How many times a day do you look in the mirror? Not just the times you are intentionally looking at your reflection to check your outfit or your hair, or even those times you are applying your make up or brushing your teeth?
For me there are the incidental glances when I get into the lift and I’m faced with my own reflection. Or when I walk through a shopping centre and see my face mirrored on hundreds of surfaces. Toilet break? There’s another look at myself right there when I got to wash my hands. Sometimes I even catch sight of myself on the surface of the toaster, and I swear I’m not even looking for it. In fact I am not particularly keen on looking in the mirror because I am a little er, self critical and every time I look in the mirror I realize that I need to have my hair cut and study Zoe Foster’s book a little more intently.
A study in Britain conducted in 2009 claims that millions of women, can’t go longer than half an hour without a looking at their reflection! I am pretty sure I don’t fit into this category or even the category that found that in some parts of the country, women admit to checking their appearance as many as 71 times a day. I don’t think I do ANYTHING 71 times a day (other than blink)
I started really thinking about the amount of times that I do glance at the mirror when I came across the blog of Kjerstin Gruys , a soon-to-be-married PhD student who conducts research on the relationship between beauty and inequality. Kiersten is getting married next month and her search for her wedding dress (and the amount of time she spent looking at her reflection) made her feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough to spur her into action and make her decide not to look into a mirror for a year. Not even to put on make up. And yes, it is the year of her wedding so she wont be checking herself out on on her wedding day.
“I felt ill at ease when reflecting on the dress situation. Was all that really necessary? Did my happiness over dress #2 outweigh the expense and self-centered obsessing I had gone through to get it? Was this my first slippery-sloped step toward bridezilla land? Sighing, I decided to channel Scarlett O’Hara and “think of it tomorrow.” Determined to distract myself, I turned to the first page of a new book, The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant.
Within 2 pages of the prologue, this project was planted in my mind. Here is what I read:
“No one had seen her naked until her death. It was a rule of the order that the Sisters should not look on human flesh, neither their own nor anyone else’s. A considerable amount of thought had gone into the drafting of this observance. Under the billowing folds of their habits each nun wore a long cotton shift, a garment they kept on always, even when they washed, so that it acted as a screen and partial drying cloth as well as a night shift. This shift they changed once a month (more in summer when the stagnant Tuscan air bathed them in sweat), and there were careful instructions as to correct procedure: how they should keep their eyes firmly fixed on the crucifix above their bed as they disrobed. If any did let their gaze stray downward, the sin was a matter for the confessional and therefore not for history.” (Prologue of The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant)
A lifetime without seeing oneself. It made me pause. What a different life those nuns had lived, compared my appearance-obsessed world of Los Angeles! Could I go even one day without looking at myself in a mirror? Maybe I should. Actually, how about a year??
My brain was having one of those rare “aha” moment. My values and behaviors had been at odds, and this would be the “step back” from vanity that I needed. I would force myself to experience life from the inside-out, instead of the outside-in. But could I do it? How? And with what effects on my life, self-image, and personal and professional relationships? Was it possible that removing mirrors from my life might actually cause me to become more obsessed or insecure about my appearance? Would I completely lose the ability to apply make-up, style my hair, or select flattering and chic outfits? Despite these looming questions, I felt very determined. Somehow, I would wean myself off of mirrors for a year!
Kjiersten is now on day 153 of her year without looking into a mirror. You can follow her progress here.
How often do you look in the mirror? Do you think you could go a year without checking your reflection? Would you want to?