The Three Day Mirror Challenge

Not as easy as it seems: shunning your own reflection

11.24.14
black-and-white-mirrorchallenge-photo-by-lena-c-emery

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).

No.

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

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  • andrea raymer

    I should go on a vanity hiatus. I literally cannot avoid looking at myself in any available reflective surface. It is actually a problem. If I’m at dinner and I can see myself anywhere, I spend the rest of the night having a conversation with myself. The kitchen table in my parents house is right next to a set of windows that can easily double as a mirror when it is dark out and my entire family made a huge joke out of the fact that I can’t stop looking at myself at dinner.

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    • Kayla Leonard

      you won’t do it why

  • Abnegation. 🙂

  • Quinn Halman

    “we tend to forget no one can see the minute flaws we blow out of proportion” I agree with this so much but at the same time, and call me a hypocrite, I still go to my friends with the stupidest little imperfections. I wind up like someone begging for compliments, which I cannot stand.
    We never see ourselves, just reflections and pictures of our bodies. In the midst of a recent body image crisis I too vowed to look in the mirror less. But, man; snapchat, staring at a computer screen all day, even doors- it’s hard to escape the reflection that is me, apparently.
    Leandra, seriously, that takes a lot to avoid reflective surfaces for 72 hours, my undying respect for you only continues

  • I am gonna try this!

    http://www.FashionSnag.com

  • Lulu

    HAHAHAHA!!!! I’m dying about the “gummy bear nipples” comment!!!

    • Leandra Medine

      but do you get what i’m talking about is the real question here!

      • Lulu

        Fully!!! HAHAHA still laughing!!

  • Nice writing and interesting experiment, Leandra.

    I guess I’ve never viewed the mirror as a source of change or modification. It’s merely a useful instrument in aiding in certain things I already set out to do. I don’t look in the mirror and think “ahhh, girl, you needa fix those lips up with a little red lipstick.” The urge/feeling to paint the red lips manifests itself far before I can get to the mirror. Same goes with outfits, too. This morning I put on the outfit that I wanted to wear, not the one I knew would look better if I wore it instead.

    I think the truest accomplishment we can achieve for ourselves is not so much the one that abolishes vanity (and consequent trips to the mirror) but one that lets us be totally okay with whatever we see in the mirror. Artifacts of our daily activities can be endearing. Perfect example: the little halo of sweat-induced curls that indicated you rose on Sunday morning and did something that physically challenged you.

  • Thaaaaaank you for this.

  • I just learned in health class the other day (yes I pay attention in health, sue me!) that younger people (25 and younger) are more susceptible to look at their own reflection and be conscious of their appearance because their prefrontal cortex has yet to be fully developed. No longer can my mom yell at me for taking too long getting ready in the morning because now I just blame it on my pal the Prefrontal Cortex!

  • Marianne

    I also notice people are far more concerned with their vanity than with someone else’s when they look at photographs. They’re always a lot more critical of their own appearance whereas they assure you that you look good, even if the phone/camera immortalized you at the worst fraction of a second when your face is all screwed up…

  • Ashton

    Your examples of your husband and brother commenting on your appearance point out that people do pay attention to your flaws! People do notice! But I guess the point is that just because people may notice some imperfection, when YOU don’t acknowledge or literally don’t see them, they don’t interfere with how YOU feel.

  • Chrs

    Can I just say that I love your use of the term “domestic living partner”? I always feel like I’m claiming membership in the Marriage Club when I refer to my husband. You handle the situation gracefully.

    • Circle Square Triangle

      Me too! The words “husband” and “wife” sound so outdated to me.

  • What a post. Beautifully written. I think it’s very challenging to avoid mirrors or any reflection. I think it’s a brave step to do it. No last check-and-look into mirror, before going out the door. Nothing. What a tough challenge…

    janatoldme.com

  • It’s not possible, I couldn’t make it

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    Daphne

  • I can’t decide.

    I don’t think of my appearance at all in the absence of mirrors. Given a mirror, however, I will try on outfits until I run out of time. Often this distresses me later when I have pick up the clothes I threw everywhere in a try-on-frenzy.

  • I can’t decide 2(hello there!)

    Believe me or not, I used to barely look at mirrors until maybe when I was 17.

  • Cherry Chen

    Leandra! I know a lot of people have said this but seriously. I love what you write! You are so cool and so awesome, and you guys write about much more than just fashion and what looks “pretty”. That’s why I even bother to read your blog. Too many fashion blogs just talk about trends that fade in a blink – yours includes humorous anecdotes and muses on societal occurrences. Which is totally cool.

    • Leandra Medine

      In the days before Thanksgiving, I am grateful for this comment.

  • Wow this sounds like a very difficult challenge! We could maybe accomplish this on some sort of vacation or retreat, but definitely not during the work week! Something to think about… wwwLEZU.com

  • i enjoyed this writing. Well said. Never looked at it this way. Good idea.

  • I couldnt to this exercise. I identify completely with most of what was described, but I think its almost impossible not to be aware of a reflection or a mirror. And I always look to it, and lose the ability to move freely and be myself.

    I believe its part fault of training some martial arts when I was little, but my periferic vision is too damn good, and its intuitive to look around and always be aware of the surroundings. A desease I cant let go =/

    xx,
    Helô, from Vestido do dia

  • Georgia

    Such a great idea to do this experiment! Three days without mirror are not so much time but with some ordinary thing we do every day without thinking of it it can be a hard task.

    End of tenancy cleaning Hampstead

  • Kayla Leonard

    i would do this challenge.
    no i can’t!