I’m a Mirrorball
January 25, 2021 / Hayle Chen
“I can change everything about me to fit in.”
I’ve always been an introvert. Every dubious online psychology quiz you can peruse the internet for has confirmed the fact. I’m generally more reserved in social situations, I relish long bouts of solitude, I observe a task before I perform it myself, and I undoubtedly need a week to recharge after a big social event. Three to five business days at the very least.
But while it’s usually clear that introversion is as familiar to me as the bridge in “All Too Well” is to a Swiftie, I’ve realized that I don’t usually present those traits in social settings. If the atmosphere becomes awkward, I’ll be the one to energize it again—if I’m being recognized for a job well done, I can guarantee you I delight in the spotlight. To some of my friends, I can so easily carry a conversation with such high energy that they just assumed I was an extrovert from the get-go.
This isn’t because I’ve slowly gathered the courage to be more outspoken and external throughout the years—though there is some truth to that statement. Instead, I’ve become a case study for the ages: I’ve learned how to constantly mirror others. Their actions, their demeanors, their interests, their ways of thinking. That’s not to say I don’t have firm beliefs and passions of my own, but in social interactions I’ve learned to scope out the situation and cater to the particular group I’m engaging with before I dare reflect my own personality.
I’m a mirrorball, I can change everything about myself to fit in. I wasn’t born one though—constantly absorbing and reflecting, always disguising. Rather, the learned impulses came in stages.
In elementary school, instead of getting married on the soccer field with plastic rings during a twenty minute recess to a boy who like liked me, I simply partook in the ceremony as a wedding guest and observed.
In middle school, the mirrorball skills developed in full force. I dutifully learned One Direction band members’ names even though I barely listened to them at all. The Jonas Brothers? Guess I’m a Joe girl now!
In high school, save for the rants I reserved for my close friends, I spent the majority of my conversations questioning others about their weekend, their next big project, their wild night at prom.
So during my first semester of college, I unconsciously tried to break away from these inclinations by applying to organizations that seemed to exude individuality. Neurotically compiling a list of my interests in the Notes app, each question and interview response I gave was brimming with my personality. Yet, when a meet-and-greet or social event rolled around, I inevitably observed my peers before eventually mirroring them all over again. I couldn’t shake the habit, and at that point I didn’t even know it existed.
Here’s where she comes in. Taylor Swift, the mirrorball queen herself.
When Swift unexpectedly released her folklore album last year, it was absolutely no surprise to anybody that I, a long-time Swiftie, lost my damn mind. Amid a global pandemic, I was elated to have an alternative-pop-indie anthem for the ages. But I wasn’t expecting that an album fixated on blurring the line between fantasy and reality would make me so reflective about my life and identity.
It didn’t at first. When asked my least favorite track on the album, the word “mirrorball” easily slid off my tongue. But as I arrived in Austin for my second year of college which promised finite social interaction, “mirrorball” and its lyrics hit me in full force. I was horrified to realize that my tendency to shift my demeanor and mirror other people’s interests would be even easier to accomplish amid impersonal text bubbles and draining Zoom calls. What I had originally dismissed as merely a sufficient song I now saw as the perfect metaphor for my entire social life and identity. So I finally got it—got her. Taylor Swift and I were both mirrorballs, never allowing ourselves to be fully seen or understood without pretense.
Which would be fine if I hadn’t convinced myself my whole life that I didn’t crave conformity. If I didn’t already believe myself to be a highly individualized person whose original and witty personality and opinions won people over. Yet, as a “mirrorball introvert” faced with the desire to keep my cards close to my chest, I crave it all the time.
I am a mirrorball, able to change everything about myself to fit in.
But I don’t want to be one—at least not forever. So, slowly I’m learning to project myself rather than reflect others. When my friends ask me how I’m doing, I don’t let myself give a vague response about how busy I am and turn the conversation back to them. Instead I rave about how I was cold-called in class, virtually blacked-out from fear, but held my ground while eloquently citing evidence from the Constitution. I talk about and expand on me. I recondition myself so that when another opportunity for a Taylor Swift “You Belong With Me” rendition in a family talent show presents itself like it did in third grade (video evidence of the moment provided upon request), I’ll spend more time laughing with my cousins than racking my brain for any excuse not to participate and be perceived.
I practice opening up, so that when I master these skills—and as other mirrorball introverts do as well—I’ll be attentive to others’ interests and let myself be known. No more mirroring, no more hiding behind my colorful facades.
Bring on the social perception.■
By: Hayle Chen
Graphic by: Caden Zips
Graphic by: Caden Zips