No Mirrors For A Year -- Not In My House

As a very fat woman, I find looking into a mirror and liking what I see to be one of the most empowering ways to start my day.

Ed and I are fairly dedicated curb shoppers. We cruise around the city, eyes open for interesting things being thrown away. If pressed, in fact, I'd say 75% of all of our household furnishings came via trash picking. The remaining 25%? IKEA or yard sales.

It's not really because I'm cheap, y'all. It's because I like it when we get to take a basic thing and turn it into something that suits us. Our house is weird and everything in it is a little mismatched and that suits us just fine.

Of course, there are things that we each focus on. Ed is almost incapable of leaving a printer sitting in a pile of trash. Printers, you see, have stepper motors. This is what I'm told.

For me, it's mirrors. I have kind of a ridiculous collection of them at this point. The mirror in our bathroom? Found on the curb and refinished. The other mirror in our bathroom? Saved from a dumpster over 10 years ago when Lane Bryant was switching out fixtures (I also scored a couple of metal mannequins -- one from LB and one from Structure -- around the same time). And, of course, there's a full-length mirror in there, too.

There are three -- no, actually, there are four mirrors in our bedroom. Two in the kitchen over the breakfast table. There's only one in the living room, but that's because the meager wall space (we have a lot of windows) is given over to art involving cephalopods. There's even two in the tiny hallway to the guest bathroom. Where, you guessed it, there are more mirrors.

It isn't that I'm vain. I mean, in some ways, I am totally and completely vain. But I like mirrors and the way they reflect light and movement. I like how they brighten and enlarge a space. I like how looking in a mirror makes the room you are in a piece of framed art. And, of course, there is my old childhood superstition that there is another world on the other side of the glass, one where everything is backward.

There was a point, when I loathed myself and a my body, where I hated mirrors because I didn't like to look at myself. I actually practiced, very deliberately, looking at myself in a mirror -- including looking at myself naked in a mirror. I didn't allow myself to say horrible things about my body, and I began to notice more positive things. Eventually, I simply got used to my image in a mirror.

(I did this same sort of thing with photographs -- and now I'm pretty much disconnected from most images of myself enough to know with a more objective perspective whether they are a good or bad picture.)

I've collected mirrors ever since.

Kjerstin Gruys, a PhD Candidate in Sociology at UCLA, took a different path. For a solid year, including on her wedding day, she didn't look into a mirror at all. Her project is called Mirror Mirror Off the Wall.

This project is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons.

First of all, maybe obviously, is that Kjerstin's approach was so very opposite my own. I'm very definitely not saying either of us are right or wrong -- it's just a very good illustration of how there is no one single fix for making some sort of peace with our bodies. As a very fat woman, I find looking into a mirror and liking what I see to be one of the most empowering ways to start my day. In fact, given how many fat women I know who don't own mirrors at all, I feel like my mirror obsession is kind of a fat middle finger to all those cultural messages I get about how gross I am.

There's also the completely unsurprising way Kjerstin's project was received by some people on the Internet. That is, Kjerstin got a lot of messages about how fat and ugly she was.

The woman wears a size 10. Come on, people. I know a size 10 is mega fat by Hollywood standards but by regular old shopping for clothes standards? That's smaller than average.

Thinking about that just gets me all fired up about the plus-size fashion industry. I have to set that aside, though, because what really floors me about these comments on Kjerstin's appearance is that they are directed at someone who is pretty open and honest about having a very eating disordered history. I mean, when someone tells you about their eating disorder, how does "Well, you're fat" really work as a response? There's certainly no empathy there.

And, yeah, I'm big into empathy and actually caring about the well being of other people, but this seems basic. Like, is it really a stretch to say, hey, self, maybe telling the person in recovery from an eating disorder that they are fat and need to diet isn’t the right approach.

(It’s not just trolls. This is why I rarely believe the “I’m just concerned about your health” line.)

Kjerstin even forewent looking in a mirror on her wedding day -- I love that she trusted the people around her to tell her she looked beautiful. I love that there is an implicit acknowledgement that we do not always see ourselves with accuracy, and that those who love us are often far better judges.

At the same time, I’m a little uneasy with the idea of someone else serving as my mirror, the way Kjerstin describes her husband. Because I think it is dangerous to depend on other people for our own self image. I don’t subscribe to the imperative Love Your Body school of rhetoric -- there’s a lot going on with bodies and I won’t tell you to love it when I don’t know your particular situation. However, I think it’s important to define things for ourselves -- and to define things in the context of themselves, not in opposition to something else.

I can’t define my body in terms of how other people feel about it -- I don’t think that’s a failing of trust or love so much as it is a refusal to depend on other people for something I feel is intrinsic to my mental wellness.

That’s not to say I thin Kjerstin is Doing It Wrong; she’s done something liberating. To consciously break one’s own attachment and investment in image and presentation is a powerful thing -- and a revolutionary one. It’s the kind of project that speaks to the power of image in our culture; we’re so invested in appearance in so many different ways. We spend billions of dollars a year in pursuit of our images, the ways we shape ourselves for others.

Even so, I will keep my mirrors. Having them feels like a different kind of liberation to me. I like my image, regardless of magazines and television and Photoshop. I hope we all find a way to like our reflection -- whether we look at it or not.