A Week Without Mirrors, Plus a Review of Kjerstin Gruys’ New Book

In support of Kjerstin Gruys’ new memoir detailing her year without mirrors, a call was put out for beauty bloggers to take a day off from looking at our reflections. Inspired by both Kjerstin’s book Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s month long mirror fasts, I decided to take a week without mirrors. And here’s what I found:

1. I missed looking at myself in the mirror. It’s not that the voices in my head are always rah-rah-rah; they run the full range from “Wine is a bad friend” to “Hello gorgeous” to “That hair has been growing for that long? Ugh!” But I like that monkey in the mirror – it’s me, and after a dozen years of yoga, I like me. (And for more on those voices – Autumn did a great post and selfie diary of internal voices for her own challenge this year.)

2. I did notice a distinct lessening of self bodysnarking. I’m not the most athletic, get-up-and-go-to-the-gym active person ever (I’m not even in the running), so some of my workout activity is pure “will it lift my butt and get rid of that lump there?”. I know it’s ridiculous, but after this kind of workout, I’ll look in the mirror, as if the results will be there right afterwards. Not being able to do that encouraged (maybe forced) me to think about how I felt rather than how I looked. And even if I hate barre exercises while I’m doing them, I had to admit that I felt pretty good afterwards.

3. Public appearance is performance. And it’s weird to go out without an internal frame of reference, as in how I look today. It doesn’t really seem to matter to anyone else – one of my neighborhood store guys even told me I was looking especially pretty one day. But while planning a visit to see a dance performance, it occurred to me that it’s really weird to head out “on stage” without rehearsing first. Maybe thinking of it that way instead of obsessing over minute flaws is a more accurate – and enjoyable – way to think of the mirror?

4. Trying a new outfit resulted in second-guessing, not third or fourth-guessing. I’m kind of a “uniform” person, so I didn’t get into trying tons of new clothes without the mirror’s assistance. I did want to dress nicely to go out one evening, and instead of going back and forth about whether this really looked good or not, asked my husband and just went with it. No one was harmed, no one stared at my craziness or ill-fittedness, so I assume it went well. The old adage that other people are not paying nearly as much attention to my flaws as I am probably holds true here, especially since I was going to BAM and not the Met Gala.

5. Increased technology really does enable elaboration. Kjerstin points out in her book that the rise of the pimple cream industry coincided with the widespread appearance of bathroom mirrors. For me this isn’t just a mirror thing; in the past year, through building construction and hurricane Sandy, I’ve at times involuntarily gone without electricity, running water, and most recently, cooking gas (plus an extra half day of no electricity during the fast). All of these modern conveniences make our lives simpler – I for one am very glad to not fetch water from the Hudson River every morning – but having our cooking fuel delivered into our homes also means that peas porridge and hard biscuits won’t do it – my husband and I both expect ourselves to be able to cook pretty well. Without the help of mirrors, my beauty routine was simplified – it’s not really feasible to try out a new eyeshadow palette without them. But it was more “how do I get what I need done without them?” more than “I don’t need to do any of this. I do expect a higher level of grooming than I would without them. This phenomenon has been examined by feminists – usually as a conspiracy to get women to be minutiae-obsessed consumers rather than full humans. But like the bloating of paperwork that coincides with the rise of ever more powerful word processing software, maybe some of this is less conspiracy and more unintended consequence of technology?

6. I enjoyed reading about Kjerstin’s mirror fast more than I enjoyed my own. Well, how could I not? She went for a year, while planning her wedding as well (and working on her Ph.D thesis – yeah). Navigating the Bridezilla minefield of wedding planning is hard enough, with its constant reminders that it’s “your special day” and its often ridiculous suggestions to make that day the Most Ultimate Princess Day Ever. Her adventures in trying new looks – hair, makeup and clothing – without really knowing what she looks like (and her fiance’s reactions when the experiments go awry) are really funny. Learning to go beyond what the mirror “demands”, and to trust her family and friends to love her and assist her through the chaos, Kjerstin manages to organize an amazing and fun wedding, and when the photos come back? Well, I’m not going to spoil the ending for you….

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

Resources on mirror fasting:

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

A Year Without Mirrors – in real time (blog).

A Month Without Mirrors at The Beheld

Mirrors: A Short History at Wild Beauty.

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