Month Without Mirrors

   Mirror Me  ,  Annika Connor

Mirror Me, Annika Connor

I abstained from looking at my reflection for the month of May 2011, and again for a month in 2012. The goal was to loosen the grip that self-consciousness has had on me for much of my life—that happened, to a degree, but what I discovered during my month without mirrors was the way in which I use mirrors to manage other facets of my life. 

• The reason behind the project: "Sometimes I look in the mirror and see myself, or whatever I understand myself to be. Other times, I distinctly see an image of myself."

• Week 1: My mirror shroud, and what it's like to go to the gym without looking in the mirror. 

• What the mirror fast taught me about how I regard strangers: "Not feeling like I had an accurate reading of whether that fellow was looking at me with approval, disdain, lust, curiosity, attraction, or repulsion left me feeling adrift. I had no anchor to hold onto, no private feeling of, 'Well, I do look nice today' or 'I wish he would stop staring at the enormous pimple on my chin.' Without having any idea what he might be seeing, I had no idea how I should feel about him looking at me."

• Why looking into the mirror actually require no mirrors at all: "I turned the box on its side to look at the nutritional information, then withdrew my hand from the box as though it were a hot iron. Because I'm not supposed to be looking in mirrors."

• News flash, ladies! You don't always have to look pretty: "Letting go of the imaginary control the mirror gives forces me to lift the controls I believed I have over my physical allure. I thought I always had to look pretty because I thought it was something that was within my control, when it isn't. Clean, groomed, and reasonable, yes. Beyond that? It's up to you, not me."

• On vacation with no idea what I looked like: "I felt present, and quiet, existing in the eyes of someone I care for, and he existing in mine. I did not feel beautiful. It did not matter."

• What it's like to shop for clothes when you can't look at yourself: "'You can always ask what we think,' said the salesperson, and smiled. 'It's what we're here for.'"

• What the etymology of the word mirror teaches us about our relationship with our reflection

.• A Month Without Mirrors, Day 31: "What I didn’t realize until I was unburdened from some of my self-imposed (and likely invented) expectations was exactly how much of my energy was going into appearing. Appearing to be interested, appearing to be womanly, appearing to be a professional lady, appearing to be pretty. No wonder I'm exhausted."

Mirror fasting, take two: In what I intend to make an annual ritual for myself, I embarked on another monthlong mirror fast in 2012. (This also earned me a short segment on the Today show.) My hope was to recapture the sense of serenity I felt during my first go-round. The result couldn't have been farther from the truth: "This time around going mirror-free was excruciating. Instead of feeling gently 'unmoored,' I felt like the ground had been snatched out from underneath me. I found it difficult to focus on conversation; for that matter, I began to find it difficult to look people in the eye. The playful curiosity I felt last time about how I looked was replaced by a certainty that I looked horrible. The mirror, as it turned out, had been crucial to me during the previous difficult months, doling out assurance along with bouts of anxiety."