A month without mirrors

Autumn, at The Beheld, writes:

As of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, May 1, 2011, I’ve embarked on a monthlong mirror fast. Thirty-one days of no mirrors, store windows, shiny pots, spoons, or the dark glass of the subway.

My personal bathroom mirror is shrouded; my windows will either be open at night or be covered with drawn blinds so that I can’t sneak a peek. At public places and the homes of others, I will avert my eyes where I know there’s a mirror, and will look away as quickly as possible if I run into an unexpected reflection.

Why is she doing this? She writes:

What I am concerned about is the uncomfortable recognition I had when reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. He writes:

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. … And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. … Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.

Reading this was the first time I’d understood that objectification does not mean sexualization. Because I don’t usually present myself in a particularly sexualized manner, I thought I’d done what I could to safeguard against my own objectification. But I haven’t, because in many ways it’s near-impossible: Women are constantly being looked at. Even when we’re not, we’re so hyperaware of the possibility of being looked at that it can rule even our most private lives. Including in front of our mirrors, alone.

Something like this might be an interesting experiment to suggest for one’s students (for a day, or something like that!) when reading de Beauvoir or Bartky.

8 thoughts on “A month without mirrors

  1. dear and divine…. good post….

    every man and woman wishes to know his or her origin .

    It is the desire of seeing one’s own image and for that we need a mirror……purpose of cosmic creation…

    Children are our mirror , in their childhood we mirror ourselves as we do not remember our childhood so is the cosmic intelligence.

    Mirror is the unison of two opposites , transparent glass and non transparent silver, the non attribute consciousness and the attribute body,both of them unite to form the mirror. this is a rule and rule applies to all. truth is for everyone and everyone has a possibility to become mirror for God.

    love all..

  2. This is pretty interesting, especially when you throw body dimorphism into the mix. I wonder if this works the same way, though, for women who are blind. Are some of them actually freed from thinking of themselves often as visible objects?

  3. What a treat to see this in my Google Reader! Thank you for mentioning this. I’m off to read some Bartky now–I haven’t read anything of hers yet and appreciate the recommendation.

  4. Autumn, I am impressed by the thought behind the project. I’ve just bookmarked your blog, and I’ll look forward to learning what happens.

  5. A student many years ago wrote in Feminist Philosphies that among other things, this is what porn does, teaches us to view oneself having sex with another from a point of view outside one’s body such that the immediate experience of being is lost. I’ve also thought of all the commercials where women are preening with a product and how very often they appear narcissistic to me. This leads me to think that the male gaze, then adopted by many women, leads us to become narcissistic.

  6. Evidently, you don’t drive. *snicker*

    As someone who doesn’t own a mirror and generally looks at my hands while washing up, I don’t see how this is revolutionary at all.

  7. I recognise this way of visualising oneself from the outside as well as feeling from the inside simultaneously, but I never considered that this was a particularly female way of being. Why does Berger think only women do this? I am thinking about Lacan’s notion of the Mirror Stage in which the infant is entranced and empowered by seeing his/her reflection in the mirror and realising for the first time that there is an organic oneness to the body and that one is an object in the world as well as a perceiving sentience. This narcissism is a characteristic of the human rather than the female and is one of the abilities that we use to transform ourselves into proactive social beings (for better or worse).

    What does anyone else think?

  8. While I applaud Autumn’s project (if only because I believe it will be difficult yet personally revelatory), I worry though that she equates internalization of the spectator’s gaze with objectification. Certainly she’s right in that objectification need not be solely sexual objectification. But objectifying someone needs more than simply being watched and or watching ones’ self. (Here I’m pulling on Nussbaum’s criteria for objectification.)

    It seems to me that seeing ones’ self (at times) through the eye of the beholder might not only be beneficial but also necessary. Certainly, understanding how we appear to others helps us navigate in the world. Where it becomes problematic is when other’s skewed perceptions of how we OUGHT to be, is internalized. Clearly this happens more frequently to women than men and Autumn’s project highlights the need to be aware of the internalization of and conformity to the spectator’s gaze.

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