WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Bright Lights & Close Ups

My sister loves her new magnifying mirror.  Its swiveling double sides and LED lights have changed her life.  “You have to get one.  You see every pore!  You see in your pores!”

I don’t want to see or see in my pores.  Plus, magnified close-ups don’t flatter me.  Adding bright lights is hateful.  For evidence, visit any department store’s dressing room and strip to your underwear.  It’s shadows and distance that grant grace.                                                                                                                            

My parents and in-laws don’t share many opinions, but they’re lockstep in their assessment of my home’s inadequate lighting.  My sweet father-in-law strayed from his complimentary nature when he visited bellowing, “You could break a neck in here!”  My mother-in-law frets over how she’ll see to make dumplings during each visit.  My father brings 75-watt lightbulbs.  “They were giving these away.  Want me to put them in for you?”  Ineffectually turning on lamps, my mother just purses her lips.  Who cares?  No one sees those pursed lips in my romantic lighting. 

I appreciate their positions, but my house’s dim glow serves me well.  I’m not distracted by cracks in the plaster or dust bunnies.  I’m not tempted to check corners for spider webs.  Avoiding bright, close-up views are best practice metaphors for looking at myself and others, too. 

Intense beams and zoom shots highlight pieces and parts, but forgo gifts of the whole.  My younger self was just fine, but it’s my older self’s perspective that sees the clear and solid truth of this.  When my husband is traveling, I realize he is, indeed, quite helpful.  It’s harder to notice when he’s home.  Some distance and soft lighting brings me this more accurate view.

This isn’t a call to live in the dark or ignore what needs attention.  It’s a call to recognize we can choose the frames in which we see ourselves and others.    

And to my colleagues in shopping:  If you see me balancing over the dressing room divider, fear not.  I’m not trying to sneak a peek.  I am unscrewing lightbulbs so I can try on bathing suits in peace.  Apologies in advance.

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Photo of Norma Talmadge (c. 1919). Hulton Archive.

Whitney Cain