No Mirrors for A Whole Year

Friday, May 03, 2013

Kjerstin Gruys, Ph.D. candidate in the department of sociology at UCLA whose research focuses on the relationship between gender inequality and beauty standards and the author of Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery, 2013), spent a year relying on other people, not reflective surfaces, as her "mirrors" and describes what she learned about self-esteem and the influence of the beauty industry.

Excerpt: Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall

A year from now you will wish you had started today. -Karen Lamb

In 2011, the average American bride spent just over $1,200 on her wedding dress. While planning my October 1, 2011, wedding, I spent almost $2,400 on four of them. You read that correctly: four. Depending on how you look at it, this makes me either a fantastic bargain hunter or just plain nuts. It's fair to say that I was a bit of both. Despite my determination to stay true to my frugal midwestern roots and to not become a bratty bridezilla, I desperately wanted to look stunningly beautiful and fashionably fabulous in my wedding dress. To complicate matters, I was a body-image expert who wanted to lose weight before the big day (or at least find a dress--or four!--that would make me look thinner). When I began freaking out about my appearance, I was told by many people, "Oh, don't worry. That's normal. You're going to be a bride! Just have fun with it." But I did worry, and I wasn't having as much fun as I'd hoped. I realized that what our culture views as "normal" for brides to-be wasn't what I wanted for myself.

Planning my wedding brought forth a fundamental mismatch between my values and my vanity. This book tells the story of how I came to recognize this mismatch, what I decided to do about it, and what I learned along the way. What, exactly, did I do? I challenged myself to give up looking at myself in mirrors--and all reflective surfaces--for a year. Some might say that by shunning mirrors, I simply replaced one form of insanity with another. Fair enough, but my journey wasn't motivated by a desire to be perfectly sane (how boring!). Rather, I was desperate to contend with some painful contradictions in my character, and I decided that feeling authentic and taking care of myself were more important than being a "normal" bride. Sometimes you have to do something extreme and crazy in order to find balance and sanity in the end.

I hope that reading about my year without mirrors will encourage you to take steps in your own life to more closely align your everyday habits with your values and sense of authentic self. Maybe you're a bride-to-be who is facing similar frustrations with the wedding industry. Or maybe getting married is the last thing on your mind, but you still struggle to feel authentic in your choices. Or perhaps it's as simple as this: You hate your thighs (or stomach, or boobs, or hair, or . . . whatever), but a part of you also hates yourself for hating your body. I know how you feel. With a multibillion-dollar beauty and fashion industry telling us how to look, how to act, what products and clothes to buy--and promising us a happy life if we keep buying--we have a lot stacked against us when we try to carve out space for individuality, authenticity, and healthy body image (not to mention responsible spending!). All together, these goals may seem like an overwhelming challenge, but they are worth pursuing.

Excerpted with permission from MIRROR, MIRROR OFF THE WALL, Avery, 2012. This is not to be reproduced or reprinted in anyway.


Kjerstin Gruys

Comments [12]

Jonathan Dowell from Westfield, NJ

"Mystery Woman from Brooklyn" had it exactly right. We live in a world in which people are judging other fairly harshly and, if anything, not critical ENOUGH of themselves. We all need to be critical of ourselves in the right way (honest with ourselves about what things we can, and perhaps should, improve). The danger in focusing on the ways society pushes us to be overly critical of ourselves is that it leads us to find blame outside of ourselves even for things that we may be contributing to. And it blinds us to the ways we may be participating in judging others. Also, while women are clearly judged so much more harshly than men on their appearance, men are judged just as harshly on their job prospects, salaries, etc. I can't tell you how many times I have been written off by a woman in a matter of seconds because I make less than $100,000 a year. Having said all this, I totally understand that weight/weight management is a huge issue for many, many people. Some people are tall and thin and don't have to lift a finger; others put on 10 pounds just by looking at a donut. It's quite unfair.

May. 03 2013 11:24 AM
The Truth from Becky

Exaggerating or Lying

May. 03 2013 11:20 AM

I don't use a scale and I don't look in the mirror except to check for toothpaste that I might not have wiped off. One of the benefits of getting older is that near vision blurs so I don't see the wrinkles. Unfortunately, for shadow boxing in Martial Arts, I'm supposed to look in the mirror but I don't. Oh, and apart from a brief period when my sister talked me into it, I rarely use it. It just makes my face itch and break out no matter what so called "quality" it is.

May. 03 2013 10:59 AM
Carrie from Brooklyn

Yes! Definitely my perception of my body can shift within a day. I've had times when I didn't have a full length mirror and it was amazing. I traveled the US in my car for 6 months and had no space to obsess on how I looked or get ready. I felt happy in myself and so beautiful and skinny everyday, and I was actually 10-15 lbs heavier than I am now. Judgment ruins my day.

May. 03 2013 10:57 AM
LEE from staten island

What about reflections in glass all around us. Didn't she see herself there?

May. 03 2013 10:57 AM
carolita from NYC

When I quit modelling (because I wasn't getting any work anymore, I admit), I was so paranoid that I was a failure because of being ugly or whatever, that I got obsessed with my face. I forced myself to cover the mirrors in my house for a very long time -- I don't know if it was a year, or what, but it was a long time. I did uncover them to floss my teeth, or get a hair out of my eye, but I deliberately didn't "look." You know, I just focused on the task at hand, and covered the mirror again. Needless to say, I couldn't pluck my eyebrows or wear makeup, so it was an interesting time of going back to nature for me, and seeing what I was meant to look like (as predicted by my genes, rather than fashion).
Interesting. Everyone should try it.

May. 03 2013 10:57 AM
Mystery Woman from Brooklyn

I look in the mirror when I'm getting dressed in the morning, when I brush my teeth and hair, and when I get ready for bed at night. I very infrequently look in a mirror during the day unless I wind up in a restroom where there is a mirror over the sink and then I'm really so focused on washing my hands that I generally don't notice the mirror. I guess I live from the inside looking out rather than worrying about what I look like on the outside or what others see. As long as I'm appropriately dressed and combed when I walk out the door, I see what I see and whatever people see when they look at me is their problem.

May. 03 2013 10:56 AM

How about no makeup for a whole year as well? I don't need that to feel beautiful. It's all in our head, girls.

And please, stop comparing yourself with other women. We are all unique...

May. 03 2013 10:55 AM
Brenda from New York City

How is this even possible? If you leave the house (or even walk past the television) you are going to see your reflection.

May. 03 2013 10:55 AM
John from NYC

Her self awareness and humor are great, but does this issue of "self" warrent a PhD and a book?

May. 03 2013 10:55 AM

I got rid of my scale the last time I moved and it is GREAT living without a stupid arbitrary number hanging over my head all day.

May. 03 2013 10:53 AM

I always felt ok about how I looked in the mirror, until I saw myself in the mirror NEXT to a skinnier girl.

May. 03 2013 10:52 AM

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