14 days without a mirror.
I wake up to an alarm at 8am, I shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and leave my house for the bus stop at approximately 9:20am. In this short hour and twenty minutes it took for me to prepare for the day I have already seen my reflection roughly 25 times. Twenty six times if you count the reflection off the microwave as I waited impatiently for my instant oatmeal. My goal for that day was to count how many times I saw my reflection in an average day, however what I found was that I had grown tired and rather discouraged, at how high the number was before my day even really started.Fourteen days without a mirror, or to be more exact, fourteen days of not allowing myself to see my own face.My formal plan for collecting quantitative data was to take a picture of myself every morning and night, I would not look at them until the end of the experiment when I could analyze any differences in my look or demeanor. I was unsure if I would notice any change at all, however I was hopeful, perhaps I would smile more, maybe my hair would be really messy and I would stop caring. I wanted something to show that I had grown and changed as a result. (The featured image was morning of Day 1)
The first few days: Trial with mostly error.
Though I had noticed where I saw my reflection in the days prior to the beginning of my experiment the first few days were still notably difficult, not because I constantly wanted to see myself but because you can see yourself virtually anywhere. Unexpected wall mirrors, reflective glass panes in restaurants, even in blackened phone screens. I realized that it wasn’t just mirrors that were allowing me to see my reflection. The simple statement “don’t look at yourself” dominated my thoughts for the first few days, it had to, otherwise I would catch my reflection in almost anything.
Day 7: Did people know what I was doing?
Day seven hit, the official halfway point, I was doing well in my opinion. Yes I had seen myself a few times, but I quickly caught myself and looked away. I had been successfully running my experiment, yet unsuccessfully managing myself. I hated not being able to see my face, not in a pretentious or self serving manner but simply because I was scared that I was embarrassing myself. One chilly day as I walked to class I knew I had a runny nose, I got a tissue and did the best I could but for the next fifty minute class period I sat in my desk looking directly down at it, sniffling constantly. I was worried that my nose would be gross and if people saw my gross nose, I would be mortified. What if my acne broke out on my face again? How would I know? What if I decided to shave and I missed a big section?
I realized that no one mentioned my nasty runny nose because I didn’t have one. No one told me about my acne breakout because it never existed. And no one told me I missed a spot shaving because I didn’t. I had reached a breakthrough. I had invented these horrible circumstances because I simply was unsure of the truth. With this knowledge at the half way point in the experiment I was able to begin week two with new insight and further encouragement to continue.
Week two began and I was already off to a rough start, it was odd, I’ve never consciously felt the need to look at myself in the mirror, its always been a subconscious reaction to walking past something reflective or a known mirror to check yourself. The act of stopping and thinking, “where is the next mirror? will I sneak a peak at myself just to make sure I look fine?” was on the forefront of my mind. After a few hiccups early on I decided the best remedy was to find the mirror first and then avoid it. I walked into bathrooms with my eyes shut, I always looked the opposite direction of my phone if I thought the camera would be facing me and I told anyone who took my picture that I did not want to see it.
I stopped taking pictures of myself in the mornings and the evenings, originally I told myself I should stop because the pictures probably aren’t in focus, and you wont notice a change anyways. However as I continued to think about it I understood a more realistic reason why. I stopped taking pictures of myself because what if I looked stupid in them? I couldn’t have a retake, even if I did how would I know if the retake was better than the original? What if people saw my camera and looked at the pictures of myself? Or worse, what if people saw me taking pictures of myself? No I couldn’t think about it, I had to stop. My self conscious was already eating at me by not being able to check myself I couldn’t stand the thought of having myself possibly look gross saved as a picture.
I realized that a mirror really did nothing for me, it never did me any favors. But secretly I hoped it would. Hoping to walk in front of a mirror and say to myself “Oh look, you’re looking great today, wow you are awesome!” but then reality hit and I would tell myself “Your hair is still a mess.” “You still have that weird patch of acne, that has been there since what high school?”
I had various points of realizations as noted above but nothing that would bring about a groundbreaking new research topic, nothing that would land me an interview on day time television. Just myself continuing throughout the day, doing the ordinary, and writing about it. It wasn’t until the night of the fourteenth day that I realized what I had done. For two weeks of my life I had extremely limited view of my self. That night would be the last night I had to shut my eyes when I walked into the bathroom, the last night I had the mirror in my room facing the wall. Tomorrow I could walk into any bathroom I wanted and if a mirror was there I wouldn’t have to shut my eyes, or run to the nearest stall. If someone took a picture of me and said “Want to see it?” I could say “yes” like any other person would do.
On the fifteenth day I woke up and decided to count how many times I looked at myself. By the time I got to campus at 9:45am I had seen myself 23 times. What was the point? What changed through the course of the experiment? I still looked at myself plenty, perhaps even excessively. While the action of looking in a mirror didn’t change, what I thought about myself did. I stopped looking at myself and saying “Why does your body look so weird.” or “You better fix your hair before (insert random name here) sees you.” and I started saying “This is you.” or perhaps the longer, more romanticized version being “This is Garrett Whitlock, myself, a human being, a person whose self image is no longer tied to what he sees in a mirror.”
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