x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Reflection and speculation

Mirrors may be reflections of the truth or they may be keenly manipulated to show something completely different.

I've been thinking a lot about mirrors recently. I'm aware that this makes me sound rather vain, and that as a fashion correspondent I should guard against validating that popular assumption. Yet I'm not a big fan of the looking glass. I enjoy the fact that the mirrored doors of my wardrobe are doomed to inefficiency, thanks to the raspberry curtains that cast a reddish pall over my bedroom. Indeed, I often find myself wearing horribly clashing colours, which I blithely pass off as a bold and fashion-forward statement.

I can potter along quite happily until I am confronted by a normal mirror in perfectly clear light. And for someone who spent 31 years in the dim haze of British days, there can be no light less forgiving than the glare of an Abu Dhabi spring. When I'm running late and haven't time to smudge on some lipgloss before leaving the house, I often whip out a compact in the taxi, attempting to make myself presentable. Those harsh sun rays show up every flaw, wrinkle and spot.

Deprived of the soft focus accorded by drizzle and mist, I find myself staring in shock at a hirsute, saggy-skinned hag, apparently the proud owner of Chris de Burgh's eyebrows, Churchill's jowls and my father's auburn handlebar moustache. Yet the truth of a mirror image is not so very concrete; the mind has a truly wonderful facility for kidding itself in one direction or another. Lily Allen claimed the other day that she suffers from body dysmorphia, seeing a hugely overweight person in the mirror (prompting the question: why would you wear a midriff-revealing crop top and seek out pop-star fame?).

Conversely, my grandmother had a mirror coveted by everyone who experienced its ability to turn a family of stocky peasant midgets into elegant aristocrats. We knew it was somehow cleverly fixed, but there is no feeling like going out in a new frock thinking you look like a film star. Last week, while trying on dresses in a swanky boutique, I realised that either I had grown several inches and lost 15lb or its looking glass was from the same factory as my granny's.

I had a moment of fury - I was, after all, about to drop a wad of cash (albeit at an 80 per cent discount) on dresses that might not suit me. But then, in a sort of post-Cartesian revelation, it came to me: how could I know which mirror to believe? Why would I always accept the veracity of my reflection in any mirror that made me look short and podgy, when it could conceivably be more distorted than this flattering vision?

Which, I wondered, would be more beneficial: to go out into the world believing I looked fabulous, or to shuffle sadly through life, safe in the miserable knowledge that at least I'd concealed my most hideous aspects from the world? Perhaps, after all, ignorance really is bliss.