For the past week, the mirror in my bathroom has been wrapped in foil, like an egg-and-cheese bagel from a deli. “Ummm why?” my husband texted back, when I told him we needed to de-mirror our apartment that night. “It’s an experiment,” I said.
If you ditch mirrors for a significant amount of time, what happens to your self-image? Do you stop fixating on that breakout on your chin, or worry about it even more? Do you miss admiring yourself each morning and feel less confident without that self-assurance?
I’ve written about body issues here before. My relationship with food hasn’t always been the easiest—and my jobs working with food didn’t always help. These days, I’m thankful to say that food and me are in a good place, which means my body and me are in a good place. I haven’t owned a scale in years. I don’t even own a full-length mirror, so how hard could de-mirroring really be?
This will be easy, I told myself.
Mirrors don’t talk to us, like in fairy tales, but we still have conversations—and in some cases, relationships—with them.
I remember when I was a toddler, I used to wander into my mom’s closet every morning, wearing a diaper and nothing else. I’d put on a pair of her high-heel shoes, clunk over to the mirror, and admire: What a fabulous outfit!
Eventually, I looked in that same mirror and told myself that my front teeth were “too big.” When we moved to another home when I was a preteen, I became obsessed with my arms: “too hairy.” When I went to college, I couldn’t stop pinching the sides of my thighs. “Too fleshy,” I thought.
All of which to say: A mirror is a mirror is a mirror. Sure, your reflection changes. The actual object even changes from one place to another. Yet the habits we form in the mirror still follow us around. For most of my life, mirrors were unkind, and that's hard to forget, even if you mostly move on.
The mirror in my current home doesn’t feel cruel. But maybe that’s because I listen to it less and myself more. If my mirror says, “Your teeth are too big!” I ignore it and go in a different room. You know what my mom always said: "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
The first thing I felt, less than one day into this experiment, was: This is annoying. This is annoying that I can’t put in my contact lens (yes, I only wear one), or wash my face without getting soap in my eyes. This is annoying that I know I have a hair on my upper lip but can’t pluck it.
Such was the theme of the first several days.
That, and remembering to not look in other mirrors. Every time I walked by a store window (in New York City, this is often), I had to remind myself to not once-over my reflection (have you ever noticed people doing this, walking forward but looking sideways?). Every time I used the bathroom at work, I had to remind myself to not analyze my face while washing my hands.
After a few days, these reminders became less and less necessary. I started looking forward while walking, glancing at my hands while washing. And, to boot, I missed my mirror less and less at home. Sure, I still couldn’t put in my contact lens (how the heck do people do this?), but washing and moisturizing my face got easier, and I cared less if my hair was ruffled and out of place. I didn’t need it as much as I thought I did.
It’s a bedhead look, I told myself. It’s effortless chic.
I don’t know what I expected to see the day I took down the foil, but I was surprised.
Because I looked exactly the same. My hair looked the same. My skin looked the same. My nose—oh god, my nose has doubled in size! No, just kidding. That looked the same, too. And I felt confident. Maybe not diaper-and-high-heels confident. But good about myself all the same.
This makes sense. If you spend less time with someone who, over the years, has said a lot of mean stuff to you, you’re probably better off. Actually, you are better off. The worse people treat you, the less they deserve your time, right? We apply this to friends and significant others, but when it comes to inanimate objects, it seems silly. And it shouldn’t.
I’d be lying if I told you that I’m going to re-foil my mirror and live a mirror-less life forever (my husband was also excited to have it back), but I will be more conscious about when and why I’m looking in a mirror, and what that reflection is saying to me. When I’m walking down the street, it’s nicer to look at the sky, or that dog wearing a parka. When I have kale stuck between my teeth, yeah, a mirror can be good to have around.
What have you learned from mirrors over the years? Share your thoughts below.