Mirror, mirror on the wall, who cares who you think is the fairest of them all?
Me, I do. Over here. Yes, me.
On a basic level, mirrors are good for tasks like applying a red lip or getting a piece of spinach out of your teeth. But a mirror can also have a negative impact on your mental health and self-confidence. I am, unfortunately, all too familiar with that.
Sometimes, I can glance at myself in the mirror and go about my day, but other times, it’s a hard stop, and I begin to obsess over the way I look.
That's why I launched an experiment: no mirrors for a week. What would happen to my self-confidence if I stopped checking out my face so much?
The idea was sparked back in April, when Sarah Silverman was a guest on TODAY, where I work, and revealed her therapist recommended that she stop looking in the mirror.
“I think we all cognitively distort what we see," Silverman told Hoda and Jenna. "Even when I do look in the mirror, I make myself in my head like 20% prettier."
My therapist, Kelly Seekins, a licensed clinical social worker, echoed the notion that avoiding a mirror is a "genius" way to figure out how you're feeling outside of worrying what you look like, which can distort your self-perception.
“Mirror reflections can be deceiving … views of yourself can be distorted,” Seekins said. "The way that you look isn’t how you look to other people."
Figuring out the rules
The day before my week-long experiment began, I announced what I was doing on social media. The concept grabbed people's attention, and they had a lot of questions. It was up to me to set fair boundaries while being realistic, so here's what I came up with:
- Avoid looking in mirrors whenever you possibly can, even when washing your hands or doing your makeup.
- It is OK to look at your outfit (as long as you cover up your face with your hands/avoid looking for any other reason than to see if your clothes match).
- No using your phone/laptop camera to see what you look like.
- When it comes to outings with friends, it's OK to take photos, but you cannot look at the photos immediately afterward or ask for any redos.
The goal of this experiment was not only to see how I felt after not looking at myself in the mirror for a period of time, but also to set the process up for longevity.
The ups and downs of my experiment
I can sum up the first night with one word: oops. Walking into the bathroom and not looking in the mirror while I brushed my teeth or moisturized my face was extremely unnatural, and I had a few slipups right away. But I also started asking myself: Why do I stare at myself when doing these things that, for the most part, I don't have to see myself to complete?
The first of many realizations.
I work from home, so my biggest challenge during the day was going to the bathroom without glancing at myself before settling back into my desk.
Leaving the house was a different story.
One night I was getting ready for dinner with my best friend. To my delight, the process of picking out what to wear suddenly became simplified. I thought to myself, "If I can't see how I look anyway, might as well pick something I know I like!"
I settled on a nude-colored bodysuit with a pair of jean shorts and a light brown jacket. I entered the bathroom and covered my face with my hands, peeked through my fingers so I wouldn't see my face, and once I saw the outfit, my mind suddenly dipped into doubt.
I convinced myself to change, change again, and then I took a deep breath. I went back to my first outfit and told myself that if I hadn't checked the mirror, I would have already been out the door. So, without checking again, I left.
On the train, I opened my makeup bag. I don't wear much makeup, so applying without a compact mirror wasn't a big deal. But while putting on mascara, I noticed a woman on the train staring at me, probably waiting in suspense to see if I would poke myself in my eye. (I didn't — turns out I'm a pro at this.)
There was something empowering about not knowing what my face looked like — and not caring because of not knowing. I remember walking with my head held high and a lot of confidence. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush, but I felt like the people around me noticed. By not having a predetermined notion of what other people saw, I was able to see and carry myself the way I always should.
I entered the restaurant and found my friend seated at our table. We talked for at least an hour before I decided to hint at the experiment.
"Do I look any different to you?" I asked.
My friend looked at me, surprised by the question, and said no.
Later, I asked the server to take a photo of us. I remember us wrapping our arms around each other and smiling big. After the photos were taken, I put away my phone without checking what we looked like.
I looked at the photo on the train ride home, and the photo reflected exactly how I felt when we took it: happy.
Running outside without a care
The next day I went for a run. By no means do I glam up before a workout, but my routine usually calls for a few ponytail attempts and an outfit check to see if everything matches.
But not this time: I threw on whatever shirt-shorts-sneakers combo I felt like marrying and jogged out the door.
As I ran by others who glanced my way, I noticed the voice in my head being much kinder. If I had seen what I looked like before heading out, I might have thought they looked at me because my hair was out of place, or because my shirt didn't fall correctly. But now, I pondered the idea that I was inspiring others around me to add movement into their day.
Feeling already mentally at ease, I ran back home, showered and got ready for dinner No. 2 of the week. This time, I stuck with my first outfit choice and didn't look back.
Falling into a imperfectly perfect routine
As the week went on, I found myself saying "oops" a lot less and wasting fewer minutes worrying about what I looked like.
I thought I would be asking my husband every chance I got, "do I look OK?" but as the days went on, I found less and less weight in that question. I fell into a rhythm of being comfortable with the unknown and understanding that sometimes feeling, not seeing, is believing.
I don't think I went a day without accidentally catching my reflection, but as these incidents happened, I started letting go of guilt. The experiment wasn't meant to be perfect, but a way to remind myself that my reflection doesn't dictate my self-worth.
And when I did catch myself in the mirror, I was happy to see the person in the reflection. Like a friend you hadn't seen for a while, who looked the same as the last time you saw them.
Looking ahead to the future
The last day I was on the mirrorless books, my husband and I were grilling on the rooftop. I snapped a few photos to document our feast, with no desire to take a photo of myself.
I knew I couldn't avoid mirrors the way I had been forever, but I wanted to continue being selective with when I did look. The little voice inside my head had become an ally, and I felt more at peace with myself than I had in almost half a year.
Now I'm writing this about a month later, and I still feel that peace. I've been taking fewer selfies (which I realized was a coping mechanism for me to feel control over my appearance and post it publicly for validation), and my office mirror has still been living under my desk. I'll probably donate the mirror during my next Goodwill run.
Throughout this process, I also realized I'm not alone. I had a lot of friends check in on me about my mirrorless week, and a few mentioned that they wanted to try it. I had one friend who was postpartum give it an actual shot, and she texted me a week later that it made a "huge difference" and that she's in a better headspace now.
Knowing that I had helped at least two people (myself and my friend) made this experiment more than worth doing. And I hope my story inspires a few readers to do the same.