No Mirrors for A Whole Year

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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.