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Don’t become the stranger in the mirror

A new trend warns against forgetting that beauty is only skin deep

Have you looked in the mirror lately? If you want to be a better person, maybe you should.

According to Roy Baumeister, co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength, the mere presence of a mirror can encourage us to live up to our own standards of personal conduct. None of us like to see ourselves falling short of our own expectations. Under the watchful eye of our reflected image, we’re more likely to control our baser impulses and comport ourselves with character and moral discipline.

But what happens when mirrors go the way of chalkboards and snail mail? Will the benefits of glass and silver carry over to the virtual reflection gazing back at us from our phones and tablets?

Apparently not.

Because the image we see in an old-fashioned looking-glass is what it is, we feel compelled to look deeper. We know we can’t change our physical imperfections. So if we don’t entirely like what we see, we have no other choice than improving the quality of what lies beneath the surface.

But now technology offers an alternative for shoring up our precarious self-esteem: an app that makes it easy to reconfigure our virtual selves.


For those of us who are not millennials, a lack of familiarity with the modern communication system Snapchat may be more of a blessing than we imagine. Along with simple texting, the picture messaging app allows you to augment your own image with a variety of filters, enhancing your appearance with longer eyelashes, freckles, or clearer skin. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter enable similar methods of facial embroidery.

But is there any harm in tweaking your electronic persona?

In a recent article published by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology, plastic surgeons identify a growing trend: prospective patients wanting to alter their appearances to match screen images they have created of themselves.

There’s even a name for it: Snapchat dysmorphia -- contemporary culture’s latest contribution to the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Rather than fantasizing about being Ryan Gosling or Scarlett Johansson, young people now aspire to manufacture a more perfect version of who they already are.


In an increasingly superficial society, it’s no surprise that we have trouble finding satisfaction in friends and family, in community and country, in the intangible rewards that accrue from living lives of service, integrity, and quiet restraint. With our senses overloaded by kaleidoscopic pixilation and relentless clamor, we can no more appreciate life’s simple pleasures than a wine novice can fathom the subtle complexity of a cabernet after chomping on a stick of peppermint gum.

The sages of the Talmud anticipated the hollowness of our culture when they warned: Do not look at the container, but rather at what it contains; for you may find a new vessel filled with well-aged wine, or an old vessel in which there is nothing at all.

Our phones and computers can be gateways to inexhaustible knowledge and wisdom. Too often, however, they are distractions from reality, blurring the lines between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be.

Without the discipline and courage to face life as it is, we inevitably lose all connection with our inner selves and the divine potential that resides within every human heart. Instead of considering how we might perfect our moral character, it’s less daunting to enlist the surgeon’s knife to transform our skin and sinew into a mask of beauty that conceals the emptiness within.

The greater tragedy lies in the inevitable outcome of discovering that we cannot escape from our true selves or hide from the spiritual longing of our souls no matter how beautiful a mask we choose to wear.

So begin each day by taking a hard look at your real self in the real mirror. Then ponder what changes you can make on the inside that will allow your true, inner beauty to shine through.

Published in Jewish World Review

Photo Credit: Lewiscdl

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