30-Day Mirror-less Experiment

I was originally going to title this “Mirrors Aren’t Paleo” just for grins.

But a similar statement from Keith Thomas over at Evfit did spark an interesting thought that eventually led me to this. His statement, regarding his body shape discussion:

I value performance first and I’m interested to see what body shape emerges from my activity regime and the diet I eat to deliver the best performance, rather than building an activity regime and diet to deliver an ideal body image. (There were no mirrors in the Pleistocene, so you’d never really know what you looked like.) (Emphasis mine -S)

But really, How would your eat and train if you didn’t know what you looked like? What cues would you follow to let you know you were doing well?

Henry Rollins wrote something similar in his description of his love of strength training, titled “The Iron:”

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. (Emphasis Mine -S)

Mr. P likely did this because a snot-nosed kid would gawk and stare and perhaps whine about progress not coming fast enough…it was a psychological trick to keep Mr. Rollins from being distracted from the work at hand…getting stronger for reps. But also the metric for if Mr. Rollins was doing well was not how he looked in a mirror but how he performed (in this case, how well he took a punch).

More importantly, one need only do a google search to see how many “fitness photo” tumblrs there are of people just furiously and obsessively taking photos posed in the mirror. Things are certainly worse than when Mr. Rollins was growing up in this regard.

So I dug around the journals to see if “mirror gazing” is associated with body dysmorphia. Well wouldn’t you know it…

Mirror gazing increases attractiveness in satisfied, but not in dissatisfied women: a model for body dysmorphic disorder?

Mirror gazing in body dysmorphic disorder and healthy controls: Effects of duration of gazing.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the ugliest of them all? The psychopathology of mirror gazing in body dysmorphic disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder.

Now the last one is interesting because it used to be that mirror gazing was positively correlated with attractiveness. It might still be that way but clearly there is a shift in what drives a person to gaze. I’d like to note something from the “Mirror, Mirror…” link above:

Results: Prior to gazing, BDD patients are driven by the hope that they will look different; the desire to know exactly how they look; a belief that they will feel worse if they resist gazing and the desire to camouflage themselves. They were more likely to focus their attention on an internal impression or feeling (rather than their external reflection in the mirror) and on specific parts of their appearance. They were also more likely to practise showing the best face to pull in public or to use “mental cosmetic surgery” to change their body image than controls. BDD patients invariably felt worse after mirror gazing and were more likely to use ambiguous surfaces such as the backs of CDs or cutlery for a reflection.

I do like that they used “ambiguous surfaces” like knives to look at their reflection. Kinda like this:

Dexter just being helpful...

And I have a feeling this girl has a little mirror-gazing cosmetic surgery practice so as to pull the same face off so spectacularly:

I am truly amazed.

The point here is that body dysmorphia has taken off and mirrors at least contribute to the dysmorphia in a feed-forward fashion.

Take it a step further: a mirror and this behavior is no different than people using their smartphones to snap 11tymillion photos of themselves until they find one that looks “good” or to have those taking their photos take shot after shot until one is “perfect.” To have that instant feedback regarding a photo being judged as “good” or “bad”, with the possible implication that everyone in the world won’t see me as a perfect human being is instantaneous.You used to have to wait at least 1 hour after you finished a roll of film to see if the shot was good and by then your emotional tie to looking “perfect” in that photo had been superceded by more pressing matters like sleep and real life.

While it’s been understood for a while now that the media’s “ideal body image” has beaten down the psyche of women (and why you end up with Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty“) this ideal body image in the media has started to affect men in the past decade or so. It continues to be studied and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and the obsession over getting the perfect photo so everyone on the internet won’t see your “flaws” leads to the same conclusion. Pro tip: they won’t notice your “flaws” as they’re too busy obsessing about their own “flaws.”

So I’m suggesting that a person take a 30-day mirror-less attitude so as to attempt to focus on intrinsic feelings of well being rather than external measures of well being or self-worth. It’s what I said above: How would your eat and train if you didn’t know what you looked like? What cues would you follow to let you know you were doing well? I’m suggesting that there are plenty of people who have started working out or improved their diet and got so hung up on the lack of immediate visual change that they stopped a good thing before it could really benefit them. Similarly, this is why my friends Dallas and Melissa very strongly suggest that you do not step on a scale during their Whole30® program.

Now I know you’ve got to use a mirror to make sure your hair doesn’t look like you’re in a hardcore band (or if you’re in a hardcore band, I know you have to work hard to make sure you look like you’re in a hardcore band), hence “mirror-less.” Rather this is an effort to avoid gazing at your naked torso in the mirror, flexing and doing who knows what to engage in self-judgement or ridicule. Rather, get out of the shower, put your clothes off, and then do your hair. Try to use the mirror just for grooming and checking to see if your mother would let you leave the house in the outfit…or your wife. Fringe benefits of being married, gentlemen: your own style consultatant.

Now I know for some of you this advice is as helpful as someone telling you to “eat less” when you’re trying to lose fat, hence my suggestion to focus on other intrinsic cues for how you’re feeling. I’m sure there have been times when you’ve felt like a million bucks and it had nothing to do with how you were perceiving yourself to look. You felt 7 feet tall…on top of the world. THESE are what I would suggest you focus on finding and then learning to cultivate during this mirror-less experiment.

For those of you who are extra hardcore, feel free to abandon social media during this period. You’ll both get over the FOMO (fear of missing out) and cultivate a sensitivity to these internal cues. Social media is the devil, anyway.

Finally, for those who might get itchy from doing the most muscular pose in your skivies, my buddy John Durant has already fashioned a workaround:

@SkylerTanner@melissamcewen I prefer to gaze at my reflection in water, like my hero Narcissus

So if you’re outside trying to get to your nearest river…hey, at least you’ve practicing being a human animal!

Email me if you’re going to try this with your feelings and your results.

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