I did a 'mirror fast'
"My first step to Mirrortorium 2012 was a trial run before I started to see what cosmetics you can use without stepping into Pierrot sad clown territory." Photo: Getty Images. Posed by a model.
“You’ll look HIDEOUS!” my boyfriend jokingly cackled. His oh so supportive statement was in response to the news that I was planning to do a weeklong ‘mirror fast’, the latest social experiment sweeping the interwebs. It’s where you avoid any mirror or reflective surface with the intended outcome that you will evolve a healthier sense of self-esteem that isn’t as tied to how you look. Several bloggers have written about the activity (Kjerstin Gruys of Mirror, Mirror... Off The Wall even has a book deal about her year-long stint), including Autumn Whitefield-Madrano of The Beheld who has made her month-long mirror fast an annual event. Her motivations were partly because she realised that women are on a sort of ‘constant public stage’. “Women are being observed all the time, even when they're alone, if there's a mirror there. I wanted to cut off that self-observation loop and not feel so tethered to the mirror.” Whitefield-Madrano found her mirror fasting gave her a sense of mental clarity that she describes as “a way of cordoning off the part of my mind that fuels anxiety about self-presentation”.
My first step to Mirrortorium 2012 was a trial run before I started to see what cosmetics you can use without stepping into Pierrot sad clown territory. Blush? Yep. Mascara? Surprisingly yes. Liquid foundation? Devastatingly no. Tweezing? Only if you’re willing employ a not terribly accurate Braille method. The only major concessions I had to make to my everyday beauty routine were swapping liquid foundation for powder and saying bye-bye to concealer. Please note, obviously I could’ve chosen to forego make-up for the week, but then it would turn into a make-up free experiment rather than a mirror free one, and I wanted to keep my life much as usual with the only difference being the lack of mirrors. Finally I covered up the mirror in my room with my prettiest floral silk scarf.
So did I comfortably survive my seven days not looking into any reflective surfaces? I must admit I found the week much more psychologically challenging that I had anticipated (go hug your mirrors, people!) I don’t really spend that much time thinking about my appearance and would describe myself as pretty happy with what I see in the mirror. But I discovered that taking them away seemed to regress me a 15-year-old state where I kept wondering how I was looking (side note: I’m prone to breakouts, so how I look on Tuesday might not be how I look on Wednesday – on her blog Gruys has mentioned that she thinks ‘clear-skinned privilege’ made it easier for her to mirror fast.) For me a mirror fast was unenjoyable for much the same reasons I don’t do food fasts either, not having access to what I want when I want it just leads to obsessing about what I’m missing out on. And like a regular diet – even though it was only for a week – I even ended up cheating twice (both times because I missed my liquid foundation so much.) It made life more difficult because I had to keep asking my partner if I looked okay which is something I believe is healthier to figure out for yourself than to rely on someone else’s opinion for. I learnt that I feel more confident after looking in a mirror because I then know exactly how I look and don’t have to expend one second more of mental energy considering it. I also don’t think that some level vanity is automatically a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t warp into an out of control obsession.
I spoke to Dr. Angela Morgan, a lecturer in Psychology at Griffith University who specialises in body image, about the topic. “On one level, ‘mirror fasting’ makes sense, particularly for people who are obsessed with checking their body image in a mirror - compulsive checking feeds upon itself and drives further compulsion.” Morgan did say though that for some people it can lead to a worsening of the issues if one is just avoiding images of themselves rather than coming to accept themselves or that abstaining can just create a stronger desire for what is being avoided (like it did for me). Instead she recommends a middle-ground approach. “If you become aware that looking in the mirror has become problematic, practise not acting on that urge to look, without taking it to the extreme of complete avoidance.”
So while I don’t think mirror fasting is necessarily a bad idea, since we all have different paths to being happy with ourselves and others have had success with it – I personally didn’t experience any great revelations beyond a large sense of relief that I wasn’t born in an era where ponds were our only option if we wanted to check for sesame seeds in our teeth. Whitefield-Madrano also agrees that it’s not for everyone. “I've heard from plenty of women who have had to work hard in order to look in the mirror without being hypercritical of their appearance or experiencing a sense of shame. For someone in that position, I think a mirror fast would be about retreating from oneself instead of expanding oneself. What I would say is that if this sounds at all intriguing to you, give it a go! I've been surprised at the number of people who have expressed interest in it.”
And after my seven days sans mirror I don’t feel any better or worse or even differently about my face. I just feel glad to have it back.