I once read the average woman checks her reflection eight times a day — and the average “vain male” looks in the mirror 23 times a day. And whether they were using a mirror, a shop window, or their smartphone's front-facing camera, their end-goal was the same: the individual “stealing a glance” was hoping to see their face, outfit, arms, or abs. (Or some other body part.) They were hoping to feel better about themselves, or at least ensure there hair wasn’t a mess and their apparel was stain-free. However, that very same study revealed most women — three quarters of the women studied, in fact — hated looking at themselves when they did (and as often as they did), and more than 39 percent said it directly affected their confidence, for good or ill.
And this got me thinking about my own grooming habits. How many times a day do I look at myself in the mirror on any given day? How much time do I spend analyzing my own appearance, and does checking myself out make me feel better or worse? Does checking out my reflection boost my confidence or hinder it? Though I had a vague idea of what those answers might be (a lot; a lot, and worse; hinder), I was interested in what going completely cold turkey when it came to the mirror would feel like.
The rules of this experiment were basic and very straightforward: After getting dressed each day I wasn't just going to avoid mirrors, I wasn't going to look in any mirror (in my house, a public restroom, or even while riding in the passenger’s seat of my husband’s car). But since I rarely check my reflection in an actual mirror, I decided to take this experiment one step further: I wanted to avoid all reflective surfaces.
The only exceptions to this experiment were unavoidable ones: when my daughter brushed her teeth and when I'd do her hair, oh, yeah, and the day I was invited to the White House (yeah, that happened). I tried to be as dedicated and consistent with this experiment as possible because I wanted to know if it'd be as easy or hard as I'd expected. I wanted to know if avoiding mirrors would make me feel anxious or liberated.
So I took them down, and got started.
Day 1: Starting Out Strong
There is nothing quite like day one of a new experiment, or a new challenge. I also enter the first day with such strong dedication and resolve. I feel centered and focused. And for that very reason, this day one went very, very well. I got dressed, brushed my teeth, and walked away without caring. And for the rest of the day, every time I walked into the bathroom, I looked down instead of up. I made it a point to avoid selfies and the DubSmash app with my daughter, and I steered clear of glass doors and full-length windows.
In fact, I was so dedicated I forgot to take a picture. (Sigh.)
That said, day one didn’t feel like a success. While, in execution, it was, I didn’t feel good or bad. I didn’t feel confident or self-conscious. In fact, I didn’t feel much of anything. Instead, I felt like a spy sneaking around my own house. And that awkwardness, coupled with fear of slipping or messing up, made me a bumbling mess all day. But thanks to crappy weather and a couple of stitches on my daughter’s head, this bumbling mess spent the day indoors (which, I am certain, made mirror avoidance easier).
Day 2: The First Day I Failed
I went into day two strong. Even though my resolve was solid and concerns over my appearance were minimal, by lunchtime things were amiss. I knew I was destined to f*ck up because my husband text me something he rarely (if ever) does. He told me to go shopping and encouraged me to spend money on myself all because he wanted me to have a good 32 birthday.
The downside, obviously, was that if I went shopping I'd have to try on clothes. I'd have to look in the mirror over and over again. But in the end I decided I deserved a new outfit or two. I deserved to spend some time, and money, on myself. And I deserved to find something which made me feel beautiful.
So yeah, I failed day two, but failure has never felt so good. (I mean look at these shorts!)
Day 3: Confident & Comfortable (Well, Mostly)
This, y’all, is how I wake up. My hair is wavy. My skin is dry. And my body is covered in a pink leopard robe. Since day two went so poorly, I went into day three determined not to mess up. I washed my face, threw my hair into a messy bun and tossed it on my head, and slipped into a loose shirt and a pair of skinny jeans. I then I walked out of the bathroom, turned out the lights, and shut the door.
How hard could it be, I thought. And, for most of the day, it was. I spent the morning writing and drinking coffee, and snacking. Before long, it was lunch, and then I was through my day without giving my appearance so much as a second thought. I was comfortable and confident. After all, who the hell was going to see me?
But when 4 o’clock rolled around, things got wonky. I caught myself trying to steal glances of my outfit in our patio door, and I fixed my hair by looking in the glass of my oven. I had to run a quick errand, which meant going outside, and I realized that no matter how much I tried to tell myself I didn’t care what others thought or saw, I did. I really, really did. All of a sudden, all of my teenage insecurities flared up. I was worried about my appearance. I was worried about the pimples on my face and my crooked two front teeth. I was worried about my masculine frame, and that others others might think I'm "not good enough" or "smart enough" because I wear graphic tees and ill-fitting jeans.
I'm not sure whether it's right or wrong that I want others to perceive me as put together, but by day three, I realized that I did care what people thought about me, and I was starting to dread the rest of this experiment.
Day 4: A Rose By Any Other Name...
Let me just say it: day four sucked just as much as day two. I was away on vacation and my husband and I went to a waterpark. From an experimental standpoint, I was destined to fail. I knew no matter what I did that day I would fail. (I mean, how the hell does anyone spend the day swimming, splashing, and sliding and then not check in on the state of their makeup, or their hair?)
That said, I tried. I tried really hard to avoid mirrors and ignore my appearance and, for awhile, I did. I had fun and enjoyed myself without stealing a glance or worrying about the state of my swimsuit or if I had something on my face — though, admittedly, the cocktails certainly helped ease my mind and allowed my confidence to come through. But after leaving the pool, things changed. I had to comb my hair, clean my face. put on mascara, and a little bit of lipstick.
I had to look in the mirror.
However, I didn't feel like day four was as big of a failure as day two. After day three I needed a confidence boost, and I needed to go out and get dolled up. I needed the opportunity to be myself, to feel special, to treat myself special, and to feel beautiful.
Day 5: Getting Back On Track
By day five I was back on track. Maybe my newfound resolve was due to the fact I failed day four, or maybe it was due to the nature of the day — my husband and I were still on vacation and we spent most of the afternoon hiking a mountain (well away from mirrors), but either way day five went smoothly. I didn’t give so much as a second thought to the state of my skin or my ponytail, and even covered in sweat, I felt good. Unlike day four, I didn’t feel super beautiful, but I did feel super confident because I was challenging myself physically. We spent the day hiking, meditating, and relaxing.
It felt really good to be out in nature where there was no need to impress or stun. I just wanted to be myself and experience the day, and that's exactly what happened.
Day 6: Staying Strong
Filled with strength from the day before, I met day six head on. I got up, got dressed, and went to the gym without checking my reflection. I ran seven miles in a room full of mirrors without glancing at them once. And I didn't even look at myself until after my shower, until my clothes were on, and I was crimping my wet hair. And you know what? It felt great. I wasn't anxious or worried or self-conscious. I didn't feel tempted or taunted by the wall of mirrors. And I didn't worry what others thought of my messy ponytail or mismatched socks. Because I felt so happy and in my element. I realized that this is the person I love being most, but when I worry others will judge me, that's when the obsession with how I look and what people will think of the way I look takes over.
Day 7: The White House
I’ve got to be honest with y’all: day seven (from an experimental standpoint) was a failure. A complete and utter failure. But from a personal and professional standpoint, it was a huge success.
I checked my hotel’s mirror, bathroom mirrors, and the mirror in my foundation compact. I checked my reflection in revolving doors, car doors, and in every storefront window I passed. And I even checked my reflection using the front-facing camera on my phone. Why? Because I was going to the White House. (I know, I know.)
I felt bad and even a bit guilty about my blatant disregard for the rules, but I also felt it was a bit justified. Again, how often do invites like this come along?
Should I have just been myself, as I was in day six? Should I have been more comfortable in my own skin? Maybe. Maybe that is the point of this experiment, the take-away moment I should have had.
What I Learned
I would love to tell you that this experiment led to some a-ha moment and that my incessant primping and mirror checks made me feel self-conscious and that, without a mirror, I felt empowered or liberated. I'd love to tell you that I felt free. But I didn't, and I don't. I didn't feel sexier or more confident, but I also didn't feel any more self-conscious. Regardless of whether I check my mirror or not, I realized doing so doesn't really matter, what matters to me most is whether or not I feel good about the person I am that day. Looking in the mirror is just added validation that I am good and worthy, and though I have a long road to go before I get there, I'm working on it.
Even though this isn't the outcome I expected, it's the one I got, and it's made me more insightful and more self-aware.