Why do we look bad in mirrors? It’s all relative

We’ve all done it – put your make-up on and left the house feeling okay, even not bad, and then looked into a mirror later to see an entirely different face staring back at you.

It happens to me every day when I go to the work loos. Somehow, the person in that mirror has aged several years and has really, really bad make-up.

But now I know the answer – and it’s all to do with physics.

Yes, physics. That really boring class at school – well, it was boring once my all-girls class got mixed with the boys and the teacher figured that XY > XX with the conclusion that I got a E in my O-levels after previously topping the exam results the previous year.

No, I’m not bloody bitter.

But more recently, I’ve got back into the subject. It’s Brian Cox’s fault – him and his lovely loose locks and dulcet northern tones on Radio 4’s science show The Infinite Monkey Cage. Not so long ago, they did a special on relativity that truly piqued my curiosity. Well, okay, I didn’t understand a word and so headed to the library and the internet to find out more.

It’s truly fascinating and I learnt loads*, but the more I delved, the more I realised the experts missed out a whole section on mirrors.

You see, looking into that glass at work, I had an epiphany. Einstein had his patent office in Switzerland; I had the office bogs. Pretty similar.

The general theory of relativity teaches us just that – that time is relative depending on your perception and place in the universe. In other words, time don’t turn to the beat of just one drum. What might be fast to you, may not be fast to some. A man is born, he’s a man of means…

Sorry, that’s Diff’rent Strokes. But it’s similar.

So as I stared into that glass, thoughts of Brian Co… I mean, Einstein going through my head, I realised that perhaps it’s not me but just how I look in that particular mirror. I mean, changing rooms’ mirrors differ depending on which store you’re in, thanks to lights, placing and so on, so perhaps this mirror just shows one perception and my bathroom mirror shows another and the truth is – the truth is: I am Schrodinger’s 50Sense.

And the more I thought about this – it was my lunch break, honest – the more I realised that this applies to life. To some people I’m old, to others I’m young; to some I’m pretty, others naaah; to some I have great musical tastes, to others… okay, no one thinks I have great musical tastes. But generally, which of these is “true” depends on your point of view.

A mirror can only show us the basics – eyes, nose, mouth, stunning Victoria Beckham LBD – but our perception, and that of others, differs depending on other factors. So just because you don’t look good in one mirror, doesn’t mean you don’t look good – or even that you should care.

It’s all relative.

You can put the Nobel in the post. It’ll look nice on the fireplace.

* In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit to still being confused as to how space/time is responsible for everything going south on your body as you get older. Gravity pulling down on us I get, but curvy-wurvy space/time is no excuse for fried eggs.  

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