Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 101: 3 Reflections on 100 Days Without Mirrors

Tonight we celebrate our nation's independence, and it also marks the 101st day of this project.  Woohoo!  Though I'm not even 1/3 of the way through the full year I've committed to (and thus don't want to get too far ahead of myself), it seems like an auspicious time for a progress report on my growing independence from mirrors (independence, get it? hehe... I crack myself up...).  Here goes:

1) FEASIBILITY: Yes, it's possible (but really hard)!
To answer the burning question... YES, it has been possible to remove mirrors from my life.  I no longer feel dependent on mirrors in my daily life, which is pretty phenomenal.  That said, it's been incredibly difficult in a practical sense, and sometimes I still slip up; I'm not yet 100% mirror-free.  Realistically, there have only been a handful of days in the past 3 months when I haven't seen myself at all - and those were all days when I didn't leave the house.  Simply, mirrors and reflective surfaces are everywhere, and even the most stringent preventative measures can't prevent accidental glimpses.  Those peripheral peeks have been mostly benign, but every so often, "seeing myself" has led to "looking at myself," which is totally against the rules. :(  How frequently does this happen?  Probably once or twice each week, which isn't too too bad, but I need to do better.

Exceedingly Excessive Makeup Collection!
(okay, okay, it's not mine... but you get the idea!)
At first these little cheats only happened when I was stressed about my looks.  I've calmed a bit about that (see below for details), but more recently I've run into a new challenge: I've started to painfully mourn the loss of creativity that used to go toward my daily makeup, hairstyling, and outfit choices.  Thus, while my earliest cheats tended to happen in public (damn those ATM security cameras!) these days I feel the greatest temptation when I'm getting ready in front of my (curtained) bathroom mirror.  I look longingly at my exceedingly excessive collection of abandoned beauty products, and am SO tempted to push aside the curtain and. ... play!  The good news is that this new temptation seems motivated by body-positive creativity, rather than paranoid insecurity.  Progress indeed, but I still have work to do.

2) TRUST: It's a good thing. 
When I first started avoiding mirrors I felt paranoid about my appearance.  (Heck, sometimes I felt paranoid that I didn't even exist!).  For a few weeks I became that annoying girl who asks everybody "Do I look okay??!"  I was unnerved to discover that I didn't even trust people when they told me I looked alright.  This was profoundly depressing - had I ever trusted a compliment on my looks??

Blanche Dubois, who "always depended on the kindness
of strangers."  I get that now.  (image found here.)
Well, the paranoia faded (though I am still very curious about my looks), and I've learned that my family, my friends, and even strangers, are much kinder to me than I typically have been to myself.  Yes, people let me know when I have mascara on my nose or food on my shirt (indeed, I now depend on people to tell me these things!), but pointing out a mouth full of poppy-seeds is drastically different from the disapproval (or disgust) that I have projected at my reflection in the mirror.   I used to second-guess compliments on my appearance, but I'm learning that it's the kindness behind the compliment, not the way I might "really" look (in my head), that matters most.  I've started to trust these outside opinions a bit more, and my (critical) self a bit less.

So.... do I have FANTASTIC BODY IMAGE now?  Well, no.  But I never expected to reverse a 15+year issue in only a few months.  That would be ridiculously simple, and - as is true for most women - my body image remains ridiculously complex.   Yet I'm seeing small changes, all in a positive direction, and these give me hope.  Frankly, doing something about my body image, rather than just talking about it, has felt empowering in and of itself.  Yay me!

3) WEDDING ANGST: B.B.C.T.G. Item #37 Scares the Crap Out of Me.
Yeah, I got my eyebrows waxed without seeing the results, I downward-dogged with only my sister's perky rear to guide my form, and I kind of bared my soul to the world-wide-web, regarding my body image struggles... all in a quest to complete The Knot's Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous list without looking into a mirror.  Yet, the one item on this list that scares me the most is the only item I'm NOT ALLOWED to complete.  According to The Knot, the last thing I'm supposed to do (err... I mean, not do) before walking down the isle to marry Michael, is:
"Take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of the day before giving yourself one last once-over in the mirror."  
Original image here.
Yeah, that "last once-over in the mirror" is definitely not permitted in the rules of my project.  But it's something I'm scared I'll regret not doing.  Not only will I be desperately curious to know what I'll look like, but SO many trusted, sane, wise, and not-ridiculously-vain women in my life (hi mom!) have told me that I NEED to take a moment alone, to see myself in the mirror on the day that I get married.  I've been told that this moment won't be about my looks, but about quietly recognizing myself for just one calm minute during a whirlwind day of momentous transition.  This minute-alone-in-front-of-a-mirror would supposedly mark the moment for my own memory, and that doesn't sound so bad.
But maybe this is just one more overly-romantic bridal "must-do" myth, and I'd be buying into it at the cost of this projects' integrity.  Will I be able to create this moment for myself on my own terms?  What have I gotten myself into!?  (Advice welcome!)

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  1. I am so interested in reading about what you wind up choosing to do re: item #3! Question: What would "your own terms" look like, do you think?

    I've never been married, so I have no sage wisdom there. But what I can tell you is that I felt more in touch with myself during my mirror fast than I did before--and after. You are learning, day by day, to recognize yourself, after many years of having that recognition blurred and distorted. You won't risk not having that awe-filled recognition of yourself in that transition, because it is already yours, and it will be yours no matter what you choose in regards to the mirror. This whole project is a testament to other ways to recognize yourself, though I don't say that to urge you to *not* look at yourself. Perhaps looking at that time could shift how you look at the idea of looking, even?

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  2. I really like the discovery in number 2--the reliance on others and the newfound belief in others' compliments. That is REAL progress.

    I have been married twice now...and I do not recall the moment in front of the mirror. Perhaps a long journal entry the night before the big event--a mirror of your heart would be a better substitute.

  3. Autumn and Terri - I'm so appreciative of your "been there" advice, sans-mirrors from Autumn, and former bride from Terri. I like the idea of finding a new way of looking at myself, perhaps in front of a mirror, or maybe with a journal or (gasp!) on this blog.

    Terri - It am THRILLED to know that you don't have any specific "moment in front of a mirror" memories. That calms me down a bit regarding this point! :)

  4. I've also gotten married, and did not have a "moment in front of the mirror", and have zero regrets about it. My wedding was a fantastic, moving, memorable experience. You should definitely build in a few moments of quiet before the ceremony (if my experience is anything to go on, things will feel hectic and rushed) but no mirrors are necessary. Trust your friends and family's assurances that you look good instead.

    That beauty countdown list is a pretty good illustration of everything that's wrong with the wedding industry, in my opinion. (This rant is all about my own regrets around being taken in by this stuff and not intended as a personal attack.) Your wedding day is a big day, yes. It should be memorable, and you want to look your best, absolutely. But you are still you, and there's no need to go out and spend absurd amounts of money on things you would not normally do! Think of it as hosting a very big, formal party. If someone suggests something that makes you think "Why would I do that?" then it's probably not worth it.

    Even if all the tv specials and magazines tell you it is.

  5. My wedding was only a few months ago, so I do remember looking into the mirror many may times. But it wasn't really until everyone else left the room and I had a moment to myself that I really had that overwhelming moment of transition/reflection that I needed. And that moment had nothing to do with the how I looked and everything to do with how I felt about the man I was going to marry. So give yourself that quiet moment and hire a good photographer to worry about capturing your beauty!

  6. I have never heard about a minute alone in front of the mirror and didn't consciously do that. I did use mirrors to get ready, but overall that day, I guess I just reflected and tried to be present and awake in the moment as much as possible, especially during the ceremony. But no need for a mirror to do that. :)

  7. You can have your quiet moment of reflection, look at your ring finger, it will look different after the ceremony, get your picture taken with eyes looking down in front of the mirror to look at later. You will be beautiful and the look in Michael's eye will tell you you look beautiful. You will have a wonderful day!

  8. Pretty amazing stuff here. I have a feeling you are going to bombarded with comments soon enough too =) Thanks for being so open...I look forward to reading more, just had to stop and comment because this REALLY made think. I cringe at imperfections and am mortified if someone "points" out something on my face, a blemish on a piece of clothing...to rely on others to point things out--makes them seem pretty silly and insignificant. You are a brave woman for sharing all of this--which is some pretty serious self esteem in my book.

  9. I love you blog. Just found it. My wedding day was outdoors and the space that I had to get ready in did not have a mirror. I don't feel like I missed that moment. Make sure you have someone you trust and who loves you help with your hair and make up. We didn't have time to fix all the "damage" my aunt did before the ceremony. I like the suggestion of a picture of you looking down! I look forward to following this for the year.

  10. Coming from a happily married woman who picked, wait...strike that, who settled on a dress because of poor self-image issues at the time...I can honestly say that I did NOT have that 'moment in the mirror to reflect' because really, all I was concerned about was getting married to my love. One thing I DID do, while during the reception, was to stop for 2 minutes and look around the room while our dinner was being served to us. These 2 minutes were the best 2 minutes of the day - I saw people who loved us all together in one place - sharing in the joy of the day...with us! That is advice I give to all the brides I meet...I think this is in tune with your project as well!

  11. This is a little late, but I got married in a very tiny church - in fact got dressed in the minister's office that was smaller than my bathroom! While I wasn't shunning mirrors (and, in fact, DID use one while fighting with my hair that morning at the hotel) there was no chance to get a last gaze at myself in the mirror. And I didn't notice or even know that this was something you were supposed to do. My memories of my wedding day and marriage are not diminished for it.

    I, too, have struggled with body image and ED and really, when I think about it, that last image probably would have made me a wreck... I would have worried about the one curl that wasn't eaxctly where I wanted it to be, or if anyone else would notice the zit on my cheek that cropped up overnight, or if my mascara was on right, or I looked fat in my dress - any number of distracting and disheartening things. I would have focused more on the outer beauty or my perceived lack thereof instead of the real beauty of beginning a life of being cherished by someone I loved. I would have spent those precious moments at the altar worrying about what my husband saw rather than listening to the beautiful words he said and the love on his face - my critical eye would have only been able to see my flaws through MY perception of his eyes. And THAT WASN'T THE POINT OF THE DAY.

    I went into that sanctuary confident in who I was and of being a great match with the person at the other end of the aisle and THAT was all I needed to know - and I FELT BEAUTIFUL.

    (Hope this helps some...)

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