GRAPHIC DESIGNER Cindy Phung
Many of us know the line that follows the words ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall.’ When I was two-years-old, I had an activity saucer with a miniature mirror attached; my mother told me that out of all the toys on that saucer, I found the mirror the most fascinating. I remember sitting in my saucer for hours and looking at myself, I would speak in baby gibberish to my reflection and would even kiss her. My reflection was a two-dimensional friend, a best friend trapped behind a pane of glass smudged with prints from my lips. I would look in the mirror to see someone I loved staring back. Who cared how she looked? I loved her because she was dynamic and alive; my best friend seemed to know me better than anyone else.
I remember days during the havoc of puberty when I would look in the mirror in my bathroom and feel like crying; I no longer wanted to kiss my reflection, but wanted to edit her to make her more beautiful or lovable.
When does this change? When do we replace our mirrored best friend for a subject to critique? I remember days during the havoc of puberty when I would look in the mirror in my bathroom and feel like crying; I no longer wanted to kiss my reflection, but wanted to edit her to make her more beautiful or lovable. I felt a far cry from being the ‘fairest of them all.’ Once I got older and had finally moved through that awkward, chaotic time, I grew to love that girl who lived on the glass again. But even now in my 20’s, there are still days when I look in the mirror and hardly see myself, seeing instead the long list of so-called imperfections to which I have been saddled. I believe this is fairly universal. For the most part, we use mirrors not to adore the being that carries our thoughts, ideas, and dreams. It’s a tool to find the physical flaws we believe create who we are. But what would happen if we stopped looking in the mirror?
My twin sister and I decided to participate in the “No Mirrors” challenge. The challenge is usually for those striving to reach personal fitness goals because it forces the focus onto progress that isn’t necessarily visible, but instead focuses on how one feels in their body. The only rule is that you can’t look at yourself in the mirror, on reflective surfaces, or on your phone for 24 hours. You heard me, no staring at yourself in that mini frame during the Zoom call. Sounds easy, right? Well, I dare you to try this yourself!
Peeking! No Peeking! One of the most common games of childhood became one I wasn’t sure I could win as an adult. Within an hour of consciously trying to avoid my reflection, I began to realize I was totally unaware of how frequently I look at myself. I felt like I constantly had to move my gaze to the floor, to my hands, or the back of my phone case. Similar to the overused comparison of driving by a car accident, my brain chastised my wandering eyes, but I still couldn’t help peeking. I began to wonder why do I find it so difficult not to look at myself? Am I obsessed with my face? The curve of my nose, the pigment of my iris? And then a thought hit me like a jump scare in a horror movie – am I narcissistic?
…even now, in my 20’s there are still days when I look in the mirror and hardly see myself, seeing instead the long list of so-called imperfections to which I have been saddled with. I believe this is fairly universal.
Bustling. The café was bustling. I thought a distraction would help me avoid the reflection that seems to be so much of who I am. The matcha was creamy, and the sun was leaving freckles across my arms, and I finally felt a bit…normal. Strange how something that seems so unimportant, a small change, can have such a significant impact on your mood and your entire day, similar to how the last sip of tea, inevitably full of tea grounds, can spoil the whole mug. It was four hours into the challenge, and I wanted to see myself so badly I found myself using my mom’s sunglasses to check my hair as she talked. Upon catching a glimpse of my bangs, parted unfortunately by the wind, I felt a surge of sudden panic. I realized I was out in public without knowing how I looked and not knowing what everyone else was seeing. I almost gave up at that moment. I wanted to whip out my phone, switch it to the front-facing camera and conduct a full reconnaissance mission, gathering intel on every imperfection I had been walking around with and letting the world see. I realized this obsession with my reflection mimicked my two-year-old self; however, the intention behind looking had changed. Over time the purpose had become to critique, not to kiss. On any typical day, I find myself looking in the mirror, not to find joy, but to scrutinize and bully. And while I believe I love myself, every goofy, freckled bit, instant criticism is almost an automatic reaction upon seeing myself in that glass.
Safe. Safe house. After my experience at the café, being back home felt like a welcome escape. I realized avoiding my reflection feels easier when not in public. While I was out, I felt this intense pressure to make sure I looked ‘good,’ and the panic that I had felt churning in my belly made me wonder if maybe I cared too much. The next few hours felt simple in comparison. While resisting the day’s temptation to look at myself was challenging I was determined to see it through and explore the experience’s emotional effects. Although it was tricky, I managed to make it through the rest of the challenge fairly successfully. As the day wore on, I moved through the anxiety of not looking for a sense of ‘letting my shoulders relax,’ when it dawned on me that the people around me didn’t seem to care about my appearance. We interacted in all of the ways we normally do – how I looked had no bearing on how my mom, dad, twin, or best friend treated me at all. I will also admit that I felt pride when I went to bed because I had managed to stay true to the challenge’s spirit. It sounds simple, but I had no real idea of how difficult it would be to reach my goal.
Up. Look up! I finally looked up at my reflection when I was brushing my teeth the next morning. Yes, my bangs were riding a mile high off my forehead, and minty foam bubbled out of my mouth because I had used too much toothpaste. However, the first word that came to my mind was not one of judgement. “Happy,” I thought. The entire day I felt…different. Taking a break from looking in the mirror gave me the space I needed to appreciate myself again. It, strangely, felt as if I had regained some of the wonder and awe that used to be associated with seeing myself staring back at me. I didn’t look in the mirror and think of all the change I wanted, going through with a red marker and circling ‘problem areas.’ I looked at my reflection and saw my best friend smiling back.
I blew her a kiss.
*This article was originally published with Samantha Cass as the author, that is incorrect. Taite Krueger is the author of this article.