Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: how I learned to love my body by not looking at it for a year by Kjerstin Gruys is an important book for women and girls of all ages. No, not just those who have a distorted view of their bodies, or those suffering from an eating disorder, or those obsessed with working out dieting tanning cosmetic surgery straight teeth flat abs (whew!) etc. No, it’s for all women. All girls.
Gruys, a former anorexic, was struggling with finding the perfect wedding dress. In fact, she purchased four before she realized that something had to change. Something about her. Her obsession with her image was tiresome; affecting her life, and negating all of the positive work she was doing with About Face, a non-profit that works towards helping girls and woman understand and resist “harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image”. A PHD candidate in Sociology at UCLA, Gruys, with the help of her family, fiance, and friends, decided to go an entire year without looking in mirrors (and thereby judging herself). She had numerous nay-sayers throughout her journey, including her mother (“You’ll want until after the wedding, right?”) and her professors (critical because autoethnographies – a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings – are not considered serious academic work). But Gruys persevered.
Gruys’ super-supportive fiance helped her devise a plan that successfully covered all mirrors in their home. She even took a new path to work that had fewer reflections, and even decided not to look at photographs of herself (including her wedding photos!) until after the year was up. What ensued was a true testament of willpower (she sometimes faltered) and strength (she continued, even after faltering). She began a blog to track her progress, discuss her shortcomings, and look for strength.
The author realized she looked just fine without as much makeup (in fact, no one noticed on the days she went without any!), and that the wedding industry makes brides intensely anxious…things I knew first-hand after my own recent wedding and my decision a year ago to stop wearing foundation in an attempt to clear up my skin (waddyaknow…no one noticed, and my skin cleared up!). I didn’t grow as a personal, or get struck by many revelations about myself while reading this book. (I am my own biggest critic, which I’ve been aware of for many years. Reading about someone elses’ self-loathing and poor body-image wasn’t that eye-opening.) But there were a few instances of real, “Damn…” moments.
She wrote early in the book:
If I truly wanted thoughts about my looks to take up less space in my brain, I needed to find more interesting and worthy passions with which to fill it.
I nodded my head furiously at that line, because I’ve been saying that same thing for a few months now. Ever since my wedding in March, I haven’t had a goal. No longer did I “need to look stunning in my dress”. I was – and still am – goal-less. But I love that she brought this up, and I wish she had spent more time focusing on it, because I think this is a major problem for those of us with body image issues. We spend so much effing time thinking about, scrutinizing, and talking badly about our bodies, that we lost precious, precious time. I usually spend 240 minutes a week in the gym. 6 hours, y’all. Ladies much more fit and healthy than myself spend much less time in the gym. Why? Because they aren’t as neurotic as I am. I want to go to the gym to meet goals and be fit, and not because I feel guilty about the (one serving of) Ben & Jerry’s I indulged in the night before. I need to find something to fill the space in my brain where, currently, fat-bashing is currently pounding at 100 miles per minute.
**Okay okay, so I took my review to the bad, bad place in my brain. Sorry. Back to the book.
My favorite line in the book came from a Nigerian woman being interviewed for a documentary:
Eve, look at that tree. Do you see that tree? Now look at that tree. Do you like that tree? Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that [other] tree? We’re all trees. You’re a tree. I’m a tree. You’ve got to love your body, Eve. You’ve got to love your tree! Love your tree!
I wish the author had written more about how to overcome self-hate and poor body-esteem. Her situations were distinct to her, and very personalized. I wanted more practical advice. I wanted that pill that would make me forget I had a 27-year-long grudge against my squishy belly and big feet.
[[In reading more on About Face, I cannot support the organization enough. Anything that can help girls and women feel more comfortable in their own skin is good by me! Go support them. You can do this by signing a petition, writing a letter, or supporting a cause that empowers people instead of making them feel bad.]]
Every woman or girl who needs to know that she isn’t alone in having bad feelings about her body…but who doesn’t want to be like that forever. Although the author didn’t give too much advice in overcoming the problem, she noted great resources such as About Face and Healthy at Every Size.
Any opportunity to grow is a good one, no matter if it’s body-esteem, nail-biting, what have you. So I recommend The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Also, if food is the drug that controls you, read Crave: why you binge eat and how to stop by Cynthia M. Bulik. It played a large part in turning me from a daily binge-eater to a recovering one.