Could you go an entire YEAR without looking at yourself in a mirror?
What about while you were in the middle of planning your wedding?
Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s exactly with Kjerstin Gruys decided to do.
I first became acquainted with Kjerstin Gruys a couple of years ago when her mirror challenge hit the news and social media circuits. I remember watching this beautiful young blonde woman try on a wedding dress without being able to check herself out in a mirror. I remember applauding her and wondering if anyone could ever really go a year without mirrors, especially in the middle of wedding-planning frenzy, which tends to be a period rife with body snarking, dieting attempts, and a general self-obsession. (amiright?)
I then found out that Kjerstin was also a PhD student studying under none other than Dr. Abigail Saguy, who you all know is an academic hero of mine who wrote the groundbreaking book, What’s Wrong with Fat? So, of course, I became a fan of Kjerstin, too.
Kjerstin has authored a book on her “no mirrors” experience, which has just hit bookshelves!
Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall
Aptly titled, Mirror, Mirror off the Wall: How I learned to Love my Body by Not Looking at It for a Year, Kjerstin’s book is part memoir and part social commentary with a sociologist’s eye to research regarding body image, Bridezilla culture and the nation’s obsession with thinness & beauty.
You can define yourself without a creepy mirror man, right?
Kjerstin’s immediate impetus for going a year without looking in mirrors was when she found herself in the midst of wedding planning, with 4 potential wedding dresses to choose from and an overwhelming obsession with her bride-to-be appearance.
You see, in addition to being an academic, Kjerstin is a recovered anorexic AND a body-image expert who volunteers with San-Francisco-based non-profit About Face, where she teaches media literacy to young girls and women. Media literacy, by the way, is – to put it bluntly – empowering yourself to see through the matrix AKA the bullshit in the media, understanding that there is Big Money behind the scenes and thus allowing you to dissect the target audience of an ad, for example, what’s being sold, and what take-away the ad is trying to leave you with. Thus, Kjerstin knew that she was in a slippery slope that could easily lead her down the path to dieting, self-loathing and an eating disorder.
Kjerstin’s hope for giving up mirrors was that she could become more in tune with herself and less obsessed with her appearance.
The Cranky One’s Reflections of the Book
- Reading Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall made me feel like I was reading my own thoughts. Kjerstin describes herself as the exact weight and height as me and has similar misgivings about her body, thus I felt incredibly invested in her experiment.
- The book reads like a fun, sometimes hysterical, diary of what it means to try to accept yourself at a time when everyone – including the multi-billion-dollar wedding industry – and even good-intentioned peers and family, think you could just “tighten” for the “Big Day.”
- One of my favorite parts of the book was when Kjerstin took advantage of a free extensive health exam and noted that while all of her results came back as outstanding, she did land in the “overweight” section of the BMI, which made her “feel fat” and quickly revert back to the tired, “I just need to lose 10 lbs” mantra. The reason I liked this story is because it tells me so much about how our obsession with BMI fuels our body dissatisfaction, and, worse, our faulty belief that BMI is a good proxy for health OR that weight loss, even a little bit, is somehow the holy grail of health.
- Kjerstin’s experience trying to rectify her feminism with her desire to fit certain standards of beauty is one of the most interesting parts of the book, from my perspective, because it’s something I’m currently grappling with.
- I think one thing to keep in mind is that this is a memoir about body acceptance; it’s not a nuanced view on fat politics. For example, Kjerstin does have privilege (which she acknowledges) in that she is average-sized (actually smaller than average), able-bodied, Caucasian and has features that are in alignment with conventional beauty standards. This is not to detract from her plight at all, but rather to let readers know that she’s not going to talk about what it means to experience “fatness” from a political and civil rights perspective because, honestly, she cannot experience that in her current body.
- Kjerstin’s honesty is so incredibly refreshing because I think many of us who are “recovered” from eating disorders, feminists and Health At Every Size proponents feel that we cannot be open about our struggles to rectify our beliefs with our actions. For example, Kjerstin calls her “coiffing” into question and ends up going make-up free every Monday. And, at one point, after being referred to as fat, and feeling bad about herself, she wonders if she’s a hypocrite for being a HAES advocate yet being ashamed to self-identify as fat. These are all such important and complex questions to ask ourselves and I think Kjerstin gets us all to become a little more introspective and, even better, ACTIVE at setting our own standards for beauty. As Kjerstin asks, “Instead of changing your body, why not change your mind?”
Overall, I love this book. It was comforting to know that someone else has the same insecurities as I do and is yet STILL a feminist, HAES activist and body-image warrior. I hope women AND men read this book and begin to discuss openly the pressures to look a certain way and, better, the ways to give up the ideals and relish the bodies we’re in without contingencies.
Want a FREE copy of the book?
Kjerstin has been kind enough to offer a free copy of her book to one Cranky reader (U.S. residents only, sorry!). Please enter via Rafflecopter below. This is my first time using Rafflecoptor, so, my apologies in advance if it sucks.
The Cranky One