While I was in California I went shopping several times and found myself in a variety of dressing rooms with a range of mirror qualities. Harsh lighting, trick mirrors, rooms too small to turn around in, much less provide a good angle to look at yourself, or sometimes soft lighting, good mirrors, open spaces. My sister and I smuggled some cider into one store; I spent the most money there. I'm not saying that all the dressing rooms can afford the diffuse lighting and cocktails that would make everybody spend money, but I'm encouraged to want things when I feel like I don't look like hell. I may not be lovely but surely nobody looks their best in fluorescent lighting.
This is the thing itself but it is also, of course, a metaphor. I feel that I have functioned for years as a mirror for people. Silver and exact, as young Sylvia wrote. I'm looking, I'm paying attention, and I can with little effort tell you what I see, which is usually what anybody looking would see, even if you might not see it yourself: that's a good color for you, that top is see-through, that dress goes perfectly with your boots, the skirt rides up in the back, whatever. I tell you what I see and I give you the opportunity to see some things yourself, and ideally to trust me in the things you can't see, what goes on just out of sight, behind your back.
I think that's what friends are for, to an extent. I have been a noisy mirror, because if I see something I say something, though I'm getting better as I grow older at realizing that not everybody cares how they look, what version of themselves they present. So I look and I reflect and if I feel someone gazing at me with a question then I go ahead and say: I see this. I see you. I've spent so much time navigating how to be a good mirror that I haven't thought as much about the mirrors I'm looking in, and how accurate they might be. How odd to have come so far in my focus on how I reflect light for others and to have failed to notice whether I am standing in front of cruel lighting, a cracked surface, something tarnished. It's definitely true that a drop or two of alcohol makes the pain of even the ugliest reflection easier. Still, at this point, I'm ready to be done shopping in funhouse mirrors. I don't insist that the view be flattering, I just want a smooth and unmisted reflection. I want to walk away feeling human, or I'm not buying it.