Can A No-Mirrors Campaign Change How We Think About Beauty?

Illustration for article titled Can A No-Mirrors Campaign Change How We Think About Beauty?

Kjerstin Gruys is going without mirrors for a year. She hopes the experiment will make her less obsessed with looks — but it won't stop her from wearing makeup.


According to her blog Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall (via The Bay Citizen), Gruys conceived of her project after reading a book about an order of nuns who vowed not to "look on human flesh, neither their own nor anyone else's." A graduate student in sociology with a particular interest in body image, Gruys (not pictured) decided to abstain from looking at her own image in the mirror for a full year. In her opening post, she writes,

My values and behaviors had been at odds, and this would be the "step back" from vanity that I needed. I would force myself to experience life from the inside-out, instead of the outside-in. But could I do it? How? And with what effects on my life, self-image, and personal and professional relationships? Was it possible that removing mirrors from my life might actually cause me to become more obsessed or insecure about my appearance? Would I completely lose the ability to apply make-up, style my hair, or select flattering and chic outfits? Despite these looming questions, I felt very determined. Somehow, I would wean myself off of mirrors for a year!

She tells the Bay Citizen that her vow has changed her life, from the way she walks ("I try to always look ahead, so I'm not looking at myself in storefront windows") to the way she shops ("I buy a lot of shoes now"). She also says "that she's looking forward to experimenting with makeup and clothes again next March, with the help of a mirror, but with less investment in how they will affect her life."

Given this, it's interesting that Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall is, in many ways, a beauty blog. Gruys discusses updos. She tries a new self-tanner. She muses on mascara. Some of these efforts are part of her project to "(loosely, sanely, humorously, and without mirrors!) follow The Knot's 'Bridal Beauty: Countdown To Gorgeous,'" a six-month countdown including everything from drinking water to choosing a hairdresser. Of this undertaking, Gruys writes,

I am a feminist bride-to-be equipped with the insider knowledge that The Knot's list — and all others like it — encourage vanity and self-absorption (and, of course, the spending of money). These are all things I want desperately to decrease in my life. My growing unease with these issues was the primary motivation for this project. Yet, I am still a bride-to-be. I am still a romantic. I am still the little girl who looked at my parents' wedding photos and wondered, hopefully, if I would look as beautiful on my wedding day as my mother did on hers. How can I merge these seemingly conflicting desires? How do I stay true to my values without becoming a martyr for this cause? I mulled on this for a while, and talked to [my fiance] M at length about the predicament. Together, we arrived at an answer: I needed to just go on and moonwalk on this tightrope, with thoughtful determination, un-reckless abandon, creativity, and humor.

How to balance a rejection of looks-obsession with a desire to look pretty sometimes is a major feminist question — and, like many contemporary women, Gruys comes to a kind of in-between solution. She rejects mirrors, but not mascara (except on makeup-free Mondays). Primping, but not exfoliating. Vanity, but not beauty.

It's not a solution that will please everyone — those expecting a sweepingly anti-product approach from the anti-mirror blogger will be disappointed by her posts on makeup and facials. But it is one that seems to be working for Gruys — she notes that since the project began, she's begun to see her body in new ways (for instance, she now likes her armpits). This may not be a victory on a par with, say, women's suffrage, but it's instructive for those of us who criticize the beauty-industrial complex while still purchasing lipstick. Many women want to feel beautiful on our own terms, rather than those imposed on us by advertisers or Hollywood, and we aren't sure how. Gruys is showing us one way.


Local Blogger Swears Off Mirrors For A Year [Bay Citizen]
Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall [Home]

Image via waterlilly/


Sorcia MacNasty

Wait a tic — to be a feminist, you can't ever be vain or self-absorbed, even for your own wedding?

I guess you will have to kick me out of the club, ladies. I'll return my congratulatory toaster oven forthwith.