Not looking at yourself in the mirror helps take of the focus off yourself, writes Kate Murphy
NARCISSUS had only a pool of water in which to gaze, but we see our reflections at almost every turn. In bathroom mirrors, shop windows, sliding subway doors, brass elevator banks and even in the screens of smartphones. No matter where you go, there you are.
Mindful of what happened to Narcissus (it wasn’t good), some people are trying to abstain from looking at their reflections for a day, a week, a month or even a year.
These “mirror fasts” are becoming more popular, judging from the number of bloggers reflecting on not reflecting. Those who have engaged in the exercise report that not seeing themselves helped them see themselves more clearly.
“It gave me a lot of serenity,” said Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, 36, a freelance writer and copy editor in Astoria, Queens, who has gone on two month-long mirror fasts in the last two years, avoiding her reflection even in the pots and pans of her kitchen.
She chronicled how it changed her view of herself in her blog, The Beheld. “I was surprised at how quickly I stopped worrying about how I looked,” she said, “and if I wasn’t thinking about it, I assumed no one else was either, which is actually true.”
MORE BRAIN SPACE
Kjerstin Gruys, a 29-year-old sociology graduate student in San Francisco, similarly found she had more brain space available when she abstained from looking in the mirror.
Her year-long mirror fast, which ended in March, was documented on her blog, Mirror, Mirror...Off The Wall.
“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,” Gruys wrote in a recent post.
Marisa Gizzio, 45, a stay-at-home mum in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania went without mirrors for two days last October to help her overcome her tendency to ruthlessly criticise her figure.
“Any reflection, even in the sliding glass doors at the grocery store, I would automatically check if my legs were too big,” she said. “It was such a waste of time.”
She had started to regain some of the 30kg she lost the previous year because when she looked in the mirror, she said, “I still had that fat girl looking back at me, so I’d just throw up my hands and think, what’s the use?” The mirror fast helped arrest her self-destructive mind-set.
“It was like damage control,” she 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.”
Kate Fox, a social anthropologist with the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, England, said mirror fixation is not necessarily a sign of vanity or narcissism but rather a normal response to a society that emphasises appearance.
“The standards for beauty today are higher because you see images of outstandingly beautiful people in the media all the time,” she said (often Photoshopped ones).
And with beauty often equated with health in fashion and fitness magazines, Fox said, people feel anxious and undone “when they look in the mirror and see normalcy.”
LOOK OF ACCEPTANCE
Rather than complete mirror abstinence, Adrienne Ressler, a social worker and therapist in Coconut Creek, Florida, advises patients to stop looking at their reflection with hard, critical eyes.
“You look at yourself with a scrunched-up face of disapproval and of course you’re not going to look good,” she said. Replace it with a look of acceptance and maybe repeat a word or phrase that, she said, “captures how you would like to feel in your body,” like “elegant” or “serene” or “I’m OK.”
For those who regard vanity as a sin, mirror fasting can lead to spiritual growth. Felice Austin, 34, a hypnotherapist and Mormon in Los Angeles, chose to go without mirrors instead of food for her faith’s day-long fast last February.
“I do like to look in the mirror,” said Austin, who describes herself as “exotic looking” with blond hair, golden eyes and “very nice lips.”
Though she’s used to getting compliments, she said, she received more the day she wasn’t always checking herself in the mirror. “Maybe I noticed or appreciated it more because I could not look in the mirror,” she said.
Moreover, she became more aware of the aesthetic as well as the intrinsic beauty in those around her. “When I couldn’t look at myself, I think I noticed the beauty in others more,” she said. NYT