Showing Up for Myself in the Mirror

It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with my face. With my whole head, really, and everything below it. After my first son was born, my body became foreign to me. I lingered in front of the mirror pinching extra skin or tying my hair into submission. I couldn’t recognize myself. I was a collection of features that felt both concentrated and diluted by the processes of pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and the unexpected weight loss that came with breastfeeding.

I ventured into the world again for the first time when Noah was six months old. I remember how hard it was to focus. Everything felt bright and harsh. I was alone and at the edge of panic because it had been 15 months since I’d done anything as a single body. By myself. The words were foreign and uncomfortable. I did not like the way they sat on me. But my husband recognized that I was only a shell of who I had been pre-baby. He sent me for a haircut and clothes that fit.

noah crying

This tiny image is what that first six months was like.

I stopped at Kohls first and came out with several base pieces for a summer wardrobe. Then I sat in a chair at the salon where a petite stylist trimmed my hair into submission. I had been more than a year since my last cut. I shifted in the chair awkwardly, pulling at my clothes and wishing the cut would end so I could go home and hide in my bedroom.

As my middle kiddo says, “I just can’t people today.”

But when I shopped for clothes, I had impulsively purchased makeup and earrings. At home I hid in a bathroom and  got to know my face. It was different than it had been; older, more tired, stressed but more beautiful. I took care of my skin, applied a foundation, blush and mascara. I tweezed my brows, rediscovering their arch. Then I stepped back to take myself in.

I wasn’t the same me, but I didn’t expect to be. I also didn’t expect the sense of satisfaction these small acts gave me. So I put in my earrings and spent a little time every day the next few weeks practicing my smile instead of staring at the purple lightning across my abdomen or the crow’s feet and frown lines appearing on my face. Makeup and earrings. Small, inconsequential, either worshipped or treated as tools of self-aggrandizement by bitchy women in media. I’d always ascribed to the bitch theory, but now I knew the value of painting on a fresh face when you just can’t manage one without help.

first selfie

My first selfie. I kid you not.

And then came iPhones. With them, more children. I began painting my nails, brushing my lips and taking selfies. Now I  subscribe to an monthly makeup bag and watch YouTube tutorials on how to do hair and makeup like my favorite fictional heroines. On days I feel like I just can’t make it, I paint on the face I wish I’d woken up with. And I feel good about it, because all of it is a way to show up for myself.


I’m getting better at transforming. I took this on a day I felt tired, cranky and over it all. It’s amazing what a little self love and some eyeliner will do.

It’s worth it, you know? Getting past the embarrassment of navel-gazing. I get to be in pictures now instead of just behind the camera. I’ve learned to see the beauty in an awkward pose. I’ve learned to love my imperfection, and I want more of that.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

9 Discussion to this post

  1. Gulara says:

    Touching. Brave. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. The Hook says:

    You know you’re drop-dead gorgeous, right?

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  3. dacounsel says:

    I can relate. 2 pregancies & c-sections have me feeling less than glamorous. I’m too tired from commuting to work & nothing to consistently work out. I’m learning to love my body yet work on a healthier me at the same time. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. This is an amazing post, with so much truth about the adventures we women take to rediscover ourselves, whether after childbirth, as we age, or at any time when we feel lost. You are such a humble and beautiful soul.

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    • Shawna Ainslie says:

      Thank you so much, Rica. The process of self-discovery is never-ending. I’m so grateful we are connected because your work offers compassionate insight into these processes. It helps to get outside our own heads and into someone else’s. 😉

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