I recently read on the interwebz about a woman who took a year-long “mirror fast”—refusing to look into the mirror at herself at all to help improve her self-esteem around body issues. I was impressed by this idea and wondered if I could do it, too. With a tendency to berate myself on sight, I figured I needed this. And here is how long I made it: one day.
The fact is, my reflection is everywhere, even as I worked hard to avoid it. The world is full of accidental mirrors: the black glass doors at Starbucks, my sunglasses, my computer screen, my car windows, my Iphone. Even without trying, there she is, my ghost self. I catch a hint of her leg, the corner of her lips, eyebrow raised, a tuft of hair. And I long to go to her, assess her, correct her, cover up her dark circles and tuck that messy tendril back inside her hat. (Yes, I wore a hat because my hair is hopeless if I can’t see to sculpt it).
When I can’t see myself, I like myself a whole lot more, for there’s nothing to measure except how I feel. I won’t lie; the anxiety arose when I hit the public stratosphere. While dropping my son off at school I wondered, do they see a haggard mother in grubby gym clothes who couldn’t be bothered to put herself together? Did my friends want to loan me their cover-up? Even worse is the list of things I might have missed, those human errors that mark us among the group of people who “let themselves go”—a concept I’ve always felt slightly resentful of—food in my teeth, crust in my eyes, breakfast still smeared on my lip, a glaring pimple, or worse: something hanging from my nose.
Stranger still is the urge to look every time I pass a reflective surface, a powerful alchemical pull to see myself standing there. Is this urge, therefore, more than just vanity, but a desire for confirmation that I do, in fact, exist outside my head?
During the day I bolted away from chance glimpses like a frightened woodland creature. Upon accidentally catching sight of myself I jumped out of reflective positioning with a screech, like a superstitious bride to be encountering her fiancé.
At the end of that day, it was clear to me: judging follows looking like some parasitic worm. And self judgment is often the most critical. How often do we cringe at a photo of ourselves that others think is nice? But judgment doesn’t have to be par for the looking glass. The meditation practice I’ve been taking up (roughly, inexpertly, you can be assured), is proving to me that you can see without qualifying. You can observe what’s before you, or what IS you, without cleaving it apart and stuffing it into labeled boxes like “slacker” or “that mom.”
So while I didn’t persist in a full mirror fast after that day, I have been looking at myself more peripherally, and only first thing in the morning, or when preparing to go somewhere that “just tossed together” won’t be considered professional. I don’t look at myself in the mirror in my exercise classes except to catch a blur of my limbs in motion. I don’t stop to pinch or prod or criticize the way my flesh hangs or moves. I’d rather spend the rest of the time remaining in this vehicle being my own friend.