I lived without my reflection for eight months. I removed the mirrors from my bedroom and living areas, I kept my head down when passing large windows and when washing my hands in public washrooms. After removing applications like Snapchat and disabling my front-facing camera, I began to move through this life without looking for myself.
For the first few weeks I would be tempted to visit my reflection, only to be met with an overwhelming amount of self-disgust. There are many instances when I tried to explain the way I loathed my image, yet the words never felt powerful enough. Eventually, I was paralyzed with the fear that others viewed me the way I viewed myself, and so I retracted into a collection of self-destructive habits and poor choices.
However, after a few months of avoiding myself, my focus began to shift from the way I looked to the way I felt. Without being aware of what was happening, I started to categorize my sadness. Finding sources, then systems of regulating, then eventually solutions. I was dressing differently — for myself; for my comfort. I was speaking about different things bigger and deeper than concepts of attraction or beauty. Most of my days were spent finding interesting bits and pieces of this world and not caring about the way my face changed when it filled with excitement. I was eating meals and enjoying it, giving way to the changes in my body without resistance. Most importantly, I was no longer having negative conversations with my reflection.
To my surprise, the people who gathered around me loved me regardless, and in most cases, with depths previously unfamiliar. When I stopped focusing on the way I looked, my shallow life became an ocean, filled with undiscovered pleasures. My heart changed in the process, growing to accommodate the love that was forming.
One day, after months without my appearance, I agreed to a group photo. It was Christmas Eve in Rome, and I was surrounded by a group of friends whom I’d fallen passionately in love with. So I said yes, after a couple of glasses of wine, to being photographed with those dear to me.
Everyone took turns looking at the photo until the camera arrived in my hands, the pixels leaving me in complete disarray. I didn’t recognize myself. Instead, in my place was a beautiful, young woman with a bold smile and happiness radiating out of her. My shock left my body, as I gasped in disbelief, “Is this really me? Is this what I look like?” The room, laughing and blaming my intoxication, said, “of course!”
I realized that in all those months of avoiding my reflection, I had also spent time breaking the habit of hating my appearance. Relieving myself of such a burden made room for an incredible amount of love to enter my life — plenty of which I have reserved for myself.
I still restrict the number of photos that exist of me, avoid cameras and videos and try not to focus too often on my reflection. This way I welcome the moments where I feel beautiful to surprise me; to remind myself that who I am will radiate through me like rays of light.
I decided to tell this story after reading Mirrors by Carol Shields, who explains the phenomena accompanying reflection.