Reflection on Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings”

I chose to reflect on Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings” for this week’s post because I felt that it was the most powerful essay we read this week, and one of the most powerful essays I have ever read. In “Mirrorings”, Grealy maps out her eighteen year long struggle to deal with her appearance after having part of her jaw removed due to cancer. I found her honesty so complete in this essay, and felt that it was a perfect demonstration of what we are practicing in WRT 303. She seems to really discover and know herself throughout this essay, identifying the negative and positive ways in which she dealt with being disfigured at at a very young age.

Grealy describes the taunting and abuse that she experienced from children in her school, and states that children can be incredibly cruel and purposefully harmful. I think that this is a very true statement, and also a curiosity. Although I have never gone through anything like Grealy went through, I do know what it feels like to be singled out for being unattractive and have your flaws pointed out to you daily. What I felt was so significant about her statements regarding children is that she feared their judgement, even as an adult. I believe that the reason that children are so cruel is that they are exceedingly honest and lack the ability to filter their thoughts when speaking. While an adult may think terrible things, it would be more common for them to choose to be polite and not insult someone else. However, I feel that children merely reflect the attitudes that are universal in our society in an unembarrassed and outright manner. As Grealy mentions throughout the essay, their is a lot of emphasis placed on physical beauty in our culture, and most social interactions revolve around the face. For this reason, I cannot imagine the difficulty that Grealy had when trying to interact with others in everyday conversation. She describes her insecurity and the way that she would try to cover the lower part of her face, and I can feel how much of a burden that must have been for her.

Another point that Grealy makes several times is that women are sexual objects in our culture, and that someone’s value as a woman (moreso to strangers) heavily relies on their own physical attractiveness. She talks about how hard it was for her to call herself a woman when she felt that she lacked any sex appeal or beauty. Moreover, she discussed the torture that she received from men, who openly deprecated her in public due to her appearance. I think that Grealy, as well as many other women (including myself) often take cues from men in order to reinforce their own confidence and self-worth. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to receive such rude, outright disapproval from men that she passed in her daily life.

I feel that, although Grealy’s “Mirrorings” is a self-reflection piece, it is also predominantly a social commentary. The points that Grealy makes about shallowness and preoccupation with appearance (something that she also falls victim to from time to time) put a critical eye on our culture as a whole. Why do women seek validation from men? Why should a women’s worth be less focused on ability and more on superficial beauty? Most significant to me, by highlighting the behaviors of children in school, Grealy exposes the process of these social concepts developing in young mind. As children socialize each other and learn the values of a society, they will single out those that do not “fit”. I think it is so heart-breaking that people go through such struggles all because of other people. It is a natural part of socialization, but I just feel that an opinion or a mean thought is such an unimportant thing to have or voice at the expense of hurting someone’s sense of value and identity.




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5 Responses to Reflection on Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings”

  1. maknouk says:

    Hey Elizabeth! I agree completely with everything you wrote. This is now one of my new favorite readings because it is so relate able and touching. I also can’t imagine what she felt with all the insults and not being able to feel pretty to boys. I agree that in our society, girls highly emphasize the attention they receive from boys. They look for reassurance of their beauty in what boys tell them, which in my opinion is very unhealthy. I feel that a girl needs to be satisfied with herself from within herself with no outside influence, other wise their emotions would be like a roller coaster. Its never good to depend on outside influence because people are always changing and someones thoughts one day could change in the blink of an eye. Why depend on something that will never be constant?
    I also agree with your point about the children being so honest, but I think that is why I love them. I would much rather someone who says it how it is and doesn’t try to fluff me up when fluffing is not due. I think one of the things in society that is problematic is we are not real with other people. Saying things how they are is not a mean thing. There are always ways to tell people the truth in a sincere and kind way if you really care about them.

  2. rebeccasadique says:

    I love that you said “Mirrorings” was social commentary! This is so true, I think what really made it seem like social commentary to me was when she said that men and children would react to her most on the street. There was a line in her piece that said they reacted that way not because she was deformed, but because she was a deformed woman. She really hit the nail on the head with that one. I think she said that because other women might know how she feels, on a lower level, since women are put under so much more pressure to look beautiful. Children haven’t experienced that and although men have experienced it, it’s on a much lower level. Men are more pressured to be “manly” than to be attractive, IMO. And I like how she told the reader about avoiding groups of people, it says so much about society. The “group mentality” really does change people. She said individuals did not harass her nearly as much as groups did. Good job pointing out the social commentary bit! I don’t know how I missed that.

  3. rebeccasadique says:

    I’m not sure if I was very clear in my comment above, what I meant was that I think fewer women made fun of her because they know how she feels being judged based only on her appearance.

  4. ktbmuether says:

    Great post, Elizabeth! I too found Grealy’s examination of what it means to be a “disfigured woman” interesting. She mentions how she got teased and insulted from them not just because she was disfigured, but because she was a disfigured woman. A woman’s beauty is valued highly in our society and because Grealy did not meet the definition of beauty, she was ridiculed by these men. I also found it interesting that she makes a point to mention that she was only once ever teased by a woman. I wonder if this is because women can empathize more with her (being judged by their appearances, as Rebecca said) or if it is because women do not value appearances the way that men do. As Grealy said, if she was a disfigured man, would she have to validate her sexual worth to women the way that she does to men?

    I wonder if Mairs would have experienced the same thing if she would have developed MS earlier in life prior to meeting her husband. Would she have had the happy married life that she has now? Or would she have had the same fate as Grealy?

  5. cierrarouse says:

    I definitely drew the same conclusion from “Mirrorings” as you focused on! Beginning with the assessment of children being cruel, it is something I have always been confused by. In one aspect kids can be completely open to everyone, the least judgmental in the world, but on the other hand they can be purposefully destructive towards others who are different. My only answer to this is that children are naturally curious and when handed a bias by either their parents or another factor of their environment they have a lethal weapon. Having a judgement ingrained in their mind without their own experience on this topic means uneducated judgments; this is what leads to cruelty.

    Also on behalf of societal issues, I agree. This essay points out a lot of the problems with such a vain world, especially in America. Health is associated with being skinny and there is a narrow definition for beauty. The social issue is undeniable but I thought this essay spoke to this theme on a deeper level then pointing out the torment of peers and her inability to reach the social norms of dating etc. The biggest issue in this story was her own inability to accept what she looks like, which shows how deep rooted the expectancy of appearance are. Peers were not her biggest enemy when it came to restrictions due to her looks, she was her largest constraint.

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