“Mirror Mirror Off the Wall” By Kjerstin Gruys: Mirror Fasting

Sometimes you have to do something extreme and crazy in order to find balance and sanity in the end. Kjertstin Gruys, author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Isn’t it what’s on the inside that really counts? Of course! you say. But most of us, although we’ve heard that often enough, haven’t really been shown it. Not enough, that is, to offset all the other kinds of messages we continually receive regarding the importance of our looks.

An option for some, when for various reasons striving for a perfect body no longer appeals, is mirror fasting, i.e., abstinence from mirrors in order to learn how to reprioritize one’s values. As Kate Murphy states in the New York Times, “Those who have engaged in the exercise report that not seeing themselves helped them see themselves more clearly.”

One such faster has been Kjerstin Gruys, a doctoral candidate in sociology who also is a recovering anorexic. As a self-described “body-image expert with a body-image problem,” she made the decision to give up all types of reflective surfaces for a year. Her new book Mirror Mirror Off the Wall is an outgrowth of her blog about that process, A Year Without Mirrors. 

Why’d she do it? The ultimate trigger was trying on wedding dresses—all that emphasis on how she was going to look. In an interview with USA Today Gruys explains, “I thought it would give me a fighting chance to put those body image insecurities in a smaller place. I wanted to think less about my body. I wanted to spend more time viewing myself as a whole person who has talents and relationships.”

To help her through this challenge, Gruys enlisted a good support system, including her therapist.

Six months into it, she reported (according to Time), “The biggest challenge has been emotional. I realized how much I’ve relied upon mirrors to feel okay throughout the day, to explain why the day is going well or isn’t.”

By the time she got to the wedding, she’d achieved positive results. But, states Jenifer McKim, The Boston Globe, the author’s body image struggles definitely hadn’t ended:

Here the narrative drags as Gruys battles more insecurities — including new concerns about her weight, a botched hair dye, and a ‘coming out party’ where she worries about not liking what she sees and feeling horrible about feeling horrible. She does eventually conquer these issues. She blogs about her weight and pledges to be ‘unapologetic’ about her body. She realizes, after much introspection, that her hair crisis stemmed from self-doubt that she sheds. When she finally looks into the mirror, surrounded by friends and family, she likes what she sees.

Additional Reviews of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Publishers Weekly: “Gruys admits to her all-too-human insecurities and describes her sometimes-difficult effort to live life without defining herself through beauty. Her story encourages others to do the same. This book should be required reading for those women who struggle with body-image issues—and even those who don’t.”

Caitlin Boyle, author of Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time: “I couldn’t put this book down—as I flipped through page after page, I found myself nodding along with Kjerstin’s astute observations. It’s high time we stop picking ourselves apart and start focusing on what really matters: something deep inside, beyond what any mirror can reflect.”

Abigail C. Saguy, author of What’s Wrong with Fat? “Interspersing this personal account with insights from sociology and psychology research, Gruys shows how her own struggles are taking place within a broader social context, thereby holding up a mirror to contemporary American society. Highly recommended for anyone who has felt herself peering a bit too intently in the mirror.”

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