100 Days Without Mirrors

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On those days when you look in the mirror and all you see is ugly, avoiding your own reflection can be an effective on-the-spot strategy in breaking the cycle of negative self-talk. But what might be the consequences of giving up mirrors for an extended period of time? Could it trigger a more positive view of your body? Or would it have the opposite effect? Kjerstin Gruys has taken the leap to live without mirrors in the hope that it will help her heal from poor body image.

On March 26, 2011, self-described “feminist fashionistette” decided to abandon her own reflection for 365 days as a way to explore the negative relationship she has with her body. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, Gruys is to be married this October. We are wowed by her experiment and we think you’ll be, too.

Here’s the lowdown on the first 100 days. ~Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor

By Kjerstin Gruys

Three months ago while shopping for my wedding dress I decided to stop looking at myself in the mirror … for a year. This decision was motivated by my growing frustration with my poor body image; I was tired of feeling vain, insecure, and indecisive. As a feminist academic who studies the relationship between “beauty” and social inequality, I also felt like a hypocrite. Could ditching mirrors force me to re-prioritize?  Here’s a “reflection” on my first 100 days.

1) FEASIBILITY: YES, I have been able to almost completely remove mirrors from my life, and I no longer feel dependent on them. This feels is pretty phenomenal.  Still, it’s been really difficult, and sometimes I still slip up. In other words, I’m not yet 100% mirror-free. Mirrors and reflective surfaces are everywhere and even the most stringent measures haven’t prevented accidental glimpses. (Darn those ATM security cameras!) These peripheral peeks have been mostly benign, but every so often, “seeing myself” has led to “looking at myself,” which is totally against the rules.

At first, these little cheats were motivated by burning curiosity (insecurity?) about my looks but I’ve calmed a bit about that (see below for details). Recently, however, I’ve been mourning the loss of creativity that used to go toward my daily makeup, hairstyling, and outfit choices; I look longingly at my exceedingly excessive collection of abandoned beauty products, and I am SO tempted to push aside the curtain hung over my bathroom mirror and play! The good news is that these urges seem motivated by body-positive creativity, instead of body-negative insecurity. But I still have some work to do.

2) TRUST: When I first started avoiding mirrors I felt paranoid about my appearance.  (Heck, sometimes I felt paranoid that I didn’t even exist when I couldn’t see myself!). I became that annoying woman who constantly asks everybody, “Do I look okay?!,” and was unnerved to discover that I didn’t even trust people when they told me I did. This was profoundly depressing. Had I ever trusted a compliment on my looks??

The paranoia has faded (though I am still very curious about my looks), and I’ve learned that my friends and family are much kinder to me than I typically have been to myself.  Yes, people let me know when I have mascara on my nose or food on my shirt, but pointing out a mouth full of poppy-seeds is drastically different from the disapproval (or disgust) that I used to project at my reflection in the mirror. I’ve started to trust these outside opinions a bit more, and my critical self a bit less.

So …. do I have FANTASTIC BODY IMAGE now? Well, no. But I never expected to reverse a 15+year issue in only a few months. That would be ridiculously simple, and – as is true for most women – my body image remains ridiculously complex. Yet, I’m seeing small positive changes and these give me hope.

3) WEDDING ANGST:

A few weeks ago I challenged myself to complete all 37 items on TheKnot.com’s Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous list without looking into a mirror. (My wedding is in October.) So I got my eyebrows waxed without seeing the results, I downward-dogged with only my sister’s perky rear to guide my form, and I bared my soulto the world-wide-web regarding my body image struggles. Yet, the item on this list that scares me the most is the only item I’m NOT ALLOWED to complete. The last thing I’m supposed to do before walking down the isle, is:

“Take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of the day before giving yourself one last once-over in the mirror.”

Yeah, that “last once-over in the mirror” is definitely not permitted in the rules of my project. But, I’m scared I’ll regret not doing this. Not only will I be desperately curious to know what I’ll look like as a bride, but SO many trusted, sane, wise, and not-ridiculously-vain women in my life (hi, Mom!) have told me that I NEED to take a moment alone to see myself on the day that I get married. I’ve been told that this won’t be about my looks, but about quietly recognizing myself for just one quiet moment during a whirlwind day of momentous transition. And that doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Or …. maybe this moment-in-front-of-the-mirror thing is just one more overly-romantic bridal “must-do” myth, and I’d be buying into it at the cost of this project’s integrity. I don’t have the answer yet, and probably won’t until that moment arrives (or doesn’t).

What do you think?

* * *

Kjerstin Gruys is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Sociology Department at UCLA where she’s writing her dissertation on clothing size standards in the fashion industry. At her blog, A Year Without Mirrors, she’s chronicling her commitment to avoid her reflection for 365 days. Twitter: @NoMirrorMirrors

Cross-posted with permission.

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Mirror-Less Schooling: A Positive Initiative?

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Comments

  1. Kathleen Westervelt says:

    As a teenage girl who just finished high school I remember having constant urges to check myself in the mirror to make sure half my face was not sliding off or anything, and I found myself critiquing every imperfection I found. The only thing that helped me was slowly backing away from the mirror and dropping whatever cosmetic I wielded back into my pocket. However, those few moments of truth corrupted my day of school as I constantly pondered about that one pimple on my face that seemed monstrous. So because of this I am grateful for your experiment and courage to not only act like yourself but to truly look like yourself every day. I realized that beauty isn’t a fact or a rule of some sort (different appearances, smells, tastes appeal to different people), and for ourselves beauty is more of a feeling of utter confidence. Every girl should know that feeling when they are wearing the one outfit that they think fits them perfectly and they seem to not only shimmer, but shine. Avoiding the mirror (like I did) can help for a little, but what is truly spectacular is when you can look in the mirror and accept all your imperfections knowing that it’s your own opinion of yourself that matters. If you are confident with your appearance other people will learn to view you the way you view yourself. I’m sure your husband will marry you no matter what shape your eyebrows look that day. I say that you should look in the mirror and just see how beautiful you are on one of the most beautiful days of your life without doubts or insecurities but more or less, awe.

  2. Hi Kjerstin!

    I think you should follow /your/ gut and have people take pictures for you to look at when your project is done, or before that, if it’s allowed under your rules. I’m afraid that if you look in the mirror, you might take the opportunity to criticize yourself and launch into a low self-esteem rant at yourself on such a special day. How probable do you think that is?

    Fascinating experiment. Very cool.

    Best of luck!

  3. Christina says:

    I say you should look in the mirror for this great occasion. I think it will serve to ground you,calm any nerves and it could change your perspective. You will see just how much progress you have made and how even without the help of a mirror you’ve still made it to this moment.
    You’re very courageous for this. I wish you the best of luck in everything :)

  4. Kjerstin,
    This is a fascinating experiment. I’m impressed by your courage. It’s really wonderful to read about the things you are learning as you go along and the questions that are coming up. I assume when this is complete and you go back to mirrors your experience will continue to evolve and change. What a beautiful thing you are doing for yourself and others.

  5. Hi SamanthaPink,
    Thanks for your encouragement! If you decide to go without mirrors – even for a day – let me know! It would be great to get different perspectives on this experience. Thanks also for your wedding well-wishes! I hope you’re right!
    Kjerstin

  6. Very cool project! I would have never thought of this. This is very inspiring. I might try to take it up for a month or so myself. It will definitely be interesting. And good luck on your wedding, I’m sure you’re going to look beautiful, regardless if you can see yourself or not!

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