Mirror mirror on my Wall

I saw myself on a video podcast the other day. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Over the years, like most women, I have studied my face to excess: in thousands of mirrors and under every type of light. I am familiar with every freckle, every contour, every pore and every flaw but to see it on screen, in its full, animated glory, triggered immediate recoil, something tantamount to a full-body cringe. The person on screen looked odd. She blinked too much, had a faux earnest expression like some kind of Princess Diana wannabe and when she spoke, she sounded like a horsey sloaney twat. Her face looked unfamiliar. Her jowls looked droopy and her mouth downturned.

As I lurched for the phone, ready to dial for emergency cosmetic intervention, I began to think about how rare it is that we see ourselves as we truly are. Or as others might see us.

In the digital age, we are free to construct our identity, to select, crop and hyper-edit our image. We are the directors and producers of our lives, cherry picking the fun and glamorous times while cutting out the mundane. So much so that some of us eventually convince ourselves, identifying more with our avatar than we do with reality.

mirror

On dating sites, where people are searching for something more meaningful than a press release from their friends, the average member will sieve through thousands of contestants, hoping to cast a perfect partner in their own reality show. But to make it through to auditions, profiles must be a masterpiece of copyediting and photo-shop. A plain Jane accounts clerk suddenly morphs into porno secretary. John at British Rail masquerades as an engineering mogul. We are outraged when out dates are unrecognisable in person but do we stop to think if we are guilty too?

As a matchmaker I was faced with many a delusional client blinded by their online reflection: ‘Why do I have to state my age when I look so much younger?’

So what is the answer? Slap up a barefaced photo and minimal text onto a dating site and you’ll get about as much attention as an albino in Essex. If everyone else is doing it, then we’re not fighting fair.

Perhaps social networking sites could perform routine scans for those at risk of developing narcissistic tendencies and covertly activate the user’s webcam on a Monday morning, before enforcing a slow-motion playback. Double chin. Mochachino moustache. Ouch. Ego in check.

We all know the most desirable, and psychologically sound, solution is to rise above the futility of conceit, abhor the superficial, grow our armpit hair and surrender to a higher purpose. Most likely wearing a kaftan, we should proclaim our bodies a vessel for the soul, flinging them from social platforms to a wood hut in the forest, where we live off the land and plot post-digital anarchy.

Alternatively, there’s always the less drastic option of reminding ourselves that Narcissus wouldn’t have died, had he realised his reflection were only an image.

Read more from Haley Hill in her bestselling novel ‘It’s Got to Be Perfect: the memoirs of a modern-day matchmaker’

Valen-tired-day

Apart from our wedding day, no day is expected to be as perfect as Valentine’s. The man was a saint after all, risking his life to marry Christian couples in the face of the mighty Roman Empire.

For centuries, lovers have exchanged gifts, confectionary and hand-written notes to celebrate their affection. So instead of simply  purchasing a card with a teddy bear on it, some chocolate brazils and scheduling a candlelit meal, why is it I feel obligated to don tacky red lingerie, an uncooperative suspender belt and bend over the dining table, licking my lips and declaring that I am the dessert?

With two kids and a muffin top under my belt, I thought my days as a wanton nymphet were over.  I suppose I can at least be grateful  my husband’s recent conversion to a macrobiotic diet rules out the mutually humiliating ritual of painting each other’s genitals with chocolate spread.

Instead of being force-fed oysters, which I was rather looking forward to, the four-course love feast he is planning, I’m told will involve an unseasoned avocado, steamed vegetables and spelt. I think they might look a little out of place amongst the fake rose petals, heart shaped napkins and red plastic champagne flutes mum added to my trolley at the supermarket, along with a stern warning to ‘keep the passion alive’.

To accompany the occasion, my husband suggested I might like to wear a dress. This in itself seems a reasonable request. However, when dining at home by ourselves I find the idea quite ridiculous. Back when we were first dating, it made sense. I spent my days submerged in narcissistic self- indulgence and would think nothing of enjoying a four-hour prep before appearing on his doorstep like Aphrodite from the sea. Now, however there is a window. Anyone with children will understand this timeframe. It’s the extremely brief interlude between putting the kids to bed and collapsing with exhaustion. If I do any more than simply peal off my biscuit encrusted tracksuit bottoms and pull a creased-not-quite-fitting-anymore dress over my head, there is a good chance he could be asleep, or drunk by the time I present myself, wobbling on a pair of scarlet, feathered mules.

If I make it down in time, and haven’t lacerated myself with a speed-Brazilian shave, and if Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, interspersed with tandem toddler recitals via the monitor isn’t enough to offset the wine soaking through our spelt rammed stomachs, we might actually get down to it. Maybe even on the dining-room table, if we can work around the travel cots and kiddie car seats. The act itself will be hurried, not through passion but through fear of interruption. Demands for dummy retrieval, an urgent business call, or as occurred on one occasion, a canine nose probing an orifice, in search of chocolate spread.

The truth is, like most couples with young children, we’re exhausted. We’re lucky if we have time to remember to love each other, let alone write a note expressing it. However, this Valentine’s, along with the rest of the world, we will endeavour to rekindle the flame of love. Though chances are, it will be on a Peppa Pig candle.

Read more from Haley Hill in her bestselling novel ‘It’s Got to Be Perfect: the memoirs of a modern-day matchmaker’