No Mirrors: Women, Could You Avoid Your Reflections for a Month?
Ladies find taking a 'mirror fast' empowering
Surely, women can't avoid the public parade of magazines that 'reverse retouch' their models beyond recognition, or the surge in Spanx and shapewear that create faux slimdowns, but if ever addressing a gnawing body image issue in private—and let's be honest, when aren't we?—there's one thing we can steer clear of, and it's in our complete control: the mirror.
The rising trend of 'mirror fasts' has women avoiding their reflections in not just their bathrooms, but in store windows, shiny skyscrapers, and subway doors for days, weeks, months or, for the most resilient, years at a time. No longer are they nitpicking at or obsessing over imagined imperfections. And while that quick fix towards confidence is certainly welcome, the measures taken for a 'mirror fast' seem drastic.
Yet women—experimenters and body image experts alike—are applauding the fad.
"I like the idea of taking a break from looking at your reflection, combined with noticing the thoughts that automatically arise in the moment of looking at the mirror," said Dr. Frances Ulman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in body image concerns and eating disorders. "Oftentimes when we are in a routine we don't notice those thoughts: 'Ok, I can face the world' or 'I can't possibility leave the house looking like this' or 'Damn, still ten pounds overweight.' Just what purpose does looking at your reflection serve? That's where the interesting changes may happen."
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, 36, who went on two month-long mirror fasts, noticed a change in her attitude immediately.
"I was alarmed to find that without looking in the mirror, it was difficult to tell how I was really feeling," she told NBC's Today. "It was as though without a mirror, my brain couldn’t interpret the jumble of free-floating feelings and arrange them into an actual mood. I felt scattered, unmoored, adrift. [But] once I realized how much the mirror had been dictating my moods, a serenity set in that lasted for weeks. It was liberating to untether my feelings from my reflection."
Last year, women's magazine Glamour conducted a survey of 300 women, of all shapes and sizes, and asked each to note every negative or anxious thought they had about their bodies over the course of one full day. At 97 percent, almost every participant admitted to having at least one “I hate my body” moment. And on average, researchers found that women have 13 negative body thoughts daily—nearly one for every waking hour.
Kjerstin Gruys, 29, spent those waking hours improving things other than her image. The sociology graduate student completed a year-long mirror fast and wrote on her blog Mirror, Mirror...Off the Wall, “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."
A study conducted last year by Ohio State University found that women's self-appreciation for their bodies is greater influenced by the opinions of those in their social network than it is by their own weight. (Whitefield-Madrano, however, discovered that the concern is self-inflicted—"If I wasn’t thinking about the way I looked, I assumed no one else was either, which is actually true.")
[Vogue Magazine Bans Underweight Models]
But the study also revealed that women aged 26 to 39 were most likely to achieve body appreciation by focusing on how their bodies perform rather than how they appear.
Dr. Linda Bacon, a physiologist who specializes in body image, concurs. "How great it is that you have legs that can get you places, or a mouth that can help you communicate, or whatever features your body has that allow you to participate in the world? One valuable step can be avoiding mirrors so that you take your focus off of your looks and instead focus on developing appreciation for the functionality of your body."
While mirror fasts surely seem to have their benefits, Ulman worries that the label itself can be misleading. (And for those who aren't yet ready to revolt against their reflection, she assures there'll always be at least one need for a mirror.)
"Fasting of any sort makes it sound like there is value in depriving yourself of something you desire," said Ulman. "And deprivation can set up a dangerous dynamic because our minds will start labeling things as 'good' and 'bad' rather than seeking balance. So, can we call it an exercise of reflecting on our reflection? Because, please, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make sure you don't have anything in your teeth before you go on that date!"