Imposter Syndrome

By Kaitlyn Zaldana


Based on “Girl Before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso


Staring into a mirror and not recognizing the creature gazing back is a hollowing phenomenon. To gradually become a stranger in the body you were born into is all too commonly seen. 


One of Pablo Picasso’s most revered creations is “Girl Before a Mirror,” which was born out of the Cubism era of his art. Cubism allows artists to weave intricate shapes and lines into their subjects to create the illusion that there are many different perceptions to be had over just one image. With this technique and style in mind, Picasso captured the exquisite, yet tragic, duality of his muse: Marie-Thérèse Walter. 


Walter masqueraded through life with a convoluted disguise of her own design. She transformed her face into a canvas by painting it with makeup day after day, mimicking cubisms illusionary perspective on reality. Though there is no shame in creating a better perception of yourself by enhancing your exterior image, this cloak was only a temporary ploy for her to find comfort within herself; to the outside world, she was just another beautiful woman, nobody ever thought to question what lied beneath the surface. The silhouette she commanded everybody to see was painted with confidence, fertility, and light. 


These concepts are features even the modern woman constantly feels obligated to portray. It’s tied to a certain degree of fear that women cannot escape, regardless of age; the fear that once they lose their youth and beauty, they will no longer be valued by their loved ones- or anyone for that matter. However, beauty doesn’t have an expiration date.


The painting depicts the true nature of the relationship Walter held with herself. The figure in the mirror is a clear indicator that she doesn’t see what everyone else does. She could be experiencing imposter syndrome, the idea that people create a mask with makeup and are so used to wearing it every day that they do not recognize themselves without it. This concept trickles back to the idea of feeling like a stranger in your own body, feeling like the one thing you were gifted in this world doesn’t even belong to you anymore.


If you abolish her facade, what would you see?


The entity reflecting back at Marie-Thérèse Walter is darker and far more grotesque than she truly is. Her reflection is so distorted that she reaches out to caress the mirror, trying to familiarize herself with the stranger before her. Many perceptions of this painting relate the dark figure to her reconciling with the fact of life that she is aging, and she is fearful that her beauty is fleeting as time wears on. It feels almost unfathomable that she thought this because she was only 22 when Picasso painted “Girl Before a Mirror,” her life had hardly begun. Perhaps each evening as the lilac skies faded into blue, Marie-Thérèse Walter found herself gazing into her mirror, agonizing over another day passing and her continuously aging. 


I’ve gone most of my life relatively unscathed by the impending fear of growing old until I began to study “Girl Before a Mirror”. I sat perched on my bathroom countertop with the fluorescent light grazing my skin and my breath kissing the mirror. Studying myself in the polished metal, I began wondering who was in front of me, mocking my every move. I felt numb to my surroundings, entranced by the shapes and lines before me. I had the strangest feeling overcome me as I realized how odd it was that I once looked into the mirror and saw a child who was yearning for maturity, knowing now I would give anything to be a kid again. It got even more bizarre when I reminded myself how youthful I truly am at only 19 years old. I can’t help but wonder what one day I will see and find discomfort in.  


Ageism in modern society is so twisted because we all get old. Nobody is an exception. Nobody carries more value than anyone else. Though we all may see ourselves the same way Marie-Thérèse Walter saw herself in her lifetime, less than perfect, we must remember not to hold ourselves to the lens of what we once were but focus on who we could be.


Society is obsessed with finding a way to reverse time and erase the only indicators that you have been living life. Our wrinkles and smile lines are nothing to be ashamed of. If anything, they only prove that life is full of potential and joy, and there is only more to come. 

Tags: Perspective