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Book Review

‘Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall’ by Kjerstin Gruys

Kjerstin Gruys realizes that her absent reflection is like a missing friend.

lisa bardot

Kjerstin Gruys realizes that her absent reflection is like a missing friend.

Imagine not looking in a mirror for a week — not even a glimpse to brush your teeth, check out a new outfit, or eye your visage in the rearview mirror while driving.

Now think about avoiding your reflection for a year.

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Kjerstin Gruys did just that. Gruys, a first-time author and blogger, writes about her experience in an honest, heartfelt, and quirky chronological account called “Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year.”

First consider why she took on this project. Gruys is a former fashion industry researcher who suffered from an eating disorder. She is now working toward a doctorate in sociology, focusing on gender inequality and beauty standards. She cares and thinks a lot about how she looks and why this attention affects her self-esteem and the world around her.

She’s also planning a traditional wedding. After she purchases her third — yes, third — wedding dress, Gruys fears she is becoming a “bridezilla,” overly obsessed by party plans and her appearance. She decides to give up mirrors to see if this monumental change will allow her to concentrate on more important things in her life, including work and family.

“Was I lovely or ugly?” she asks. “I didn’t know, but it was time to stop constantly asking myself the question and move on to more important things.”

The book, inspired by a blog Gruys launched to chronicle her no-mirrors project, details her process of telling friends and family about the effort, writing rules — “all reflective surfaces count” — and figuring out logistics. It’s not an easy endeavor. Mirrors are everywhere — in bathrooms, bedrooms, cars, and on street corners. To meet her goal, she hangs curtains over her bathroom mirror and avoids her reflection on the street. She looks in car mirrors only for driving purposes and pares down makeup use to tools she can apply without a mirror.

While much of the book deals with the basic logistics of living without mirrors, some of Gruys’s writing is more esoteric, such as the moment she realizes her absent reflection is like a missing friend.

“Without my reflection around to wave hello to me during my work-from-home days, I began experiencing strange moments when I questioned my very existence,’’ she wrote. “If I couldn’t see myself, did I exist? But how did I know?”

She also enjoyed periods of not thinking of her appearance, learning to trust friends and family to advise her on clothes purchases; she let go of certain wedding-planning anxieties, and occasionally she would forgo makeup altogether.

On her wedding day, she had her hair done, makeup applied, and dress fastened without the help of seeing her reflection. She felt beautiful.

“As I stood among my closest friends, I felt exactly how I’d always hoped I would on my wedding day: confident, feminine, glamorous, and — most important — loved,’’ she wrote. “Did I believe — or want to believe — that I looked perfect? No. I wasn’t delusional, just practical. I believed in all of my heart that I looked good enough, and good enough was exactly how I wanted to feel.”

But the book doesn’t end on this positive note. Here the narrative drags as Gruys battles more insecurities — including new concerns about her weight, a botched hair dye, and a “coming out party” where she worries about not liking what she sees and feeling horrible about feeling horrible. She does eventually conquer these issues. She blogs about her weight and pledges to be “unapologetic” about her body. She realizes, after much introspection, that her hair crisis stemmed from self-doubt that she sheds. When she finally looks into the mirror, surrounded by friends and family, she likes what she sees.

Gruys follows a line of writers choosing yearlong projects, including Julie Powell’s plan to cook hundreds of Julia Child’s recipes and Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness project.” Gruys says her project did help her focus on more important things and become more confident. She concludes: “If I feel beautiful, I am beautiful, and that’s all I need to know.” Indeed, living without mirrors is a thought-provoking endeavor. This book offers some keen perspective on beauty and self-esteem. Yet it leaves the reader hoping for more.

Jenifer McKim, a Globe reporter on social issues and business, can be reached at jmckim@globe
.com
. Follow her on Twitter@
jbmckim.
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