Who’s the Fairest of Them All?
August 24th, 2011

Could you go an entire year without looking in a mirror?  Would you want to?  And further still, do you think it would benefit you in any way to do so?

I ask this question because UCLA grad student Kjerstin Gruys is going to do just that.  One year without looking at her own reflection even once.  (Not even on her wedding day.)  The Stylelist.com article on the topic comments that, “Feeling the already constant pressure to look perfect intensified by wedding planning, Gruys’ self-described “struggle with poor body image” made her wonder if a year without mirrors could lead to greater self-acceptance and appreciation for her body.”

Coming on the heels of my recent post about the benefits of vanity, I wonder how this topic will sit with you.  I posited in my earlier post that there are benefits to having a modicum of vanity; that having an interest in our appearance can (when applied in moderation) help drive us to make healthy decisions.  It was a position that was roundly shot down by many of my commenters.  So let’s consider a different perspective.  The premise is this: we are too focused on our looks.  We worry too much about how we appear to other people, and that obsession, for some people, devolves into full-throttle psychological disorders.  By wholly eliminating our access to our own visage, we will minimize our concern with appearances and realize the greater significance of other aspects of our lives.

I don’t altogether disagree with that position.  I am sure that there are better things for me to worry about throughout the day than whether or not the bottom eyeliner on my left eye has smudged yet or not.  (It smudges every day, but only the left eye.  So strange!)  If such trivialities were removed from my life for an entire year, I can see how I might become less concerned with appearances overall.

What I think will actually be more interesting, though, is for Gruys to note and document what changes she observes in other people’s behavior toward her during this year.  She still intends to wear makeup and has learned to apply it by feel.  Presumably she will still wear matching clothes and style her hair as well.  But with less attention paid to all of these endeavors, will she find that she is taken less seriously?  Will people in public treat her differently?  Will she find that, on the whole, all the time she previously spend focusing on her appearance was wasted?

On another note, I’m a little confused about the sheer mechanics of this exercise.  Within the confines of your own home it would be easy enough to remove or avoid  mirrors.  But what about in public?  Every ladies’ restroom I’ve ever entered has a mirror hanging over the sink.  How will she wash her hands without, even if inadvertently, catching a glimpse of herself?  What about seeing your own reflection in the window of your car as you unlock it?  What do you say to your stylist after having your haircut?  “Thanks, but I can’t tell you whether or not I’m happy with what you just did”?  The practical application of this experiment seems a bit unrealistic to me.

And this brings up the most important point.  This experiment is just that, an experiment.  It is a gimmick to test a hypothesis (and to score a book deal).  For those purposes I can understand going to some length to contrive a life without mirrors.  But if life without mirrors isn’t reality, wouldn’t the more worthwhile exercise be to consider these same questions of vanity and obsession within the natural environment of our lives?  I’m sure the point here is to take the idea to its logical extreme in order to test a theory.  I doubt that Gruys will end the year with a decision to swear of mirrors for good.  But I think the lasting value of her experiment will be to determine how she allows the personal or societal pressure to focus on her looks to influence the way she lives her life.  I hope I am reminded of her story when the book (to be cleverly titled “Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall”) comes out, as I will be curious to her perspective in hindsight.

3 Responses to “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?”

  1. E Says:

    Very interesting. I hope she’s not driving in my area sans rear view mirror. I too will be interested in the end opinion……if she makes it.

  2. Cathy Says:

    You make a very interesting point about this being an experiment and how far off from reality it truly is. You write, “wouldn’t the more worthwhile exercise be to consider these same questions of vanity and obsession within the natural environment of our lives?” where I feel the more worthwhile exercise might be to get some therapy so that one could be happy with themselves and their appearance – no matter what it is.

  3. Kate Says:

    The experiment seems a bit flawed if one cannot look into any mirror at all. We need them to drive, as your last commenter said. But, there is looking at a mirror in a quick glance (oh, mirror) and peering into it to see what to do to better yourself (fix make up, hair flying away a bit…). Personally, getting out of the house with two girls to get ready, I see a mirror, but often don’t have the time to gaze into it. No one has treated me differently on days I have more or less time to primp and prepare.
    I often debate vanity with my husband, the value of looks themselves is unquestionable in our society, but having girls I am very hesitant to model or teach behaviors that place any more value on looks. We insist on cleanliness (within reason – kids love paint and dirt), but other vanities, I am fending off. Who they are matters, how they treat people, how they carry themselves, how they speak, these matter greatly.