Over the summer, I went on a camping trip with my family. For three days, I wore the same clothes, kept my hair in braids, and didn’t look in the mirror once. Instead I hiked, played games, napped, cooked over a campfire and engaged in great conversations. I didn’t even realize that I’d been completely ignoring my appearance until my husband wanted to stop at a burger joint on the way home.
Holy shit, I thought, I must look like a hobo! I quickly assessed my face in the visor mirror. My hair was sticking out all over the place, and I had a chin hair that required immediate plucking, but the desire for a burger outweighed my vanity. When we walked into the restaurant, I briefly considered how I must have looked in my saggy hiking pants, but once I sat down, it became irrelevant. No one was looking at me; they were too busy chowing on their burgers and fries.
That experience got me thinking. What if I took this to the next level and tried it out when I’m not gallivanting in the forest, but in my everyday life? What would it mean to stop looking in the mirror?
I thought of some of the obvious repercussions –- embarrassing shmutz on my face or spinach in my teeth. I also considered some benefits. It might allow me to investigate some of my image issues. Even as low-maintenance as my beauty routine is, I still spend way too much time thinking about how I look. In our society, where attractiveness is a requisite to success, who doesn’t? Curious, I decided to do a mirror fast. I chose to do it for five weekdays because that was all I thought I could handle.
The night before I began, I covered the mirrors in my house. Since we recently relocated to a smaller apartment, we only had a couple of mirrors. One is full length; I pinned a sarong over it. The other is the bathroom mirror. I covered it with paper and wrote “You Are Beautiful” over it. The affirmation on the mirror was to remind me that I am beautiful because I am happy, loving and kind, not because of what I see in the mirror. I also put the scale away for the week.
Realizing that I would not be able to pluck my eyebrows or any other stray hairs, I over-plucked to compensate. I also realized I would not be able to wear any makeup all week (I can still put on lipstick without a mirror, but there’s no way I could do eyeliner or mascara).
The most testing aspect for me would involve not being able to check my clothes in the mirror; I’ve been known to change my outfit three times before leaving the house. So, for the sake of my experiment, I decided to only wear outfits that I had worn before and knew looked good on me.
Feeling prepared, I embarked on my journey…
On the first day of my mirror fast, I wore my most familiar outfit, brushed my hair, washed my face, brushed my teeth and walked out the door. I found that it was easy enough to avoid mirrors where I expected them to be, like in restaurant restrooms, but I kept catching my reflection when I least expected it, like in the windows of my car. In the window reflection, as brief as it was, I thought my forehead looked greasy. I asked my husband if my forehead looked big and greasy. He said, “I think it should be part of your experiment that you don’t get to ask me how you look.” I said, “Definitely not. I have to ask you.” Though I understood his point — by asking, I was only reaffirming that it mattered how I looked, and that someone’s opinion other than my own should matter.
On the second day, while a passenger in my friend’s car, I caught myself looking in the side view mirror; I wasn’t thinking about it. Once I realized it, I stopped. I’d been thinking about how the bone in my nose juts out at the side, and wondering if anyone else’s nose did that. I don’t know why I was thinking that, but it did make me consider the negative thoughts that pop into my head when I look in the mirror.
On the third day, I had to go to work in public (as opposed to behind a computer at home). My husband was kind enough to let me ask him, all six times, how I looked. I wasn’t sure that I looked great, but I knew that I didn’t look horrible. For the sake of my experiment, that would have to be good enough.
I work in retail so I was in a store full of clothes and mirrors all day. I accidentally looked in the mirror and saw that I had a big zit. This was a mistake. I kept touching it and obsessing over being unable to cover it with make-up (because if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to see if the concealer was blended well). But if I kept touching it, it would only get worse. So I had no choice but to just forget about the zit altogether, to let go of control.
On the fourth day, I looked down at my body and noticed a ring of fat around my belly that I never noticed before in the mirror. I wanted to look in the mirror, to confirm that I hadn’t bloated and expanded in three days, but I couldn’t. So I just ended up feeling self-conscious and wearing baggy clothes to cover up.
On the fifth day, I stayed home, but I did Skype with my mother. I avoided looking at myself on the screen and instead focused on how great my mom looked.
THE BIG REVEAL
On the sixth day, I had the big reveal. I looked at myself in the mirror for more than a passing glance for the first time in five days. I found that I was able to see myself as if for the first time with some objectivity. I was less critical and more forgiving — I liked what I saw.
WHAT I LEARNED
1. I need to be aware of the words/thoughts that pop up when I look in the mirror and either ignore them or replace them with more positive ones. When I see my reflection, I tend to immediately pass judgment. I do not just observe my reflection and move on.
2. If an article of clothing is that difficult to wear, then I don’t need it. No matter how great or horrible my outfit is, confidence is what people see; there is an ease to not caring about how I look. I even got rid of a few items of clothing because I was so repelled by them when I didn’t have a mirror to manipulate them in.
3. I care too much about what other people think. Without a mirror, my only point of reference for how I looked was to ask somebody. I didn’t consider that they might like something that I didn’t, I just cared that they thought I looked good. It’s impossible to please everyone.
4. I am more critical of myself than I am of others, which is not a big surprise. I expect myself to look appropriate, interesting and attractive at all times, but I would never expect that from a friend or a stranger. I think my friends look great all the time, no matter what they wear or how big the zit is on their face. Most of the time, I don’t even notice the things about them that they are most critical of.
5. I need to pay attention to how I judge my first impression of people based on their looks. The truth is that appearances do make a first impression, but maybe that woman is a mom with three kids who has no time to shop or shower, as well as being a kick ass artist or humanitarian.
I was surprised by how much I got from this short experiment — I learned more about my self-image issues than I ever expected I would. I’m also guessing that another person doing the same thing would have completely different results, since we all have different issues. Ultimately, when people look at me, they don’t see a reflection of me, they see a reflection of their own preconceptions. Deep, I know.
Have you ever tried a mirror-fast? Would you?