You just meet certain people and know that there is something extraordinary about them. That is exactly the kind of person Kjerstin Gruys is. I originally met her when I was a freshman at UCLA and she was my seminar leader in a class on female body image. She introduced me to outstanding books like Naomi Woolf’s The Beauty Myth and Nancy Etcoff’s Survival of the Prettiest. Two years later, I am now a junior and Kjerstin is pursuing her Ph.D. in Sociology at UCLA. We are still in touch and when I saw her grace the front page of Yahoo—I had to reach out. She is going on quite a mission…a year without mirrors. Quite a feat for women these days but if anyone can do it, it’s Kjerstin. I can’t wait for you to read about her journey and also, a hearty congratulations on her recent marriage! I hope she can at least see the pictures! Enjoy this interview friends, Kjerstin is a keeper.
Also, you can visit Kjerstin’s blog here: http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/
1. You are forgoing mirrors for an entire year! What prompted this?
As you know, I’m really passionate about women having positive body image. I used to have an eating disorder, and I’ll never forget how awful it was to feel so controlled by obsessing about my weight and appearance. That was almost 10 years ago, but I started struggling with body image again, around the time that I got engaged. I started getting caught up in all of the “beautiful bride” “most important day of your life” hoopla, and I panicked a bit when trying on wedding dresses. I was being critical of my looks, and I hated the feeling. It scared me that I could relapse, and I also felt really strongly that my wedding should be about celebrating my partnership with my husband, and enjoying time with friends and family members… not about what I looked like. I wanted to find some way to really re-focus my attention AWAY from my appearance. I came up with the idea of avoiding mirrors after reading about an order of nuns in 16th century Tuscany who didn’t allow themselves to EVER see each other or their own bodies. I thought, “hey, maybe I ought to try that!”
2. Is it harder than you thought it would be? And if so, how?
It’s easier than I thought when I’m able to control my environment. When I can cover the mirrors or go places without mirrors, like camping, I don’t miss my reflection AT ALL! That said, when I’m in places where mirrors are all over the place its incredibly hard not to look at myself. It’s even tougher if I’m all by myself, and I think, “oh, well nobody will know if I just take a peek!” But at the end of the day I’m not doing this for anybody else, I’m doing it for myself. That’s made it possible to resist during those particularly tempting times.
3. What part of this experience has brought you the most happiness?
The greatest happiness has been an increase in confidence I’ve felt about my body. I focus more on how it feels than what it looks like. It’s also been incredibly freeing to find out that people really don’t treat me much differently these days, even though I’m wearing less makeup and probably have less-than-perfect hair most of the time!
4. So many girls struggle with eating disorders and looking at mirrors only escalates those issues. Are you hoping that your project will help other women gain more self-acceptance of their bodies?
YES! That would be so incredibly rewarding. I hope that this project helps other women and girls think about how much time and energy they’re investing in their appearance, and whether it’s really necessary. I’m not suggesting that all women should ditch mirrors, but I do think that we have a lot to offer the world other than our looks. Why not focus on these other things more, and our looks less? I think most women would be happier and lead more fulfilling and balanced lives.
5. What advice do you have for young women who can’t make a break from the mirror?
It’s easier to change your environment than it is to change your mind. Go ahead and check yourself out in the mirror in the morning, but then cover it up for the rest of the day. Spending more time looking at yourself doesn’t provide any new information! It just feeds into obsessing. Or, if you feel like you’re spending too much time worrying about your looks, find other things you’re passionate about that can occupy your time and energy. I think it is sometimes asking too much to tell young women that they shouldn’t “care about what they look like”. It’s fine to care about your appearance, but just don’t make it the most important thing in your life!
6. How do you think our physical self-perception detracts from our happiness?
I think self-objectification detracts from our happiness in two ways. First, when we compare ourselves to images of beauty we see in the media, we always come up short and end up feeling bad about ourselves. As we discussed in class last year, advertisers depend on images of impossible, photoshopped beauty in order to sell us products… think about it: why would we buy an expensive beauty product if the advertisement told us that we look great just the way we are? So that’s the first way self-objectification eats away at our happiness. The second way is when we confuse our body-esteem with our self-esteem…. or when we decide that our looks are more important than all the other things we’ve got going on in our lives, that all of our other successes don’t matter if we aren’t beautiful. When we prioritize beauty in this way, we discount all the other amazing things that should be making us feel proud and happy.
7. How has this experience changed you?
8. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Just that I’m thrilled we’ve stayed in touch. You’re an amazing young woman and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you over the past 2 years!
Isn’t she lovely, inspirational, and beautiful inside and out? Thank you so much for taking the time to share Kjerstin—please continue to motivate us to live lives outside of mirrors and make-up. And congratulations on your recent marriage!
The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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