Sally Friedman

is a writer in Moorestown

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I would sit next to my mother's vanity table and watch her put "stuff" on her face. All the while, she looked in a shiny thing I then called a "mirrow."

Mom and that shiny thing seemed inextricably bound to each other. Sometimes she smiled at it. Other times, she frowned.

And when she got up from those sessions, she always looked happy to me. So I would ask her why.

"Because that's my pretty mirror," she would answer.

I never quite understood what she meant. But now I do.

Mirrors are not inanimate objects for most women. They can be brutal truth-tellers. Under certain ruthless lighting, they can be cruel bearers of the bad news that we are not who we think we are, or want to be.

I love the mirror in our little powder room that is somehow situated to reflect the best me - the one without all the flaws, squiggly lines, and reminders that last night's sleep was definitely not adequate.

I don't like the one in our dining room, above the buffet. It seems larger than life and is way too revealing. But the most anxiety-producing one of all is the master-bathroom mirror.

When we were downsizing, our Realtor took us to see a series of disappointing houses, and then to a condominium nearby. It had, she told us, a very special area. And on the tour, she saved what she regarded as the best for last.

"Look how glamorous!" she cooed as we stepped into a huge space with glistening white fixtures and a sunken tub. With mirrors on almost every wall, it had a kind of Hollywood-ish dazzle.

Only after we'd moved in did I realize that I could actually see myself, first thing every morning, in triplicate. A sobering sight as the years rush by. I feel totally vulnerable until I can sneak into the one corner of the room that is mirror-free.

I've briefly explored removing the dizzyingly ubiquitous mirrors from our master bath, but it costs too much.

My husband, surely not a vain man, isn't bothered by our bathroom's expanse of mirrors. He's comfortable in his own skin, something far more elusive, I suggest, for women.

So I keep searching for my late mother's "pretty mirror."

It's definitely not the side-view mirror on our rugged Subaru, one that is brutal, especially on very sunny days. Or the ruthless magnifying mirrors in hotel bathrooms. And, yes, if I ruled the world, I would banish the three-way mirrors in department-store dressing rooms obviously meant for models with thighs of steel and stomachs so flat they might serve as ironing boards.

Still, I'm optimistic. I keep hoping for mirrors that don't shock, stun, or sabotage me - and maybe make me look a tad taller. If they happen to reveal progress in my lifelong quest to lose five pounds, all the better.

I celebrate such mirrors, the ones that shield me from the unvarnished truth. Because every life can use a little harmless self-deception.