Most brides obsess over every last detail of the big day and scour racks for the dream dress, but Ph.D. candidate Kjerstin Gruys has taken on a prenuptial challenge of more unique proportions. The teaching fellow at the UCLA Department of Sociology has sworn off looking in a mirror for an entire year—six months of which will lead up to her wedding.
The daring idea took root when Gruys read a passage out of Sarah Dunant’s "The Birth of Venus," where an order of nuns swears off the sight of human flesh —including even looking at their own bodies. Feeling the already constant pressure to look perfect intensified by wedding planning, Gruys’ self-described “struggle with poor body image” made her wonder if a year without mirrors could lead to greater self-acceptance and appreciation for her body.
“I picked out my wedding gown before the project started. Looking in the mirror for hours and feeling critical of myself was one of the main motivators [for the project],” Gruys tells YouBeauty. “I want my wedding to be about my partner, Michael, and me, and about our loved ones—not about whether or not I dropped 10 pounds to squeeze into my dress.”
(As an aside, the young scholar’s doctoral work at UCLA includes a dissertation that examines clothing size standards in the U.S. fashion industry, an especially fitting—pun intended—and introspective theme.)
Gruys is chronicling the daily encounters and challenges of living a mirror-free life on her blog, Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall. Some may find it surprising that the experiment isn’t a total strike against vanity—in fact, Gruys details self-tanner and mascara adventures without the benefit of a mirror, even in the face of detractors who say she should go all or nothing.
“Though some of my readers have been critical of my decision to wear makeup during this project, I decided that wearing a bare minimum—tinted moisturizer, blush, mascara, sometimes a neutral cream eyeshadow—was important to me in a professional sense,” says Gruys, who prepped for blind makeup application with practice sessions beforehand that honed her sense of touch.
The idea is all the more challenging, given that recent studies have pegged the average number of times a woman looks in the mirror at over 70 times in just one day. According to Renee Engeln-Maddox, Ph.D., psychology professor and body image expert at Northwestern University, constantly checking ourselves out in the mirror can be bad for our mental health.
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"What you see in the mirror is what other people see—it's an outsider's perspective. When you look in the mirror, you're increasing your tendency to see yourself as an outsider would," says Engeln-Maddox. "A lot of research has shown that lowers your body satisfaction and depletes your cognitive resources, meaning that your brain—which has limited resources—is less able to think about other things."
Some people even take the act of looking in the mirror to such extremes that there’s a clinical diagnosis for it. Known as body dysmorphic disorder, a key feature of the psychological disorder is an urge to obsessively look in the mirror, sometimes for literally hours at a time. "If looking in the mirror is making you chronically late or leads you to start picking at your skin, those may be signs of concern," says Engeln-Maddox. "Make sure your hair is combed and your makeup is appropriate, then step away. The mirror doesn't provide more information the longer you look at it."
Yet there’s one day where it seems only natural to keep a mirror nearby at all the times, and Gruys admits that her wedding day will prove an especially difficult challenge—but not necessarily for the reasons you would assume.
“I’ve had a lot of women tell me that looking into the mirror as a bride is important, and not just in terms of vanity. It scares me that I could miss out on something,” says Gruys. “But I’m also reminding myself that those minutes in front of a mirror are minutes I could be spending with family like my grandparents.”
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