Kjerstin Gruys, a 29-year-old PhD student in sociology, has gone mirror-free for an entire year, avoiding her own reflection in order to boost her self-esteem and inspire others to stop focusing on their physical appearance.
Can you imagine not checking how you look for an entire year? Most women can’t go a day without looking in the mirror, whether to check how their clothes fit, or if their make-up looks good, but one ambitious young student managed to avoid looking at her reflection for a full year. If you think about it, it’s hard not looking at yourself, when you’re surrounded by mirrors and all kinds of shiny surfaces, but Kjerstin Gruys somehow made it work. For months, she covered the bathroom mirror so she could wash her face and brush her teeth without accidentally catching a glimpse of herself, she learned how to apply make-up by touch and not by sight, and she even learned to use her car’s mirrors so that she didn’t have to see her face in them. It was hard in the beginning, but she quickly adapted and says the experiment made her realize looks are really not as important as most people think.
Photo courtesy of Kjerstin Gruys
As a teenager, Kjerstin struggled with insecurities about her appearance and suffered from anorexia. She was obsessed with the way she looked and how much she weighed, and would restrict her food and liquid intake, which led to serious health issues. She developed kidney stones, the lack of body fat started affecting the density of her bones, and she found herself battling an eating disorder. After years of therapy, she overcame anorexia and began volunteering for About-Face, an organization that tries to help women with their physical appearance problems.
Gruys started her mirror-free project back in 2010, when she was preparing for her wedding with then fiancé Michael Ackermann. She had always dreamed of going wedding dress shopping, and in her mind the experience itself was like a dream come-true, only reality was much different. Trying on different dresses became a source of stress, and the young woman started being critical about her body again, and thinking about losing some weight before the wedding. She realized it was wrong, but she wasn’t afraid of relapsing into her eating disorder, but rather she felt like a hypocrite, thinking about how far she had come. Luckily, while reading a book called “Birth of Venus” she stumbled about a paragraph about nuns in Renaissance Italy and their restrictions against vanity. “They didn’t have mirrors in their lives. They were forbidden to look at each other when undressing. They were actually forbidden to look at themselves while they undressed,” Kjerstin remembers. “This idea of living your life experiencing the world for itself instead of constantly reflecting, you know, pun intended, on how you looked…. It was a life where you could get away from yourself.” This inspired her to start this project where she would get rid of mirrors so she could focus more on everything else in her life.
During the first month of the experiment, Kjerstin Gruys remembers there was a 50/50% chance she would go out with mascara on her nose, but realized that didn’t affect her life very much. She learned to avoid all kinds of reflections and turned to her friends and her husband for shopping advice, instead of looking in the mirror. She would buy a bunch of clothes, try them on for her friends and rely on their opinions about which ones fir her best. She even avoided looking at herself on her wedding day, and says it was one of the easiest days to be mirror-free. “I’m getting my focus back to thinking about the real meaning of the day, which isn’t how I look but marrying the love of my life,” she said. Fittingly, she and Michael danced to a song called “I’ll be your mirror”.
On March 12, Kjerstin ended her year-long experiment and finally looked at her reflection in the mirror, surrounded by friends and family. “I had a little ambivalence, and at the same time, pleasure, because I was happy with what I saw,” she told ABC News. Gruys says the experience has helped her pay more attention to how she feels, rather than how she looks. “There is nothing wrong with enjoying, um, looking at yourself in the mirror, … but it’s important for every woman, and man, I think, to really think for a few minutes about whether there is a point of diminishing returns,” she said. “Because we have so much more to offer the world than just our looks.”
For more information about Kjerstin’s no-mirrors project, check out her blog – Mirror, Mirror… Off The Wall