Mirrorings by Lucy Grealy
Lucy Grealy’s “Mirrorings” is a story of a woman who experienced great physical and mental suffering for over twenty years of her life - Mirrorings by Lucy Grealy introduction. Aged nine, Lucy was diagnosed as having facial bone cancer and surgeons removed most of the right side of her jaw. Later she had to undergo many surgeries and intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments which lasted for a couple of years. As an adult, she underwent numerous reconstructive operations to fix her face. Despite so much physical suffering and strain, all these operations proved to be of no avail.
The large majority of people that we are used to seeing around us have more or less regular features and (at least apparently) sound bodies. Although we may not be aware of this, the idea that most people should have relatively similar appearances seems to be firmly rooted at a subconscious level in our mind. When we see a person for the first time, we usually form our attitude towards them according to their appearance. On the one hand, if a person’s appearance is rather “irregular”, that is to say, if it is not like that of the majority of other people, this person is usually tolerated but not fully accepted by others. On the other hand, being a part of the human society, such a person shares the same social prejudice about their appearance and understands that they can’t enjoy the status of “normal” people. The very fact of understanding this makes their existence unhappy and unbearable to them and they do their best to become “normal” as many others are. Lucy Grealy’s story is a good example of this.
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As it is known, most children and teenagers often taunt their peers with remarks about any physical imperfection they have. They rarely appreciate another person’s spiritual characteristics and appearance is very important when they form their opinion about others. When it comes to adulthood, most civilized people feel pity and sympathy for the disfigured or the disabled. They pretend to understand that somebody’s appearance is not the most important thing in life after all and they learn to appreciate spiritual qualities other people possess. However, there are many disabled or disfigured people in our society who, for example, can never start a family or have
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normal love affairs with other people because of their unattractive physical appearance. This is a clear sign that appearance is a strong barrier that prevents us from treating physically imperfect people in the same way we treat normal people. If we follow closely Lucy’s story, we can see that starting from her childhood, she had difficulty in being accepted by the outside world because of her disfigured face. However, the more she grew up the less strong was Lucy’s intolerance by others. As a child, she was indeed rejected by her peers in a brutal and cruel way. Taunts, mockeries, and insults pursued her every time she appeared in the presence of other children. In her adolescence, Lucy was not so openly rejected anymore by her friends; but neither was she accepted by them. Adolescence is the time in a person’s life when one’s physical appearance plays an important part in their relationship with other young people, and particularly with the opposite sex. She became simply isolated from other teenagers because, being disfigured and not attractive to them, she felt she could not live the normal life her friends and especially her sister did. When Lucy reached adulthood, she was accepted by the outside world only partially: she was considered to be an intelligent and interesting person by many of her friends but, despite this, none of those young people would be willing to start a more serious relationship with her.
People need love from those around them and they also need to be accepted by them. If they do not receive love or acceptance, they usually try to obtain them. In case of failure, they often seek substitutes for what they need. From the moment when, being a child, Lucy became aware that she looked different than her peers, she started to long for a normal face and life. As she could not have it in the real world, she simply refused to accept the reality and spent most of her time in imaginary worlds. Escapism was the girl’s favorite defense mechanism against such a cruel reality and inability to change it. Through her adolescence and adulthood Lucy developed significant spiritual superiority over other teenagers as a compensation for her physical imperfection thinking, for example, that only she knew how the life should be lived and what people should be interested in. At the same time, Lucy was undergoing reconstructive surgery to rebuild her jaw. She
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wanted to have her face fixed and cherished the hope of having normal physical appearance one day and live the normal life of a teenager as her peers did. Here we can see some contradiction between Lucy’s beliefs and what she really strived for. One is tempted to conclude that Lucy’s philosophy about what is important in this life and what is only the “mere surface” of living is nothing more than a simple subconscious defense against the brutal reality of the surrounding world. Even if she condemned the way her sister and friends were behaving, she would have given everything to live a normal life as they did and be preoccupied with what they were preoccupied.
Finally, Lucy came to accept that according to social beliefs, she was really ugly and that this situation could never be changed. She realized that she had no obligation to improve her situation nor did she have to explain or understand it. She understood that the image she made of herself had nothing to do with the image of her face. Of course, to some extent this brought Lucy the freedom, relief, and comfort she had long been waiting for. But it is more likely that this new philosophy of life is just another defense against the reality, but a more sophisticated one. What Lucy came to believe about her image is rather a result of a bitter disappointment by all those reconstructive operations and the awareness that she could never have her face fixed. She gave up her most cherished hope and quickly found a new attitude in life to justify her act. In other words, she was not sincere when she pretended not to be interested in her appearance anymore. If she had not cared about her face, she would not have avoided looking in the mirror or the surfaces of other objects that could reflect her face back to her. Looking in the mirror was rather a sore point with her, something she was willing to escape in every possible way. Perhaps somewhere deep in her soul she continued to feel guilty because of her appearance and the inability to improve it.
All in all, Lucy Grealy has an ugly appearance that is not accepted by most people. On the one hand, she has been a victim of unjust social prejudice that has affected all her life and caused her overwhelming suffering. But on the other hand, she is also a victim of her own beliefs about the importance of appearance in her life. And she seems to never get free from this prejudice. She is a
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typical example of a person who rejects and does not fully accept one’s unbearable image but tries to escape it.