened to tapes by Dennis Wheatley and Earl Nightingale. When any of these men held seminars, I attended. The book, I'm OK, You're OK became one of my favorites. After I read Psycho Cybernetics by Dr. Maltz, self hypnosis became a part of my daily routine. Dr. Maltz views the brain as a giant computer that will believe what we feed it, good or bad. Maybe I was simply feeding my brain the wrong diet. I'm not sure, at what exact time it all came together, but it did.
One day I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw. Looking back at me was a tall attractive blond. She still had a crooked mouth and smile, but now it was unique. My mirror echoed a voice modulated and authoritative. That day I adopted a quote by Oscar Wilde that I still live by "To love oneself is the beginning of a life long romance."
This story is not to brag about my strengths and intelligence. It's about learning to love yourself and recognizing that when you do, you're okay and the world around you is okay. It's about remembering to soak your children with positive thoughts about themselves. It's about helping another person learning how to change their life. In an old issue, (January 1959) of Cosmopolitan magazine, T.F. James summarizes results obtained by various psychologists and medical doctors as follows: "Understanding the psychology of the self can mean the difference between success and failure, love and hate, bitterness and happiness. The discovery of the real self can rescue a crumbling marriage, recreate a faltering career, transform victims of "personality failure." On another plane, discovering your real self means the difference between freedom and the compulsions of conformity."
I am in total agreement with his findings. It took a long time, but I learned that with sufficient self love, I can sincerely love others. Self love gives me power and peace of mind no one can take from me. Today, at 60 years old, I know it's the only true power I possess. My internal peace allows me to forgive the pain and hurt that absorbed my past. Now, I look in my mirror say, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who do you love most of all?" My mirror replies, "You.".
Written by Paula D. Lingo