Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 3: 3 Days With Mirrors, 3 Observations

I'm still processing the emotions involved in my "first look."  In the weeks leading up to this moment I felt a lot of anxiety.  On the day of the party I started to feel a lot of excitement, but I also kind of wanted to "just get it over with."  And then - before I knew it - it was over with.   Here's what I remember:

This is me w/ my mom & sister, moments after the big reveal... 
At midnight on Saturday, my mom and sister helped me peel dozens of positive messages off of the face of a huge mirror.  We moved the messages from the face to the frame, slowly uncovering my reflection in the process.  (You can see some of the mirror + messages in the photo above!)  What I remember most clearly was COLOR!  I first saw the skin of my neck and upper chest, which was flushed bright pink.  (This always happens when I'm nervous!)  But as we uncovered more area on the mirror, I remember seeing the color of my skin and hair, and thinking that everything looked really lovely.  My cheeks were flushed pink, so I didn't look sickly-pale or sallow. My hair was pale blonde with natural-looking highlights, and not at all neon yellow or dull, as I'd feared (remember that horrible hair-dye mishap?!).  My eyes were sparkly, and my lips were rosy.  I had a "glow"!

I had help with my makeup and hair that evening (thank you Laila and Rana!!!) so I was definitely a step above my everyday look and I'm glad; why not dress up a bit for myself!?  (I stopped short of wearing my wedding dress, though I was tempted!)  

It was such a pleasant surprise to discover that my first observations were about color instead of my body size.  Speaking of my body size, I didn't really give it much (critical) thought on that first night at all.  I was pleased that the dress I'd picked out for the occasion (with help from my mom!) fit well.  My legs looked strong and shapely.  Since that evening, I've had 72 hours to reconnect with mirrors, and here are three preliminary observations:

1) I look pretty much the same as I did 12 months ago.
This is me, standing on a "YAY Scale" at my party, next to one of my HAES heroes, Marilyn Wann.
(FYI - "YAY Scales" give compliments instead of numbers!)
My hair is shorter, and I am a bit paler (this is what happens when you move from L.A. to San Francisco!), but other than that I'm mostly the same.  The skin on my face looks great - no obviously new wrinkles or age spots!  One thing: at 155 pounds, I'm 6 pounds heavier than when I started the project.  I can see that some of this weight has settled around my stomach and hips, but I don't look drastically different.  (It's certainly not the huge difference that I'd imagined back in November when I was declared "overweight" by the NHANES study!).  Anyway, no cause for panic: I've been losing about 1/2 pound per week since mid-January (after gaining 11 pounds from delicious Honeymoon + Thanksgiving + Xmas + New Years indulgences!), so my body seems to be slowly finding its way back to my healthy set-point.  (Thank goodness I've been following Health At Every Size principles!)

2) My pores have become very interesting again.  So have my lone frizzy hairs.
I've been doing this a bit more than I ought to be....
It's a little concerning to me that I've so quickly become fascinated by some of the close-up details that I haven't thought about in a year.  A few times now, I've stuck my face about 2 inches from my mirror to scan my pores.  I've also plucked a few frizzy hairs out of my hairline.  Both imperfect pores and the occasional frizzy strand would be completely unnoticeable to a common observer, so "fixing" these things is a waste of my time.  I might need to stay mindful so I don't fall back into obsessive habits!  Luckily I've stuck to my minimal makeup routine, so at least I'm not wasting any time there!

3) I've become a bit of a prude. (Oh my!)
Changing room exhibitionist I am not.
Now that I've removed the curtain from my bathroom mirror, I've become totally prudish when getting out of the shower!  After 365 days of not seeing myself naked, it feels shocking and almost inappropriate to see my naked body.  Instead of staring I turn away, almost as though it's the polite thing to do.  I don't have this reaction to my full-length reflection when I'm fully clothed (indeed, I've enjoyed seeing my favorite clothes again!), so this prudishness amuses me!  Since I'm only 3 days into my transition back to mirrors, this seems like it may be par for the course!  I have no desire to become a "changing room exhibitionist," - you know the type! - but hopefully seeing myself naked won't be such a shock after I get used to it again...

Here's a question for you: When is the last time you "glowed"??  What was the occasion?  What did you look like?  How did it feel?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 1: I Looked, It was Good, Going to Bed Now

Hi Everyone,
I just got home from the "first look" party, and it was pretty amazing.  I have a multitude of thanks to send to many people, which I will do as soon as I catch my breath and a few ZZZZs.

My first look in the mirror was great.  I was nervous.  It was a little bit awkward (a lot of people were there!), but I liked what I saw, and I felt incredibly supported by my friends and family.  More soon!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 365: An Interview With Cynthia Bulik, PhD, Author of Woman in the Mirror

TODAY (Saturday) is the LAST day of my quest to live mirror-free for 1 year!  I'm almost too busy running around with my family, and throwing together last-minute party-planning ideas, to really absorb things.  I think that's okay.  I mean, by now really I ought to be able to run around frantically for a day without worrying about mirrors or what I look like in them - that was the whole point of this project!  So for now, I'm just going with the flow, and plan to over-analyze everything later (on this blog, of course!).

In the meantime, I want to share with you a resource that has been particularly helpful to me over the past few months.  It's an eerily on-topic book.  I was so impressed (and simultaneously starved for therapy!) that I went so far as to ask the author for her professional opinion on what I might expect, psychologically - from my "first look" and the days after.  Here's the scoop!

Cynthia Bulik, PhD and mirror. :)
Several months ago I received an email from one of those BIG NAME people in the field of eating disorders and body image research.  Cynthia Bulik, PhD, Director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, and author of countless research articles on all the topics nearest-and-dearest to my heart, dropped me a note to introduce herself (as if I wouldn't know who she was?!?!) and let me know she was enjoying my blog.  We wrote back and forth a few times, and Cynthia generously arranged for me receive a copy of her latest book, titled: The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are.  Clearly, we had a lot to talk about!

Learn more or buy your own copy here.

Well, I've read the book and loved it.  Cynthia writes with clear prose about complicated topics.  She skillfully explores the body image traps that women encounter at every stage of their lives, starting in early childhood all the way through our senior years.  Most importantly, she provides readers with practical (evidence-based!) tools for navigating these challenges and traps, predominantly by countering negative self-talk.  Boy, oh boy, have I needed this book over the past few weeks!  As much as I've learned by personally going without mirrors for the past 12 months, a 272-page pep-talk + play-book can't hurt. 

Here are the questions I posed to Cynthia, along with her responses.  

KJ:  I read your book and found it phenomenal!  In particular, the distinction you make between self-esteem and body-esteem really hit home.  Could you describe this difference and its importance for my readers?

Cynthia:  Sure, Body esteem refers to how you think and feel about your physical appearance: your size, shape, hair, your features—basically anything that makes up your physical self. Self-esteem refers to how you think and feel about the whole package that is you— your personality, your role in relationships, your accomplishments, your values, your spirituality, and your appearance—all of the dimensions that contribute to who you are as a person in the world.

If you look at self-esteem as a pie, and each of the different components as slices of the pie, the key question is how big the body esteem slice is. If body esteem is the biggest piece of your self-esteem pie, meaning that your self-esteem is almost completely defined by your body esteem, then there’s some work to be done. The goal of the book is to help people tease out self-esteem from body esteem and allow them to build up those other domains of self-esteem so that they can value all facets of who they are not just their physical appearance.

KJ:  You're an internationally renowned scholar on the topic of eating disorders.  How did you first become interested in the topic, and what continues to motivate your work, particularly Woman in the Mirror
Cynthia: The roots of Woman in the Mirror were in two locker rooms. I am an ice dancer, and my skating rink shares a locker room with a pool. I was changing one day and some little girls (about age 6) came running out of the pool, dripping wet. They looked like they were having so much fun, but when I overhead their conversation, the talk was all about having big tummies and needing to go on a diet. At age 6! So I archived this scenario in my mind, and two weeks later I was visiting my parents in their retirement village in Florida and found myself in the locker room of their wellness center. This time I was listening to a group of women who were anywhere form 60-80. I thought for sure in a retirement village, appearance focus would not be an issue, but to my horror, the conversation was the same as those little girls. Not only was it about hating their wrinkles and sagging skin, but they were still talking about how fat they were and what procedures they needed to get done (face lifts, tummy tucks etc.). At that point I realized that this has just gotten out of hand and I had to do something about it.

I first became interested in eating disorders when my mentor at the time was invited to write a book chapter on depression and anorexia and didn’t have time to write it, so he handed the project off to me. Like any good actor preparing for a role, I prepped myself for the writing by doing rounds on an eating disorders unit with the attending psychiatrist. I was completely intrigued by these girls (at the time it was mostly girls) who were around my age, but half my size. It was also an Aha! Moment when I realized that eating disorders had been all around me, but they weren’t really talked about at the time. Several girls whom I skated with had just sort of shrunken and then disappeared from the rink. Another skating friend’s mother used to have a padlock on the refrigerator and we had to ask for a key if we wanted something to eat. Her mom would just say that her daughter would eat them out of house and home if she didn't lock things up. We just thought it was odd, but took it for granted, little did we know that she was suffering from what would later be called bulimia nervosa. That experience on the ward basically sparked my determination to figure out what causes these illnesses and how best to treat them.

What continues to motivate my work is my absolute admiration for women and my desire to do whatever I can to ensure that my daughters’ generation has more opportunities and greater equality than I had. Women are an enormous resource. We have so much to offer the world, but we are held back by Big Industry’s schemes to constantly make us think that there is something wrong with us that needs to be fixed. The Big Industries have crafted the best marketing strategy in the world. They worm their way into your head convincing you that you have some sort of a flaw (eyebrows too bushy, skin too dark, skin too light, hair too curly, hair too straight, poorly formed belly button, inadequate eyelashes, etc.). Then convince you that this flaw that they convinced you that you had can and should be corrected. Then they offer you the magic product or procedure to erase any trails of this self-consciousness-inducing flaw. Then they promise not only to correct the flaw, but a remarkable boost in self-esteem along the way (coupled with being loved, getting the man, being popular, becoming rich, etc.). I get angry every time I see an advertisement designed to convince you there is something wrong with you that you should get fixed. I also get angry whenever I am unable to focus on the wonderful talent or accomplishments that a woman has made because her publicist has dressed her in an outfit that looks like it is going to malfunction at any moment. I am motivated by the desire to release women from the tyranny of appearance focused subjugation.

KJ:  Right on!  Your passion is inspiring to me!  I know that eating disorders have both biological and social roots.  We can't change our biology much, and cultural revolutions take a lot of time... Given this, do you have any tips or steps women can take in their everyday lives to reduce their risk (or their children's risk) of developing disordered eating? 

Cynthia: You’re right—the causes of eating disorders are truly an intricate dance of genes and environment. We can’t change our genes, but we can work on developing a more buffering environment. One of the best complications of recommendations from “experts” was in an iVillage piece by Karen Springen. Rather than recreating those recommendations, I would suggest reading: http://www.ivillage.com/dying-be-thin/4-a-152420?p=2#ixzz0w6kx9pLY 

I’ll also emphasize the importance of being a healthy role model. One of my favorite quotes from Gloria Steinem is, “Every time a woman passes a mirror and criticizes herself, there’s a girl watching…” How we show respect to our own bodies is powerful medicine for young girls who are being bombarded by messages of dissatisfaction. And, every day, tell your children something you value about them aside from appearances to help them develop respect for all that they are as an individual in the world, not just what can be seen reflected in the mirror.

KJ:  I couldn't agree more.  Final question!  You know about my quest to give up mirrors for a year. Most people have been supportive of the project, but some also worry that I'm just "denying" the issue of poor body image by not looking at myself.  What's your take?  

Cynthia: I think this has been an enormously brave and admirable project and I have enjoyed watching the truths unfold during your journey. I see the opposite of denial, frankly.  I’ve watched this project encourage you to tackle the real issues and address the real person behind the looking glass.

KJ: Awww, shucks.  Thanks! :) Okay, I fibbed.  One more final question: My project ends soon.  Do you have any suggestions for how I might transition back?  I'm pretty nervous - what if all of the good changes I've noticed fall apart as soon as I see myself again!?!

Cynthia:  If you think about it, before the invention of the mirror, unless we lived by a calm body of water, we wouldn't have been able to pick ourselves out of a line up! We had no idea what our faces looked like. I would expect that you are going to go through somewhat of a reorientation phase once your project ends. You’ll probably be most fascinated with your face, because the rest of your body you can sort of get glimpses of without a mirror—so they wont have become as unfamiliar. There might have been some changes in your face. You’re a year older, maybe some new freckles, or other subtle changes that might lead you to ask…was that there before? You might also find yourself doing double takes for a while—like when you walk into a restroom or past a window and see your reflection. There will be some novelty to your reflection and hopefully it will be a pleasant surprise to see your face again!

My hope for you is really the fundamental message of a project we have going on called the Mirror Project. We’re working hard to get women and men to change their relationship with their reflection, and each time they look in the mirror to say something positive about themselves—not necessarily about their appearance, but some affirmative statement about who they are in the world or what they have done well that day. What I noticed in writing The Woman in the Mirror is that women rarely smile when they approach the mirror: they walk up to it with a frown, a scowl, and with trepidation about what they might find. Then they use the mirror as a flaw detector—scanning from head to toe to catalog all of their flaws. I hope that your unveiling will allow you to do just the opposite and remind you of all of the wonderful aspects of your apeparance that bring light to the world, to use the mirror to boost your self-esteem rather than bash your body esteem, and to embrace your new found reflection as a positive force in your life.

THANKS SO MUCH CYNTHIA!!  You're awesome. :)  (please tell yourself this the next time you look into a mirror!)

Okay, readers.  Did you read that last point I put in bold purple?  What "affirmative statement" can you tell your reflection today?  I need to collect ideas for my "first look" at midnight!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 362: FINAL BIG TRUTH: Hotness ≠ Happiness, but Happiness = Hotness

BIG Truth #5: 
Hotness ≠ Happiness, but Happiness = Hotness.
Here it is, my final "BIG Truth."  This may actually be my favorite.  In the last 12 months I've not only given up mirrors, but I've also given myself a bit of a "make-under," by dramatically reducing the amount of makeup I wear, going completely makeup-free on Mondays, not styling my hair (well, I guess pony-tails are technically a style), abandoning self-tanner and teeth-whiteners, and dressing predominantly for comfort rather than trendiness.  In other words, I've intentionally sacrificed a bit of (stereotypical) hotness.  This was scary, but totally worth testing.  I wanted to find out the extent to which these beauty practices actually improved my life.  After all, an my academic work, I've read research paper after research paper claiming that beauty offers all sorts of concrete social benefits for women, including higher incomemore successful (i.e, wealthy) husbands, and - the big one - greater overall happiness.   Yet I still had my doubts.  Sure, I we all know instinctively that beauty has it's perks, but I couldn't help but wonder whether chasing beauty was a worthwhile use of time and energy.  

How about ... NOT!
Well, the answer was plain (pun intended!): when I stopped chasing hotness, I became a little less stereotypically "hot" (so I'm told), but a whole lot happier.  Getting 15 extra minutes of sleep every morning, focusing on work I enjoy, and spending my extra energy cultivating relationships in which I can "just be myself" has been enormously happifying!  In the meantime, I haven't reduced my earnings potential, threatened my marriage, or foregone my core sense-of-self.  (FYI, if you're wondering how this could possibly be true, considering the results of all those studies... check out my nerdy mathematical explanation at the end of this post!).

Want to know the best part?  Michael thinks I'm hotter now than I was before!  Apparently happiness begets confidence, and confidence is really hot.  I accused him of being blinded by love, but he insists that this "confidence is hot" thing is something most modern men would agree with (as a generalization, not about me in particular).  What do you think?  Does confidence trump looks in your relationships??

PS: Here's the mathy stuff I did to better understand why being less hot didn't ruin my life.  I'm basing this rationale on a research study, in which participants were asked about their levels of happiness, and their looks were rated by interviewers face-to-face or from photos.  Participants in the top 15% of people in terms of looks were a bit over 10% happier than those in the bottom 10% in terms of looks.  (Note, this study did not examine whether becoming more or less beautiful or would effect any individual person's happiness, so my comments below are extrapolations of the data.)

Now, a 10% boost in happiness might seem pretty meaningful, but I disagree.  This statistic tells us only that the most stunningly beautiful people in the world are only about 10% happier than the most strikingly unattractive.  Now, I've never been stunningly beautiful nor strikingly unattractive.  Like 75% of people, I'm somewhere in the middle (in the "cute" category, I like to think).  So, even if it were possible for me to obsess my way from "cute" to being in the "top 15%," I still couldn't expect happiness gains anywhere near 10%.  And let's be frank: it's really difficult to improve our looks dramatically (by this, I mean improving our looks to clearly jump from one category to the next). 

Thus: given that: (1) even dramatic improvements in appearance would (hypothetically) cause only minimal improvements in happiness, and that  (2) truly dramatic improvements in looks are almost impossible anyway....  we are left with the conclusion that striving to be hotter won't make us much happier at all. 

***Of course, it is possible that striving for beauty can bring happiness in and of itself (indeed, I admit to getting a happy rush whenever I have impeccably manicured nails!), but there is certainly a point of diminishing returns, and this is something best left for individuals to decide for themselves. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day 361: Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 5.1

Happy "Hump Day" Everyone!  I hope my fifth (and FINAL) "Two Truths and a BIG Truth" list helps you pass some time at work, so you can "get over the hump" and be closer to this coming weekend than you were to the last.

***Note: this post started getting REALLY LOOOONG, so I've opted to build suspense and post my FINAL BIG TRUTH tomorrow.  It's worth the wait, I promise!***

Truth #9 Ask for Help, and Accept it When Offered.
I am an independent woman.  Like, really independent.  As a wee child in daycare, when instructed to choose and hold hands with a partner for a playtime game, I promptly clasped my own hands together and announced "I be my OWN partner!"  (Oh yes I did!)   Independence does have it's benefits.  As a magnet hanging on my parents' fridge explains, "It's nice to be your own best friend because you're always there when you need you!"  But there are a few important drawbacks.  For one, independence can be lonely.  More importantly, stubborn self-sufficiency is sometimes a symptom of perfectionistic neuroticism that edges on self-centeredness.  (Try saying that three times fast!)  At our worst, we independent ladies can become sadly self-important ("Nobody can do this as well as I can!") or even mistrustful martyrs ("I HAVE to do this because I can't trust anybody else to do it to my standards!").  These are not admirable traits.

Further, it's impossible to maintain healthy relationships with friends or romantic partners if you refuse to let them see you when you're vulnerable or needy, or (gasp!) accept help in those times.  Saying "Thanks, but I don't need you," is a horrible message to send your confidants.  Not only because (duh) you DO need help from other people, but even more so because allowing other people to help out is a way of letting them know, "you're important, and your problem-solving/hand-holding/hugging skills are immensely valuable."  So, ask for help when you need it, and accept it when offered.  You'll do yourself - and your relationships - a service.  (Speaking of which, THANK YOU to everyone who has pointed out my myriad mirror-free faux-pas over the past 12 months... I have desperately needed your help!)

Truth #10 Fake it 'til you make it.
I've written on this topic 99 days ago, on Day 262, so I'm re-posting my previous comments (with some revisions to be more to the point!).

(Actually, it should be "Fake it 'til you make it!" but who's checking...)
This may seem like an odd "truth" to select, since my no-mirrors project is at least partially a quest for greater authenticity.  Is it possible to fake your way into authenticity?  Certainly not in the most literal sense.  Yet, I know from past experience that I often have to change my behavior first, and then wait for my mind to catch up.  In fact, my decision to shun mirrors relies on this logic: I wanted to stop caring so much about my looks, so I stopped looking at myself.  It wasn't instantaneous, but guess what?  Despite some minor self-esteem relapses, avoiding mirrors has been an overwhelming success.  All the other interesting things in my life - my goals, passions, friends, family, favorite hobbies, etc. - have attracted the energy and attention I used to give to my looks.  My changed behaviors had to precede my mind.

Sometimes you have to"fake it" to a healthier and happier place.  Your behaviors can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  For example, research shows that smiling improves happiness (not the other way around).  Another example: a few months ago I got rid of all of the clothes in my closet that didn't make me feel BOTH stylish and sexy.  Now I only own clothes that make me stand tall and proud (and walk with swaying hips!).  Next up was an attitude adjustment, along with a continued commitment to eat healthfully and stay active, even though I've sometimes felt like wallowing on the couch with a bag of chips... and cookies, and cheese, and wine.   I've found that the best way to get my shit together is to act like it already is. 

For those of you who may think that "fake it 'til you make it" is a lame "truth," consider this: Gandhi said, "be the change you want to see in the world."   I certainly don't consider myself to be as wise, eloquent, or world-changing as Ghandhi, but this "truth" and his famous quote are rooted in the same spirit.  Think about it!  :)

Okay, I'm signing off here for now.  Tomorrow, I will bequeath you with a delicious BIG TRUTH regarding the relationship between hotness and happiness.  Any guesses as to what my FINAL BIG TRUTH will be??  (Or, do YOU have any truths on the topic worth sharing?!?)  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day 360: Mantra Monday + Body Image Nightmare Update

The fam: Peter, Mom, Me, Michael, Dad, Hanna!
All together again this weekend, for the first time since this picture was taken.
With a Body Positive Bonanza to plan, and family visiting from out-of-town for said party, it's shaping up to be a hectic week.  I am SO excited to see my parents and little brother, Peter, this coming weekend!  They're making the trip all the way from St. Louis, MO and Madison, WI, respectively.  In light of the week's events and visitors, my mantra is:

Tell people how much you love and appreciate them.

I'm hard at work thinking of ways to do this at the party this weekend... So many of my "couldn't have done this without you!" folks will be there!  Any (inexpensive) suggestions?

Also - I have an important update regarding my recent body-image nightmares: they were probably drug-induced!  No, seriously.  I had another weird one on Thursday night (involving cupcakes and the inability to stop eating them.  Yes, it was a nightmare, I swear!).  I woke up feeling really anxious and generally lousy.  In the midst of bitching at Michael over something petty, it hit me:  This does NOT feel like me.  Something is up.  What - other than an impending "first look" party - might be going on? (cue suspenseful music)

An exhaustive google search of all the cold/cough/allergy/sinus-infection meds I've been taking landed me on a planet I like to call "Planet Duh."  It turns out that ciproflaxen - the antibiotic that's finally banishing the last of my symptoms - has some very interesting side effects, including:
"...restlessness, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, tremor, headache, or irritability [...] Such symptoms can be made worse by coffee..."
You read that correctly: Insomnia, Nightmares, and Irritability (Oh My!)  Add to this the fact that I've been drinking more coffee than usual (to perk me up from the antihistamine-stupor), and suddenly we have a hypothesis.  To test said hypothesis, I cut out antihistamines and coffee over the weekend, and I've been feeling much, much better.  No more nightmares!  My last dose of cipro was this morning, so I'm predicting a rapid abatement of all freaky emotional symptoms.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 357: Egads! I'm Having Wacky Body-Image Nightmares!

The 10-day countdown to my "first look" at 12am on March 25th has commenced.  In the past few weeks I've started to feel increasingly anxious about what that moment will feel like, particularly since it's slated to happen at a party with a lot of people around.  (Granted, I'm not planning to actually conduct my "first look" in front of the whole party, but even if I do it more privately, I assume I'll be expected to report back!)

Anyway, it hasn't helped my nerves that I've recently had two different nightmares with some obvious wacky-body-image undertones.  In the first, I'm wearing a dress that is at least two sizes too small; I can't actually see it, but it's so tight that I'm literally trapped in it.  I'm physically uncomfortable, horrified to have so completely misjudged my physical size, and desperate to escape. Yet I can't physically pull the dress over my head because my body is so constrained and my arms are too weak.  (Ugh, I'm getting yucky shivers just thinking about it!)

Oh yeah, Baby, that's me! (image credit)
My second dream much is less horrific but similarly telling: in this one, I'm about to look into a mirror and I feel really nervous (weird, huh).  I stare at my feet, urging myself to look up, until I finally find the courage to do so.  Staring back at me is... A DUDE.  Yeah, I'm a dude.  Thankfully, I'm an incredibly good looking dude, so I like what I see.  But it's still completely weird.  While admiring my chiseled jawline and Abercombie-abs, I wonder Why didn't anyone tell me I'm a guy?!?!.  

A fear of greatly misjudging my body appears to be predominating my subconscious. 

The good news is that having these nightmares has forced me to acknowledge the very fact that I'm fearful, so now I can try to process this and deal with it.  For example, I've realized that part of my anxiety is rooted in the irony of having a "first look" at all.  Building up suspense around the "first look" is in some ways an inappropriate (and false) end to the project.  For one thing, looking in the mirror again will actually mark a transition, not a climax.  Further, emphasizing the moment of looking at myself in the mirror for the first time feels eerily evocative of a cheesy "Reality-TV Makeover."  (Will I squeal with joy?  Should I delicately touch my hands to my face to see if it's really me in the mirror? Will my husband say something lame like "Aww man, you look soooo good, Baby!  I'm gonna to feel like I'm cheatin' on my old wife with a new lady!"  I mean, this is the asinine behavior we've all come to expect from the "first look in the mirror" scene, no?)  It feels utterly off-putting to conclude this project by emphasizing my appearance, but I can't bring mirrors back into my everyday life  (which, by the way, I am genuinely looking forward to) if I don't start with a first look.  

Angst and fear abound, but a few things are helping me:

First, I'm reminding myself that the success of the project won't rest on my reaction to the first look: the days, weeks, months, and years after the will be more telling as to whether I've changed the better.  More importantly, unlike a, Realty TV Makeover, my metric for deciding whether I've changed for the better will be based on internal cues, not the extent to which my looks have changed.  (Indeed, much of this project has been a calculated physical makeunder, which I'm proud of and hope to continue!)  My personal mantra about being "an imperfect role model" is helpful for this: looking super cute isn't as important to my goals as being a happy, unique, and authentic person.

This button is MINE!
I'm also reminding myself that I will be in control, and that I'm not responsible for meeting anybody else's expectations.  If I want to, I can decide at the last minute to never look in a mirror again (I'm fairly sure that this won't happen, but giving myself the choice feels good!).  Or, I can kick everybody out of the room and count my pores for an hour or two until only my closest friends and family are left waiting for me.  With luck, I'll have a glass or two of champagne in my system, a cherished friend on each arm, and it will simply be silly and joyful.  But, if I start freaking out, I can make up "plan B" on the spot!

Finally, I'm determined to replace my nightmares with a new visualization. I've chosen to visualize the emotional experience of seeing an old friend for the first time in ages.  When we greet our oldest friends after a long separation, we're excited to see them in person because we love them.  We might notice physical changes, but we don't pass judgement or change our feelings for that person based on their looks; we're just so glad to finally see them.  I'm trying to wrap myself up in happy memories of hugging cherished friends and relatives at airports, bus stops, and train-stations.  I'm hoping that, by really cultivating these memories, I'll prime my brain to have a similar mindset for the "first look."

Have you every had a wacky-body-image dream?  I'd love to hear about it.  What's your interpretation?  Do share!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 355: Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 4

If you didn't catch my post from yesterday afternoon, you've probably figured it out on your own by now: I've given my blog a makeover! I hope you enjoy the changes, and I encourage (ahem, beg) you to "like me" on my brand new Facebook page!

Okay, back to business as usual.  Below, I've written my latest rendition of "Two Truths and a BIG Truth."  As a reminder, my "Truths" are things I knew before I started this project (even though I didn't always follow my own advice!), and the "BIG Truths" are things I've discovered along the way.

Truth #7 Sanity Comes First
This has been one of my "rules" since the beginning of my no-mirrors adventure, when I promised myself that I'd quit the project immediately if it made me "go insane".  Did I actually expect to go cookoo-chocoloco-crazy?  Not really.  But was I worried that going without mirrors had the potential to do more harm than good?  Absolutely.  I value my mental health above all else - including my physical health, my marriage, and even my ambitions.  Wow, did I say that out loud?  Yep, I did.  Luckily, these three things are generally protective to my mental health, but I've got limits and have learned to respect them or pay the price.

For example, over the last 10 years I've taken an antidepressant that helps me truly feel like myself (which I define as being able to experiencing the full-range of human emotions - in relation to what's actually going on in my life!).  Frustratingly, it's associated with some nasty side effects, including insulin resistance and high cholesterol.  Know what?  I take it anyway.  A few years ago my cholesterol was elevated, so I tried switching to something new.  BIG MISTAKE.  Never again.  These days I try to counter my risks through a healthy diet and exercise.  So far it's working but, when push comes to shove, I'll accept the trade-off.  As for my marriage, there are days when I become a reclusive hermit, avoiding my very snuggly and affection-craving husband because I have a deep need for solitude in order to feel rejuvenated. (I'm an introvert! Who knew?!)  Finally, my ambitions have changed over the years to protect my mental health.  I've flat out given up the idea of "fulfilling my potential!" at work, whatever that means (in the past, it has meant working waaaay too many hours!), and I switched careers in part because working in the fashion industry fed into my disordered eating.  Yet - full disclosure here - there is one ambition I'm still struggling with: Parenthood.  I'm terrified that I won't be able to handle it, and being a mommy isn't exactly a project I could "quit immediately if it made me 'go insane'".  I have a few more years to figure out this last one, but I suspect many people (perhaps even my own husband) won't fully understand my concerns and priorities.  I know this much: sanity will come first.

Truth #8 There is Beauty in the Breakdown
Seriously!  :)
It hasn't happened in quite some time, but sometimes I'm unable to prevent feeling really lousy.  I think this is normal.  When life is a mess and I don't know how to climb out of whatever hole I've dug for myself, at times when I've struggled with crippling depression and anxiety, when I didn't know who I would be if I gave up the goal of being very thin, and when people are cruel and bad things happen to good people... those are the worst of times.  You can't always prevent them, and I've learned that you shouldn't try to race out of them.  There is beauty to be found in the complex intensity of life.   Recall that I mentioned needing to be able to experience the "full range of human emotion" in order to feel like myself?  Well, this includes the bad stuff, like being scared or confused or hurt or angry or devastated - sometimes all at once.  I try to embrace these emotions when they show up.  I sit with them and "let go" for a little while and just wait, as calmly as possible, for the pain to ease or for the right path to present itself. Now, I'm no masochist, but I've learned to appreciate pain when it happens because I usually grow as a person when I'm in the midst of it.  Let go.  Allow yourself to feel pain.  Sit with it.  Be patient.  It will ease.

FYI, I flat-out stole the phrase "Beauty in the Breakdown" from the stunning song "Let Go," by Frou Frou.  If you haven't heard it, you must stop everything you're doing and check it out here!

BIG Truth #4: If you focus on the good stuff and - this is crucial - find ways to celebrate it, the not-so-good stuff won't seem so important any more.
Want to know what inspired this one?  My relationship with Michael.  Sometimes we pick at each other, or get into lengthy conversations about how we could improve our relationship.  Then, one day I read on Psychology Today that "couples who make a big deal of celebrating positive things in life score higher than others on intimacy and relationship satisfaction."  Indeed, celebrating positive things is more important for relationship happiness than solving "issues."  And it's been true for us: once MIchael and I put this idea to work, we noticed that we're substantially happier when we focus on having fun together, compared to the times when we painstakingly take inventory of our problems.  Who'd have thunk it?  So now applying this scientifically tested philosophy to the issue of body image.  (I predict that this BIG Truth will be my most successful takeaway from my year without mirrors!)

In the months (years??) before I started this project, every time I looked into a mirror I focused on my flaws.  I ignored things that I actually liked about my looks and literally saw the worst in myself.  Why, oh why, do we do this to ourselves?!  Since giving up mirrors, I've more frequently thought about the aspects of my reflection that I miss seeing - things like my smiling teeth, my strong and shapely legs, my hair (although, with I'll I've put it through, who knows what it looks like now?!), the soft skin on my face, and - of course - my favorite outfits!  Instead of worrying about hiding my "imperfections," I'm getting excited to celebrate my uniqueness.  (Please note that I did NOT say that I'm planning to flaunt my "perfections"... let's move away from that kind of thinking, pronto!)  I'm going to celebrate these things by smiling all the time, wearing short summer dresses with power-heels, tossing my hair on the dance floor, wearing punchy-pink blush on the apples of my cheeks, and wearing my most colorful clothes.  I am determined to celebrate the good stuff, and - in doing so - I'll force everything else to fade into the unimportant background.

What do you think??  Could you give up trying to "solve" your appearance insecurities (your "issues"?), in favor of just celebrating the stuff you already like?? Would that feel like a loss or a gain?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 354: New Blog Design!

Hi everyone!  After lots of internal debate, I've decided to give my blog a major makeover.  As much as I've loved the bright colors and "broken mirror" background I've used over the past several months, I've decided that I need to head in the direction of greater readability (no more migraine headaches from visual overstimulation!), and easy navigation between features.  Just as my year-without-mirrors has involved a process of self-examination and growth, so too has my blogging.

Some new features to look out for (and use!) include:
1) New button on the side-bar to "Like me on Facebook".  (BTW- Please like me.  It's a lonely new page that needs more friends!)
2) A direct link to my soon-to-be re-designed personal/professional homepage (www.KjerstinGruys.com) in the main navigation bar.
3) New "Q&A" page.
4) Updated Contact page.

Thanks for your patience while I remodel bit-by-bit over the next few days/weeks - I hope you enjoy the changes as much as I do!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 353: Mantra Monday / Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 3 (For Real This Time!)

Thanks to everyone for their understanding of my recent "sick day/month".  After almost 4 weeks of following my doctor's orders AND throwing in numerous home remedies (thanks to all of your suggestions!) I've finally turned a corner on this monster. I wasn't able to give the full "Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 3" post last week, but I'm making up for lost time today.  In the spirit of Mantra Mondays, I'm presenting my Two Truths as mantras, since this is how I've used them.  The BIG Truth is less mantra-ish, but hopefully still thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Whenever I find myself at a crossroads in which I have the choice between multiple paths, be they small (i.e., this outfit or that one?) or large (i.e., what should I be when I grow up?), I have used the following two "Truths" to help guide my decision-making.

Truth # 5: When in doubt, channel "KJ@3"...
Me, at 3. (aka, "KJ@3")
Back on Day 171, I introduced you all to a photo of "KJ@3", by writing, "I'm reminded that I was once a precocious, curious and adventurous little girl who imagined myself to be a writer. I had loving parents, silly friends (some imaginary), and oodles of confidence. [...] THIS is who I want to be when I grow up."   KJ@3 was a curious, bold, caring, and confident tomboy with short hair, a lisp, suspenders, big dreams and an unending love for animals (including bugs and slugs).  I knew that I had everything I could ever need (except maybe a puppy!), so envy wasn't a big part of my mindset (at least until my sister, Hanna, showed up!).  I didn't worry about being pretty or fashionable, just feeling comfortable.  I ran around naked a lot.

When faced with a  moral conundrum - or even when faced with somebody who's life seems so much cooler than mine - I remind myself to "Be KJ@3," who would never-ever pick the mean option, the jealous option, or the physically uncomfortable option.  How would your 3-year-old self make decisions?

... but, if that doesn't work, channel Ms. Piggy. 
Of course, there are a few (PG-13 and R- rated) situations that would be inappropriate for a 3-year-old.  In these times, Ms. Piggy has to show up.  (FYI, I know it's usually "Miss" Piggy, but I think she'd thank me for the correction!)  Ms. Piggy is a curvy gal who believes that she is destined for stardom and great love, and that nothing can stand in her way.  She is sassy, outgoing, yet unabashedly feminine.  Oh, did I mention that she's an author on the New York Times Bestseller List, AND was the plus-size editor of Vogue Paris?  You read that right: we're talking about a feisty bestselling fashionista author who loves her curves!  HIYA!  Unlike the more innocent KJ@3, Ms. Piggy knows when it's time to fight fire with fiery rage, and I've had a few of those times in the past year (recall, massive online bullying a few months before my wedding).  I'd never want to subject KJ@3 to some of the cruelty out there (and I also wouldn't ask her for advice when picking out honeymoon lingerie!), so it's good to have a back-up with backbone and sex appeal!
Truth #6: Be a role model.  

Learning to view myself as a role model for other women - particularly for my female college students - has been one of my most powerful tools for staying healthy and appreciating myself.  To me, being a role-model has never meant being "perfect".  We have plenty of “perfect” role models out there in our popular culture of fables, fairy tales, and romantic comedies, telling young women and girls that success, happiness, and love can only be theirs if they look like barbie-dolls and make it their life’s work to please others.  Weird nerdy girls don’t get the guy until they've had a makeover, which for some reason always involves ditching her glasses (What is it that they say?  “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”)!  This is not what I want for my students.  I want them to take their unique lives, unique bodies, and unique minds and stride confidently along their own paths.  I want them to find love and embrace it, rather than doubt it.  I want them to revel in their quirks, and say PHOOEY! to people and media who tell them they need to look or act a certain way in order to be happy.  I can't truly encourage my students to do this while being a slave to the same systems I'm critiquing.  (And it's not like students don't notice when their teachers are trying to look like barbie dolls!)  

Because of this, I think that imperfect women who have fabulous lives make great role-models. So, when I consciously try to be a role model, I relish in being as vibrantly imperfect and quirky - yet successful, loved, and happy - as possible I believe that being a role model in this way is good for my students, and I know that it's been good for me.  Numerous times when I’ve been tempted to go on a crash diet - or to otherwise look perfect and act perfectly composed and put together - I’ve talked myself out of it simply by reminding myself of how badly I want to prove to my girls that quirky, chubby, bossy, outspoken, clumsy, weird, girls can absolutely achieve professional success, wonderful friends, and fabulous love.  Who are your favorite imperfect role models??

BIG Truth #3: Yes, this IS what a feminist looks like! 

I've finally come to a meaningful conclusion on this topic.  There's been a lot of debate among feminists, regarding the appropriate relationship between women's appearance, patriarchy, and being a "good" feminist.  Some scholars suggest that normative beauty standards are a form of  (evil) patriarchy, and that, by indulging in beatifying practices, women contribute to their own oppression, and to gender inequality as a whole.  This suggests that women who participate in heteronormative beauty practices must be either naive and uncritical, or are strategically making patriarchal bargains.  (You may recall that a patriarchal bargain is a "decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system.  It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one's best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.")

As a woman who is both an avowed feminist and who makes tiny little patriarchal bargains pretty much every day of my life, I have felt angst.  Does wearing mascara, high heels and "shapewear" somehow negate the sum of my academic work, volunteer efforts, blogging, and mentoring?  Can I promote Health At Every Size while using weightwatchers.com to stay mindful of my eating and exercise?  If dieting is supposedly anti-feminist, does that somehow make binging pro-feminist?  These questions have nagged me quietly for years, but my no-mirrors project (and public blogging of the process) have brought them front and center.  And you know what?  I'm glad!  It helped me reach my 3rd BIG Truth.

Here it is: YES, this IS what a feminist looks like!  But what I look like should never matter more than what I do.  There is no such thing as a "perfect" feminist.  However, I acknowledge that to be a "good" feminist, you probably ought to do more than just believe in the importance of equality between men and women; you ought to help make it happen.  Because of this, it is important for us to sit down and think about the sum of (1) our daily actions alongside (2) our larger lifelong commitments and work.  Both of these things should be recorded in our personal accounting books, but it's the balance that matters in the end.  However, these personal accounting books ought to be just that: personal.  Judging other women for not making the "right" decisions ignores the complexity of our differing life experiences and unique selves.  Even worse, when we judge other women for their choices, we effectively limit their choices, which ultimately disempower goth them and us. 

Thoughts? Reactions? Frustrations? Have you ever felt judged regarding your political believes because of your looks?  Spill it! :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 350: The Suspense Continues (Taking a Sick Day)

Instead of writing this week's Fun Fact Friday, I'm headed to sleep early.  I had to take a "sick day" today... the cough continues and I've managed to strain the intercostal muscles in my chest wall so it feels like a horse is kicking me every time I breath in or out too deeply (or cough).  That said, I feel like I'm about to turn a corner on this thing, but need to baby myself for another day or two.  More soon, and have a great weekend!
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day 348: Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 3 (Preview)

Good morning everyone!  I'm sorry for the delayed (and abridged) "Two Truths and a BIG Truth" post today, but I arrived home from NYC late last night, and then ran into some frustrating computer glitches  at 12:30am, that resulted in losing all of the writing I'd done on the plane.  Major bummer!  I have to rush off to work (I'm giving two About-Face workshops today, at the UCSF Young Women's Health Leadership Summit), so I'll rewrite this as soon as I can.   Thanks for your patience! In the meantime, here's a preview to snack on:

Truth #5: When in doubt, channel "KJ@3"....

...and if that doesn't work, emulate Ms. Piggy!

Truth #6: Be a Perfectly Imperfect Role Model.
How cute is this necklace!?!

BIG Truth#3: Yes, THIS is what a feminist looks like.  
Amen sisters!
More tomorrow, sit tight!

P.S. - My Monday morning interview with Robin Roberts went pretty well.  The air-date isn't until April, so I'll keep you all posted.  Thank you all for your support and encouragement!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 346: New York, New York, I'm Here... (and a Little Nervous)

As I'm writing this post, it's Sunday evening in New York City, a few minutes past midnight.  I'm having a hard time falling asleep because I'm anxious about tomorrow, when Michael and I will be interviewed by Robin Roberts at ABC studios.  I'm really excited, but also nervous.  All I want is to sound smart and fun and not like a crazy lady, which is intimidating enough itself, but I'm also worried that I'll look like a train wreck.   (I'm responsible for my own hair, makeup, and wardrobe.)

I mean, let's be frank - looking like a train wreck is a distinct possibility on every single day of this project, and I usually don't worry too much.  (Good enough is good enough, right?  Besides, I trust my friends and colleagues to tell me if I've got mascara on my nose.)  But tomorrow is different.  It feels like a bigger deal than most days, and the last time I had a "big deal" day, I was getting married and had all of my best girlfriends plus my mom and sister close by to help me stay calm and wipe lipstick off of my teeth.  Not this time, so I'll have to muster up a carefree attitude and try to have fun with it.   Besides, a core goal of this project is to be less obsessive and insecure about my looks....

I've written some notes to myself about points I want to get across during the interview.  I've packed an extra shirt (or two) in case I spill oatmeal on myself at breakfast tomorrow.  Finally, I'm trying to remind myself of how far I've come, and that that nobody's going to try to make me look like a moron (I hope!).  Thank goodness Michael is here with me.  It's nice to have a hand to squeeze!

Any advice for handling public speaking anxiety?  
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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 343: Artists Seem Fascinated by Women Who Are Fasciated By Themselves

Having googled "mirror + art" about three dozen times since the beginning of this project, I've grown fascinated by the fascination male artists have for women who are fascinated by themselves.  Oh, I should have spoken more clearly: there are a heck of a lot of paintings and photographs out there featuring women staring at themselves in the mirror.  Is it simply that men like looking at women, and women like looking at themselves?  I imagine that these dude artists were all like, "Hey lady, can I paint you?  What pose could you hold for hours?" and all the women decided they could look into a mirror for hours.  I give up. What do you think?  Here are some examples:

Italian Renaissance
Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror  (1515Giovanni Bellini 
Woman Before a Mirror (1877) Edouard Manet  
Nude standing before a Mirror () Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Pablo Picasso (1932) Girl in Front of Mirror

Fernando Botero (1986) Woman in Front of a Mirror
While all of the above paintings are all certainly important works, none of them speak to me the way this piece did when I saw it for the first time.   I was taking  my first Women's Studies class in college, and was starting to contend with my own body image issues.  I was thinking a lot about our culture and its effects on women, but only beginning to take seriously the ways that women oppress each other. This photograph and its message blew me away.  
Mirror, Mirror (1987) Carrie Mae Weems
Thoughts?  Comments?  Anybody else kind of blown away?  Who answers when YOU ask the mirror "Who's the finest of them all?"