Sociology Ph.D. candidate Kjerstin Gruys decides to explore body-image issues by not looking in mirrors or at other representations of her own body for six months prior to and following her wedding.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
After spending a relatively stressful weekend in St. Louis trying to find the perfect wedding dress, UCLA sociology Ph.D. candidate Kjerstin Gruys decided on the flight back to L.A.--which could arguably be dubbed the city of mirrors--that it was time for something drastic: a year without them.
This was back in March, and her "mirror, mirror...OFF the wall" project would include the six months leading up to (and the six months following) her October wedding.
So far so good, according to Gruys' near-daily blog posts. But as someone with only a tiny bathroom mirror who rarely looks at my reflection other than to floss, I have to ask: Is this experiment--avoiding one's own image in any form--even possible today, with tagged photos on Facebook, profile pictures that suddenly pop up on sites you're visiting, and the like?
Gruys laid some ground rules on day 5 of her experiment, and in them she notes that any type of reflection (such as those in storefront windows) counts and is to be avoided at all costs. She doesn't count her own shadow, and her readers voted to make an exception for her wedding photos--though she says she plans to avoid those, too.
But in the act of blogging about her experience, which involves posting (and providing analysis of) photos of such things as hairstyle ideas for the upcoming wedding, Gruys seems to be breaking her own 7th rule: "My readers voted on Day 36, and I'm NOT allowed to view photographs of myself throughout the year." We're waiting to hear whether she is looking at these photos. (See update below.)
Gruys does give herself an out with her eighth and final rule: "Any/all of these rules become null if this project makes me go insane."
Of course, it was a certain lack of sanity that prompted the experiment in the first place. Amid the wedding dress hunt, Gruys wrote in her first blog post, "I was getting really, really sick of staring at myself in the mirror. In those moments I felt like the worst version of myself--insecure, indecisive, vain."
For perhaps deeply subconscious reasons that I choose not investigate too closely, I am the rare woman with only one mirror and absolutely no makeup, so Gruys' quest sounds doable. But here's the embarrassing truth: I have a workaround. It's called Photo Booth. And on more than one occasion it, along with a few steps back from my computer, has helped me confirm that my pants, um, do that thing we women want our pants to do.
So if someone who's already sworn off the things that lead most logically to vanity still creates workarounds, I have to wonder whether Gruys, who admits to having bought two wedding dresses, owning only one recent photo sans makeup, and thinking about her body on a regular basis, is going to pull this off.
And then there's last week's research suggesting that the female desire to be sexy ultimately steers us away from the sciences. Which has me wondering whether a year without mirrors might be at least a little self-indulgent. After all, how much do we really want to think about how we think about our own bodies?
Sure, we live in a time where we see images of ourselves constantly, and it could be useful to investigate this effect on vanity and the like. But then I read about the 13-year-old kid who recently saw the Fibonacci Sequence in a tree and used this pattern to improve solar panel efficiency, and I know this: I don't want to spend my time avoiding mirrors and thinking about the absence of my own reflection.
I want to sit beneath trees.
Updated at 2:16 p.m. Sunday, August 21:Gruys says that any photos that appear on her blog were taken prior to starting the project, and that if a current photo of her is posted on Facebook, her fiance untags her so she does not see it. As for whether she looks at any images of herself at all, she says: "Yes, I do look at photos of myself from before the project. My favorite photo is an image of me as a 4-year-old, when I was super confident and curious about the world."