Caroline McHugh on The Art of Being Yourself (Full Transcript)

Caroline McHugh at TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen

Chief Idologist Caroline McHugh on The Art of Being Yourself at TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The art of being yourself by Caroline McHugh at TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen


So, the chances are you’ve looked in at least one mirror today. You’ve had a shave, or you combed your hair, or maybe you checked your teeth for spinach after lunch. But what you didn’t know is that the face looking back at you isn’t the face that everybody else sees. It’s a kind of reversed, distorted, back-to-front image.

So some years ago, I was on a flight to New York and I read an article in the FT, and it was an article about a phenomenon called a True Mirror, and for the Americans listening, that’s a mirror. So the True Mirror was actually invented by a brother and sister team in New York called John and Catherine Walters, and what they discovered was that if you take two mirrors and you put them together at right angles and you take the seam away the images bounce off each other. And what you see when you look in a True Mirror is exactly what other people see when they look at you.

So I land in New York and I phone John up and ask him if I can go and see him, and I end up in his gallery in Brooklyn, and it was like being at a sideshow in the circus. There were True Mirrors full length, face sized, all over this gallery. And when I walked over to the True Mirror for the first time and I looked in the mirror, it was one of the most disorientating experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

The first thing you notice when you look in a True Mirror is that your head’s not on straight. So yours is kind of going that way, and yours is quite straight actually, and yours is going that way a wee bit. So, apparently most of us tilt our heads one way or another, so when you approach a True Mirror the first thing you try and do is fix your head, but, of course, because it’s reversed you go the wrong way. So it’s very, very disorientating.

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But more importantly, I had a flashback. I had a flashback to when I was a wee girl. So I grew up in Glasgow — in case you haven’t noticed, I am Scottish. But I grew up in Glasgow, and my mom, when she was putting her makeup on, I used to love sitting and watching my mom putting her makeup on, you know, with my chin in my hands.

And I would tell her occasionally, “Isn’t it funny how one side of your top lip is higher than the other side of your top lip?”

And she’d look in the mirror and she’d say, “It is not.”

And I’d say, “No, it’s only a couple of millimeters, but that side of your cupid’s bow is definitely higher than the other side of your cupid’s bow.”

She’d say, “Caroline, you’re havering.”

And when I looked in the True Mirror, there was the lip that I had been wearing, at that time, for maybe 45 years, and I’d never seen it. So the difference is when you look in a regular mirror you look for reassurance. You look for reassurance that you’re beautiful, or you’re young, or you’re tidy, or your bum doesn’t look big in that.

But when you look in a True Mirror you don’t look at yourself, you look for yourself. You look for revelation, not for reassurance. And this was deeply interesting to me because what I do for a living is I help people be themselves. Not in any narcissistic or solipsistic way, but because I believe that social reformation begins — always starts with the individual.

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