Nothing makes me feel as white as a hip hop dance cardio class does.
The only way I could get through the last one I attended was by relentlessly ignoring the inescapably large wall mirror haunting me from directly across the room. When it was just my movements held up against the instructor’s, I felt as rhythmic a participant in the class as Beyonce’s choreographer could have been. But when the mirror got in the way of our rapport and I caught a glimpse at my left foot tapping toe/heel/toe/heel, it was obvious that I looked much more like a dying pigeon than I did an associate to pop royalty.
That seeing myself threw me off so comprehensively got me thinking. If self-awareness, catalyzed by a mirror can paralyze my ability to move freely in the safety of an environment where I’m confident there is no judgement other than that which is self-inflicted, what else does my reflection impair? What would happen if I continued to eschew my reflection? What if I decided I wouldn’t look at a mirror for 72 hours? Would I feel better? Worse? Would it change my purview? Am I slave to the mirror?
On Friday of last week, I sought out to find out. For three days, I would avoid my reflection following a set of ground rules:
1. No makeup (this would make getting ready in the morning easier)
2. No sartorial shortcuts (if I wouldn’t wear reliably black skinny jeans with a dark sweater regularly, this experiment is no place to consider paring down)
3. Must wash face and brush teeth in kitchen sink (why tempt the devil or the artist formerly known as a bathroom mirror?)
4. Avoid reflective surfaces, e.g. store and restaurant fronts while outdoors
A true narcissist will never feel comfortable calling himself a narcissist. Vanity, however, is still free, fair and laudable game — and if ever there existed an indication that I am vain, three days without a mirror has indubitably been it.
When I left home for work on Friday morning, the nagging suspicion that I had forgotten something — maybe my wallet, or to brush my teeth, did I take my keys? Had I eaten breakfast? — haunted me all the way downstairs. Through the revolving door’s window reflection, I routinely but unwittingly recognized the familiar messy shirt inappropriately buttoned and tucked in only partially to a pair of high waist jeans, worn on the conception of someone who looked like me. I am a slave to the mirror.
For the rest of the day, I didn’t see me. I also didn’t think of the morning’s unresolved mismatched buttons or poor tucking job.
Saturday, I had lunch with three members of the opposite sex. One was my domestic living partner and the others were his bachelor comrades. I didn’t wear a bra under a black crew neck t-shirt, which according to said living partner, afforded me a textbook case of puffy nipple syndrome. You know the syndrome, right? It looks like two gummy bears trying to escape from under a bed sheet. I couldn’t see it, so didn’t really care.
On Sunday morning, I kept my head down during a SoulCycle class so as not to make eye contact with myself. After the class and in spite of a simultaneous cycling high and strained neck, I forgot about sweat and blotchy cheeks and gaunt eyes and took myself for breakfast. I felt great. This must have meant I looked great, too. And then my shadow provided intel regarding the cloud of the sweat-induced curls standing like a halo over my head.
Sunday night I wore a white sheepskin coat with a red handkerchief around my neck. My brother suggested that I looked like a chicken. It was funny and astute and I am confident that had I been able to see myself prior to exiting my apartment, I’d have drawn the parallel myself.
Of course, though, I didn’t, but here’s the thing about this experiment: What I learned is not that beauty is skin deep or that to feel good is more valuable than to look good. (Even though it’s true — and possibly, too, an important exercise for those of us in pursuit of confidence).
What I learned is that people are far too caught up in their own vanity to really consider mine. For the duration of the three-day “cleanse,” no one — not even my husband, who’d diagnosed my puffy nipple syndrome — noticed I’d been on vainglory hiatus.
Often, we scrutinize our reflections to such a frequent and magnified extent that we forget no one can see the minute flaws we blow out of proportion. In examining ourselves, we look not for windows that provide pathways into our souls but rather for the imprisoning echo of imperfections. Why?
This morning, I woke up to the greeting of a mirror and subsequently, the minor colony of drying pimples that tickled my chin. I had no idea they’d been there.
Original Image shot by Lena C Emery