We Look Into Mirrors But We Only See the Effects of Our Times On Us—Not Our Effect On Others

Pearl Bailey? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you look into a mirror your self-image may be altered, but you are not forced to see yourself objectively. You do not perceive yourself through the eyes of others, and you do not really understand your effect on others. The U.S. actress and singer Pearl Bailey once said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1976 Pearl Bailey published a collection of short essays titled “Hurry Up, America, & Spit”. The piece titled “We Look Into Mirrors” begins with the following statement. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

We look into mirrors but we only see the effects of our times on us—not our effect on others.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In one essay Bailey discussed the meaning of her distinctive book title: 2

We have to face the uglies, to admit our errors, and even if we repeat them, we ought not to excuse them. We must rechew our cud—cows in a pasture—and what we cannot live on, or by, we must spit out.

In 1981 the collection “Quotations in Black” compiled by Anita King included the statement and cited Bailey’s book: 3

We look into mirrors but we only see the effects of our times on us—not our effects on others.
Hurry Up America, and Spit [1976]

In 1993 “21st Century Dictionary of Quotations” printed the saying together with an ascription to Bailey. 4

In 2001 the quotation appeared in “Funny Ladies: The Best Humor from America’s Funniest Women”. 5

In 2021 the email newsletter “Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week” from Mardy Grothe featured a profile of Pearl Bailey together with a selection of ten of her quotations including the remark about mirrors. 6

In conclusion, Pearl Bailey should receive credit for the statement she crafted and published in 1976.

Image Notes; Public domain illustration of a table, mirror, chair. and footstool from “The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue” of 1851.

(Great thanks Mardy Grothe whose email newsletter containing this quotation inspired this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1976, Hurry Up, America, & Spit by Pearl Bailey, Chapter: We Look Into Mirrors, Quote Page 52, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1976, Hurry Up, America, & Spit by Pearl Bailey, Chapter: Folks Keeps Asking, Quote Page 7, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1981, Quotations in Black, Compiled and Edited by Anita King, Section: Pearl Bailey, Quote Page 191, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1993, 21st Century Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by The Princeton Language Institute, Topic: Mirrors, Quote Page 291, The Philip Lief Group: Dell Publishing: A Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 2001, Funny Ladies: The Best Humor from America’s Funniest Women compiled by Bill Adler, Topic: Age and Aging, Quote Page 22, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. (Verified with scans)
  6. Email Newsletter: Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week, Title: This Week in History, Newsletter author: Mardy Grothe, Date within email: March 28 to April 3, 2021, Description: Weekly email sent to a group of quotation enthusiasts. (Received March 28, 2021) link