A Year Without Mirrors

Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall

Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall

Imagine living a year without seeing your reflection in a mirror.

That’s what Kjerstin Gruys did when her engagement transformed her from intelligent grad student to “bridezilla.”

You’ve heard of the “bikini body.” Well, Kjerstin fretted over not having an adequate “bride body” in time for her wedding — if ever.

As she viewed dress after dress in the scrutiny of dressing room mirrors, and through the mind’s eye of her imagined wedding day — and after purchasing three different dresses — she knew she had a problem. One which echoed an earlier eating disorder.

So she pledged to give up mirrors for a year, in hopes of regaining her real values. 

She wrote about the experience on her blog and in a memoir called, Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year.

It wasn’t easy since mirrors are everywhere: bathrooms, stores and businesses, rearview mirrors… She even hung a curtain over the looking glass in her bathroom. Her friends and fiancé helped her to look presentable in society.

But the endeavor provoked an existential crisis:

Without my reflection around to wave hello to me during my work-from-home days, I began experiencing strange moments when I questioned my very existence. If I couldn’t see myself, did I exist? But how did I know?

Makes you wonder what people did before the looking glass was invented. When you aren’t used to seeing yourself, maybe you have a different self-concept?

Mirrors: not for picking yourself apart.

Mirrors: not for picking yourself apart.

Kjerstin didn’t even see herself on her wedding day. But, less distracted with how she looked, she was more engaged in her wedding. And she felt beautiful — with nothing to tell her otherwise:

As I stood among my closest friends, I felt exactly how I’d always hoped I would on my wedding day: confident, feminine, glamorous, and — most important — loved. Did I believe — or want to believe — that I looked perfect? No. I wasn’t delusional, just practical. I believed in all of my heart that I looked good enough, and good enough was exactly how I wanted to feel.

Yet even after the wedding Kjerstin struggled with insecurities. But she gradually accepted herself and appreciated what was really important: her family and friends, her goals, and knowing that she is beautiful regardless of society’s crazy ideals:

You don’t have to have the best lips in the planet. Remind yourselves about all the other things you have going on… (now) I see a happy, energetic and passionate woman.

Kjerstin lost her reflection. But she found herself.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 20, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I think it’s great when people realize it’s okay to approach their problems in a creative or unconventional way. Sure, some would say there’s other ways, but it worked for her! That’s all that counts. Her goal was personal-growth and she didn’t hurt anybody else in the process.

  2. Great piece. I enjoyed the read and her blog too.

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    I think this is what millions of women need to understand. It is THEY who shape their image(s) of themselves, and not others. So, don’t consent to others making you feel badly about your body.

  3. Experiments have shown that women do not see an accurate visual representation of themselves when they look in the mirror. They often see themselves as being heavier than they actually are. In areas they feel particularly sensitive about, there is even more of a distorted perception.

  4. I’m intrigued by her experiment and what that brought up for her during the year. And I can definitely see how this would have been a form of liberation. I love that it made her present to the moments of her life. And for the wedding, too- I bet she must’ve been radiating from the inside and out in all her natural beauty. I will have to check out her book!

  5. I remember hearing this story. It’s an interesting concept. Maybe looking at ourselves does something to prove we exist. There’s only so much we can really do to prove we exist. I would be even our early ancestors looked in water and saw themselves.

  6. wow – Now I find out why my sister was shinning like a diamond on her wedding day with white dress!!

  7. Really interesting, I have often thought people must not have been hardly bothered by how they look at all thousands of years ago when the only chance of vaguely seeing what you looked like was in a pool of still water.

  8. Never thought of not looking at yourself. now that I think about it I feel like everyone has a habit of looking at there selves during out the day. if we didn’t do that maybe people would be less concerned about what they look like and be more focused on their day. What a great idea and blog.

  9. I was extremely fascinated by this post because I can’t imagine not looking in the mirror for longer than 2 weeks. Our reflection is constantly surrounding us; we are unconsciously aware that there is a reflection near by. I have experienced trips were I am left with no mirrors or reflections when I have gone camping and I must say that it is such a relieving feeling not having to worry about the way you look. It’s one less stress in your life and unlike the bride to be, I felt more at ease with my sense of being. I appreciated my surroundings and acknowledged everything I did that contributed to my happiness. Although my perspective may be faulty as I have not spent a full year without looking at my reflection. I can’t even seem to put on chap stick without having some sort of reflection at hand nowadays.

  10. I think most of the population could benefit from doing something like this. I rarely look in the mirror and do so usually only once or twice a day on a regular day. I do so to comb my hair in the morning, and sometimes when brushing my teeth. I am not one who walks by a mirror and notices myself, nor am I one who is concerned about what others are always thinking of me. Of course on nights when i go out to dinner with my husband, i will spend an extra few minutes in front of the mirror(for this is usually the only time i wear make-up), and on those nights i will check my appearance in the bathroom at a restaurant if i frequent it. I think more girls (and even many boys) could benefit from not being so into appearance. Being clean and presentable is one thing, but the amount of time spent on looking at ones self to see your flaws, or applying makeup to try to cover perceived flaws is a waste of time. I am always telling young ladies in my life that make-up is for enhancement and special occasions, they try to tell me I am “pretty” without, but that they are not. This is untrue, they think they need the make-up to make themselves pretty, while i see how pretty they are and that the make-up looks false.

  11. This article really hit home for me. I am constantly worried about how I look. I was taught from a very young age that even though being smart is extremely important, so is how you present yourself. I was also told that if I didn’t do something nice with my hair every day, it would be cut off. Living without seeing my reflection for a year would be extremely difficult but also beneficial. The last sentence of this post says that, “she lost her reflection but found herself.” This statement is so powerful. While all of us are caught up on what’s on the outside, we miss the most important part of all… who we are on the inside. Looks only last for a certain period of time but who you become on the inside stays forever. If all the mirrors in the world were gone for a year I believe people would be more likely to try and attract one another by their personality and not just their looks.

  12. I admire Kjerstin’s stand against mirrors in a society that so values appearance. We are constantly concerned with how we appear to others, so much so that we sometimes lose ourselves as Kjerstin found was happening to her.

    Mirrors inform us of our appearance. They tell us when we have spinach in our teeth or when we have our first gray hair. They give us knowledge of what we look like and information about who we are. Mirrors can be a tool to help us decide which clothes we like or which shoes go best with which outfit. The problem arises when we use information we glean from looking into a mirror to hurt, degrade, or criticize ourselves. A positive self-image is vital and should never be compromised by a mirror.

    Few of us are brave enough to go even a day without looking in the mirror. I’m not sure that I am. In a normal day, I look in a mirror perhaps a dozen times. While I know I can’t eschew mirrors completely, I can refuse to let my life revolve so much around them.

  13. This was really interesting to read that Kjerstin did this. People all around look at themselves daily. They are so concerned about their looks. I believe people would be less concerned about their looks if we didn’t have mirrors. People wouldn’t be able to look at themselves and people would focus on their day. If people tried living a year without see their reflection it would be beneficial to them in many ways. Women should empower other women, and not knock each other down because this is a major part that a lot of women are so concerned about their looks.

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