My Week Without Mirrors
Body checking. It almost cost me my life when it began to manifest into a serious eating disorder battle beginning when I was 16. In the bathroom I would lift up my shirt to reveal my stomach. Had it expanded or shrunk? In bed I would feel my stomach before I could relax to fall asleep. In candid photos I would zoom in on my thighs to see how big they looked. Very few times, if ever, was I satisfied with my obsessive quality assurance and it led me into a spiral of body shame, guilt, and anorexia.
Just two years ago I was severely underweight and still hated the way I looked. I know it may be hard to understand how someone can muster the self-discipline to starve but it became relatively easy as every time I ate, my body would overreact and bloat. Because it was hungry. And it was trying to create caloric reserves to keep my heat beating. But, then I hated myself and proceeded to motivate myself to change this with maladaptive strategies.
Then fullness became fatness.
Food became evil.
My weight became my identity,
my thigh gap became my only pride.
(And if my thighs expanded after walked home from campus, my pride was destroyed and along with it my confidence, my self-love, my joy, and my energy.)
Consequently, and possibly ironically, food was the only thing on my mind. It tortured me and tempted me and made me irritable. This was beyond hangriness. This was frustration that anyone else would dare ask me to eat out. I could not measure my food to the tablespoon and calculate my calories. If I did eat with others I would have to sneak a feel of my stomach. How did it feel as I sat? What did my thighs look like on the surface below? If I stood did I look like I had a stomach pooch?
At home as a teen, this need for checking transformed into bulimia. When I left for college I fell victim to anorexia. No one checked up on me, and by the time I was too skinny, no one around me knew any differently.
Now, I still battle the thoughts about food. Should I have this much almond butter or what did I already eat today, should I be eating again? These questions are daily intruders. I remember reading a blog post, one that is a permanent bookmark on Safari, about simply indulging. (http://tabithafarrar.com/2017/02/anorexia-recovery-eating/).
Have I eaten a jar of almond butter in a day? Yes.
Have I eaten a family sized hummus? Yes.
Am I fat? No.
Does it matter? No.
I deleted social media for a long time to prevent body comparing. I created boundaries between myself and other people who held negative body ideals. I learned to protect myself from myself. And, most recently, I started a week long experiment that began as I got out of the shower and stood in front of the entirely fogged mirror observing my blurred reflection.
My legs are so much more red than the rest of my body. Maybe I should get tanning lotion. I thought to myself.
What! When did the redness of my legs become an important matter in my life?
And henceforth begins: My week without mirrors.
Here were my rules: from Saturday to Saturday I could not body check with touch or mirrors. I could not check out my butt or my stomach. I could not twirl around all angles while brushing my teeth or walk by my reflection and see what my body profile looked like. When doing make up, I was allowed to spend 10 minutes or less adding mascara and concealer, if and only if, I had a professional need to look presentable.
Within one day I had failed. I went into the bathroom, my bladder extended to its maximum, and checked to see what my stomach looked like. Once I caught myself I could not help but wonder why I would delay relieving my urine to body check?
My experiment also revealed just how much I stare at myself while I brush my teeth, wash my face, wash my hands, wait for the shower water to warm up, after having sex. And it is not always (usually not) confidence boosting checking-myself-out. Instead it is a practice in self-bashing mental dialogue about my face, my legs, my stomach, my ankles.Why, brain?
By Wednesday, however, I was walking into the bathroom without glancing in the mirror. I was lotioning my face with my eyes closed. I was brushing my teeth while walking around rather than staring at my reflection.
On Thursday, while being physical with my boyfriend, I realized afterwards that I had never felt so balanced during our intimacy. I was not focused on the response of my stomach skin to the positions I was in or what my legs looked like. Instead, I was focused on the sensations. I was connected to him and our feelings. It felt lovingand safeand unifyingin a way I had not previously let it be when I had a running system update on how my body looked.
Even slowing down my mind for sleep became a little more natural. I didn’t even notice how my stomach rested on the mattress while on my side.
These thoughts are heavy. They are time consuming and draining. Instead of focusing so much on my appearance, I had available mental and emotional space to help my sister and text friends. I had the energy to cuddle and cook dinner. Okay, maybe some of this new motivation was the changing of seasons from winter to spring, but there was something extra there too.
Of course, I wasn’t perfect the whole entire time. But for the first time ever, I noticed and I stoppedmyself when I body checked or thought negatively of myself. I don’t think I’ll continue on without mirrors for life. After a few days I strangely enough forgot what I really looked like and my boyfriend had to fix my incompletely rubbed in face lotion every day. But, I know that I will be more mindful of how much time I dedicate each day to my appearance and I’ll limit these behaviors when I notice them.
Imagine all I could have been doing throughout these years without my own body on my mind all the time. It seems silly when I think about it and write this down but it is quite harmful and one of the most important self-experiments I have committed to.
Because bodies are not cookie cutters and your life purpose is not your appearance.
Because I notice so many more flaws than anyone around me.
Because self-love is not always appearance related and I don’t need to check out my body if it will not boost me up.
Because fullness is not fatness and my appearance is not my worth.