Daisy Dumas August 17, 2012
Step away from the mirror: Could you abstain from looking at your reflection for a day, a week, a month...even a year?
It’s everywhere, from office lifts to shop windows, from behind the wheel of a car to the glint of a mobile phone screen: your reflection is hard to miss.
We see our images scores of times a day – and possibly hundreds if we really try – so it's something of a societal about-turn to learn of a movement that aims to rein in our liberal narcissism. Enter the mirror fast.
The New York Times last week reported a trend for stepping away from the egotistic confines of a mirror and embracing the wilderness of a looking-glass free life.
One San Francisco-based student, Kjerstin Gruys, avoided mirrors for a full year, including her wedding day. The 29-year-old blogged about the experiment at Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall, and is now working on a book.
The pretty blonde, a former anorexia sufferer, writes: "Before I gave up mirrors, I'd never imagined I could feel beautiful without knowing what I looked like," and she learnt not to "conflate looks with self-esteem."
She also found herself devoting the time she had previously spent focusing on her looks to more important matters: "All the other interesting things in my life — my goals, passions, friends, family, favourite hobbies, etc. — have attracted the energy and attention I used to give to my looks."
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, a Queens-based writer and editor behind blog The Beheld, told the Times that her two month-long mirror fasts over two years gave her a new outlook: "I was surprised at how quickly I stopped worrying about how I looked ... and if I wasn’t thinking about it, I assumed no one else was either, which is actually true.”
The 36-year-old said the experience gave her "a lot of serenity". Darryl Kerrigan would approve.
Another abstainer said she received more compliments the day each month that she didn’t use mirrors, while a 45-year-old mother told the newspaper that her two-day fast helped her to recalibrate her body image and stop being so self-critical: “It was like damage control,” Marisa Gizzio said. “I needed to wipe the slate clean and start thinking about what I liked about myself, which made me feel more confident so I wanted to eat better and I wanted to exercise.”
As the Evil Queen may agree, moderating mirrors is no easy task. To put the undertaking into perspective, the average Australian woman looks at her reflection in the mirror for three hours minimum each week, according to a recent survey by the Bureau of Statistics. Add to that the images of ourselves that we see on the likes of Facebook and Twitter everyday and it's easy to see why something of a narcissistic generation is taking hold.
The New York Times spoke with social anthropologist Kate Fox, who said that society, rather than pure narcissism, has much to answer for when it comes to over-zealous mirror use.
“The standards for beauty today are higher because you see images of outstandingly beautiful people in the media all the time,” said Fox, who is based at the Social Issues Research Centre in England.
The disjuncture, she said, between "look[ing] in the mirror and see[ing] normalcy," and the images that we are bombarded with in films and from health and beauty magazines can be a source of anxiety.
As brilliant - if a little terrifying to some - as a mirror fast may be, New York Magazine points out the obvious pitfalls of shunning a mirror-check for the possible chocolate-cupcake-stuck-in-the-teeth scenario, but believes that it is worse to be seen surreptitiously clocking a reflection than to wander around with an errant crumb on a chin.
Bad hair days, shopping for a killer dress, creating the perfect smoky eye, concealing an angry zit: could you give up your reflection, even for just one day a month?