I Took 30 Days of Mirror Selfies and Processed a Lot of Feelings

leandra medine cohen man repeller mirrors selfie style outfits


or someone who is pretty self-aware, I am nearly positive that I endured a minor depression last winter. I didn’t know I was in it until after it was over. I think I only know I was in it because I am out of it. It ended in early May, around the same time I traveled to Morocco and Paris for work. I’d attribute the emotional exodus to the weather change because that tends to work, but actually, it was spending five nights away, alone, with people to socialize with should I have pleased, but a computer to type into should I have preferred to catalog my thoughts—and the double-threat possibility of having conversations with people and then using those conversations to inform said writing—that provided the first glimmer of clarity, a reminder of Who I Am, from a fog I’d been sitting in for nine months.

Last winter, it was thick. The fog, I mean. So thick that I could grab it with my hands. I knew it was wrapped in a lot of insecurity about my place in the world (am I a good wife? A good daughter? Do my friends like spending time with me?), my worth in the marketplace (Is this it? Is the wave of my viability, which I have been waiting on to crash, finally doing it?), and my status as a business owner and leader (even my best friend resigned! I am a terrible leader). These rhetorical questions were taken too seriously, and I tried to answer them by making a string of weird (and bad) decisions that were expensive and wrong. I knew they were wrong, my gut told me in real time, but I was so insecure that I’d have listened to a talking garbage can to avoid tapping into myself.

It has not gotten lost on me that through all of this, I did not, and still don’t, question my role as a good mother. My guess is that this is because I don’t care what my kids have to offer me—only what I can give to them. It’s only a matter of time before this changes, before I can impose expectations on them because I know they have the physical and psychological capacity to deliver on them, but there is something to be said about this revelation as it pertains to how I’ve questioned my place in the world elsewhere. Chiefly because it seems that ego really is the enemy. I have been so focused on how much respect, credit, love, and approval I can collect from the people I care about that I almost forgot the most rewarding part of the greatest human relationships is genuine altruism and focusing on what you can offer, as opposed to receive. It sounds so cliche, but that’s another thing I’m doing—accepting all of the ways I am exactly that.

There are many and it feels good. At the height of my feeling like a floating body in space, I started to project into my writing that I hate quirky clothes, that I’m the new Steve Jobs: only wearing turtlenecks and jeans from here on out. I said I was in a palette cleanse (but actually, I think I was). At its height: I went so far as to suggest anecdotally that I don’t even know if I like fashion anymore. After I tried that one on for size, I laughed a grand cackle and moved right along.

But back to the fog: I turned 30 in December and, in the months leading up to it, started to ask who the hell I am. Partially, perhaps, because I thought I was supposed to. I started to break down every part of myself and try to build back up even though I didn’t actually know what I was building. Whether it was worth breaking! Frankly, I still don’t know, but here are the things that are, for now, indelibly true: I loooooooove to write, it’s an efficient way to organize my thoughts, of which I have many, and generate dialogue. At its best, writing creates an instant feedback loop. It opens up a panel of minds to different ways of absorbing information that facilitates learning and growth. At its best of the best, it makes another feel less alone.

I was reminded of how much I revel in this process from Morrocco after I labored over like 100 drafts of this installment of our advice column, Ask MR, and finally landed on something I was not just comfortable with but excited to publish.

Then I powered through reviews for the Dior and Chanel and remembered how satisfying it can be to affix knotty facets of the human experience to objective moments in time. In Paris, I also filmed a video for a partnership with Dior. That reminded me that, despite years of trying to suggest that I! Am! Not! A! Court! Jester!, I am silly. I really like to entertain. So long as the output pokes a bright hole in your, or your friend’s or anyone’s day, it’s fine if that makes me a court jester. People will hate this just as they have in the past, but I’ll try my best not to make the mistake I have been making of sending myself down a shame spiral as a result.

Finally, I remembered that I love getting dressed. No no, I love getting dressed. I love talking about getting dressed and thinking about getting dressed and writing about it but I especially love getting dressed. I remembered this when I nominated myself for this story — an installment of 30 Days of Mirror Selfies (I’ve done it twice before, Haley’s done it too, and so has Amelia) as pegged to National Selfie Day, which, if we haven’t hit you over the head with it enough times yet, I’ll remind you once again is today. And it’s a real holiday! It was founded in 2014 by D.J. Rick McNeely of Arlington, Texas. It was inducted into the national holiday calendar the following year and while I am still unclear on why this is the chosen day, as opposed to, frankly, every other day of the week as evidenced by the rampant Instagram activity of basically everyone I follow, I also don’t make the rules. I just try to tell stories around them.

And today’s story goes like this: I’ve been cataloging my outfits since mid-May, right after I got back from that trip overseas, and if my selfies have proven anything to me it’s that I’m still the same old me. Twinkles are changing, that is no question. My morals are getting slightly more pronounced, my willingness to own my responsibilities is becoming no longer a willingness but a genuine embodiment of them and my flagrant need for validation from others is slowly but surely metamorphosing into a need for validation from—here’s another zinger of a cliche—just me.

But the foundation of who I am is still the good old me. Good old! That’s why she’s pairing sequined tank tops with fancy basketball shorts and floral cardigans, and taking every chance she gets to wear ripped jeans. That’s why her idiosyncrasies—sweatpants and tweed jackets, taffeta tops and sport shorts, pajamas and wedge heels and underwear-as-pants—still make up the sum of how she presents herself to the world. Most important, that’s why she can’t help but acknowledge when she’s talking in the third-person that it is time to stop.

I’ve been revisiting parts of my wardrobe that I haven’t seen in years, looking inward at what I have, instead of outward at what I want, and this has been, no question, the second-to-most pervasive cliche to summate these incipient inklings of my I-have-arrived-at-30 sense of personal growth. It’s not getting you want, right? It’s wanting what you’ve got.

As for the most pervasive cliche to hit me over the head with a bucket full of earnestness? Growth starts with self-acceptance. It’s a good first step. It might be the only step! I know this because a former version of me may have been disappointed to find that on the other side of months of insecurity, I am still the same old me. But this version is take-it-or-leave-it relieved. Empowered, even.

I am who I am

You are who you are

And really, what more is there?

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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