One Day of Not Looking In the Mirror

I wake and:

  • Cover my vanity mirror with a cloth napkin…
  • Take down the mirror from my closet door and lean it in reverse against the large mirror in my (small NYC) foyer…
  • Tuck a towel around the medicine cabinet mirror in the bathroom…
  • Tuck away the tiny hanging mirror inside my walk-in closet…
  • And fold down the mirror in my jewelry box.

There seems to now be less light in my space. It’s eight am, and I realize I would have already checked my reflection twice. I have no idea how puffy my morning skin looks. Or if the ensemble I throw on in my sleepy-eyed haze will appear to my neighbors when Mitra and I walk.

But the brush bristles meeting my scalp feel so satisfying.

As I move through the day, I can’t believe how many times I’d normally catch a glance of my mirrored image: every time I go to use the toilet, the dozens of times I pass from my bedroom through the hall to the kitchen, every passing glimpse of the opened closet door. Even the open vanity mirror, which sits about eight feet from my desk and from where I sit reflects the corner of my far-off bed, throws shade at my midsection when I cross it.

I’m equally amazed by how quickly I adapt to enjoy the sensory pleasure of feeling things. I don’t have to leave home today — I type away on a piece for a client and prep a webinar I’m giving for the Action Network on inclusivity at advocacy events — and so this day’s Challenge isn’t about how I look in public; it’s about how I feel as I move through my space.

As I dress in the morning, I pick fleece-lined leggings and a soft sweater and take a few extra seconds to enjoy the comfort on my skin. Later, when my body calls it quits, I melt into a hot bath and then slather lotion all over, once again marveling at the sensation of one surface touching another. I notice the softness of my cloth napkins. The extra layer of cushion in my new mattress pad. The overwhelming delight of a thin white t-shirt and worn sheets as I climb into bed.

The next morning, I groggily work in reverse, uncovering and taking down as I move through the apartment, brewing coffee and getting Mitra ready for our walk. I put my hair — grungy from my bath last night and in need of a proper blow-dry — up in a knot, and apply the same “what will feel good?” question to the ensemble I’ll take with me outside. Dressed, I glance in the mirror and….

Well, there are reasons for mirrors, I guess. The hair comes down and goes under a (soft, worn) wool cap, and I cover up the tired skin with a pair of big sunglasses.

“I always say there are two parts of body image: one is your feelings about your body and the other is the extent to which those feelings shape your entire sense of self,” says Kjerstin Gruys in an essay about her year of not looking in mirrors.

My Year has evolved into a study of sense of self, as one Challenge layers on top of the next, working together rather than separately, as I’d originally anticipated.

Removing shopping for ninety days (including clothes and makeup) had me eventually questioning the kinds of things I buy, own, and love, and what they say as an extension of who I am. Then sixty days studying Zero Waste had me questioning the sustainability and ingredients of such things, the impact my choices have on the rest of the world, and how those choices make me feel about myself. My recent One Day Challenge of Zero Makeup in public had me recognize — like the many women who have done the no mirror idea before me — that positive body image can come from factors outside of what we (or outside instigators) assume it comes from.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say studying these overall choices helps me define what feels wrong or right in my world overall. And that knowledge — that grounded understanding of why I like what I like, choose what I choose, and believe what I believe — strengthens my sense of self. That then strengthens my confidence and my body image more than any reflection, number on a scale, or fancy outfit might ever have superimposed upon me.

As I learned Monday night, there is some danger of extremity in this; I don’t want to go so far as to deny myself superficial delights. If I truly fall for a nail polish, outfit, candle, whatever, I’ll indulge. In fact, I have an appointment for a haircut next week because this mane needs taming. And I’m currently seeking out some fabulous glass containers for my pretty-much-now-all-homemade-line of skincare products because if I’m gonna be making my cold cream and moisturizer I’d like to glam up their storage a bit.

But these deliberate, sustainable, feels good on my skin choices contribute more to my sense of self and empowerment than I could have possibly anticipated 336 days ago. And this Year reflects that back clearly.

Tomorrow: Altering sensory perceptions again with a One Day Challenge of No Talking!

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