A Week Without Mirrors: My Space vs Their Space

Making Her Toilet by Chase William Merritt, 1889
Making Her Toilet, by Chase William Merritt, 1889

Less than three days into my week without mirrors (inspired by Kjerstin Gruys’ Year Without Mirrors, I noticed that I was feeling really annoyed… I was enjoying reading about Kjerstin’s journey without mirrors, but I was not enjoying my own.


It wasn’t just the inconvenience of putting my contacts in with a tiny speck of reflection, nor was it not having a visual frame of reference before I go out into the world.


I had the feeling that I was working on a job for a celebrity – one with a really stiff rider that states that no one is allowed to look her in the eyes. And that diva was me.


Am I a diva? Am I so into looking at myself in the mirror that its absence is such a deprivation? I thought about that a bit, and the truth is more complicated than that.


Many who’ve done mirror fasts recount the voices they hear criticizing what they see. Whether it’s the pimple, the weight, the bed head – the mirror is, first and foremost, a place for criticism.


I don’t fully have that experience. Sure, I do see what could be fixed (and what can’t). But mirrors for me have always been a quiet place in a noisy world. Growing up as the fourth of five noisy children, it’s not surprising that I would value a space of my own, one where I can hear myself think. And, possibly, see myself think as well.


As a teenager who was unsure of her place in the world, I found myself, among other things, playing with makeup. What I saw in the mirror, and what I wanted to do about it, were as related to craftiness as they were to insecurity, and as a creative and gifted craftsperson with good bone structure, I was able to get good results. Good enough to lead me into my work as a a makeup artist.


But there’s another factor at play here…In the mirror at least, my younger self was mostly looking at what CAN change, and easily – the paint and powder parts of the equation. I was lucky enough to have good skin, and even if my diet wasn’t healthy, I was thin enough to have never worried about being fat. Having the process in front of the mirror come down to what can be done – adjusting a scarf, making an eyeliner line exactly how I want it – leads to results – the small sense of satisfaction from improving something is there.


That’s not to say I don’t have other voices speaking….I’m well into my forties, so there are there are new lumps and bumps which are not responding to reasonable diet and exercise. And gravity is doing its thing in general. Pausing to check in with how I feel, rather than how I look, is a good thing – not automatically looking for results after a workout is even better.


I’ve mentioned before that I don’t look at myself in the mirror much at work*. When I’m spending all day working at a specific aesthetic (Boticelli pastel? 70’s disco glam?) it’s distracting to see my own sweaty working self, whose early morning lash-curl-and-mascara is not being touched up every 20 minutes. But at the end of the day, when the kit’s packed up, I have a little ritual of putting my lipstick on before I leave. It’s a way of setting a boundary between work beauty and personal beauty, between them and me – between the noisy, sometimes chaotic work space and my personal space.


At home, I do get to be the diva – if the makeup’s coming out, it’s me who’s going to be the beneficiary of the effort. And being married to a man who loves me and appreciates my looks doesn’t hurt. I’d worry that it’s a little Evil Queen, except that I don’t worry about the beauty of the models at work – they have their thing, and I have mine.


Am I still doing the week? Yes, though I have been tempted to trash it, especially after going to the pool – somehow not drying my hair and tending to my own self (even if it’s just q-tipping the water out of my ears) felt like being in one of those teen movies where the girl has her lunch in the bathroom – I just felt excluded. I should mention that my gym is really mellow – there’s usually at least one person napping by the pool, and I’ve never seen anyone participate in vocal body shaming – of themselves or others.


So I’m still at it – and there are a few other interesting thing I will note. (I’m just getting to the clothing part.) And it’s only two days from now, so I can manage that.


(*An aside on the not looking at mirrors at work thing – Alfred Hitchcock famously admitted that after looking at Cary Grant on the set all day, it was a severe disappointment to go home and see himself in the mirror. )

Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year by Kjerstin Gruys.

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