Could you live without a mirror?

I just returned from a trip to Hilo, my hometown on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. During my stay, I spent four nights in Captain Cook, South Kona, to attend a workshop by Aadil Palkhivala at Big Island Yoga Center. I rented a rustic in-law apartment with futon on floor and open-air kitchen and bathroom. Tropical foliage surrounded the house, along with a few wild chickens and cows.

As a Lonely Planet writer, I’ve viewed countless vacation rentals and mentally rated this one a “decent value.” It could’ve used a thorough professional cleaning (immaculateness can boost a no-frills studio to A+ in my book), but I loved the space and greenery. The noise outside—branches rustling and wings fluttering, moos and cock-a-doodle-doos—didn’t bother me, although I initially thought I was being spied on.

I did need to provide three things for myself: Dishwashing liquid. Paper towels. And a mirror.

I noticed the first two immediately, during my initial wipe-down of the place. The lack of mirror went unnoticed till late the first night.

Now, I’m not a constant mirror looker. I don’t wear makeup and only occasionally use contact lenses. I do Iyengar yoga, not Bikram yoga, which involves looking at one’s mirror image while doing asana. But don’t I need to check if my sunscreen is blended and my hair not a wreck? How will apply my whitening strips? What about the eyelashes that seem to migrate into my eyes every so often?

The second day I bought a cheap compact mirror. It got me thinking about whether I could live without one. My dog and cat don’t check their appearances in the mirror. They groom themselves “blindly” and they are gorgeous. They are aware of themselves from the inside, not from looking at themselves from the outside.

Imagine if we never saw how we look from the outside. Would that change our self-image and our behavior? I recalled that 1954 Norman Rockwell painting Girl at Mirror. Growing up, all kids scrutinize themselves, especially their faces, to figure out the age-old question: Who am I?

We probably all look at ourselves in a mirror at least once daily, if only casually while brushing our teeth. Seeing our own faces viscerally reminds ourselves of our existence. We see changes from day to day, year to year, and we align “inner me” and “outer me.” Maybe mirrors help to keep us honest. Can you look yourself in the eyes if your conscience is guilty?

In yoga, it’s distracting to watch one’s reflection doing asana, but I find it revealing occasionally to check my form in a mirror: Is my thoracic spine really concave in Urdhva Mukha Uttanasana? Is my pelvis neutral in Chaturanga Dandasana?

Mirror issues soon gave way to full days of yoga (and island life in general). But these thoughts momentarily popped into my head thanks to the missing mirror!

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8 thoughts on “Could you live without a mirror?

  1. There are many similar “conveniences” of modern life which are mere habits of social enculturation and ego.

    Do I need it? Do I want it? Should I…? Why not? (*)

    Why deprive myself? And why do I care what I look like?

    Any crutch I use if I do not need it… before long I’ll need it. Look around you — they’re everywhere.

    Pretty article. Thanks.

    *PS>>the solution is to apply the part of yoga that is not asana; answers will come if we are sincere.

  2. Thanks for your post. I went the middle way: a small mirror in the bathroom (you want to check if you’ve still got food stuck between your teeth or toothpaste on your cheek, right?) but no full sized mirror. It would do a lot of good to many women not to be able to check every ten minutes if they look slim/fat in their pants. We’re way too critical with ourselves and mirrors just add to that pressure.

  3. Your conscience is guilty? I’m listening.

    True, SlyStone is a good-looking cat, but he may know it. He’s definitely not blind about it. Last night I watched him seduce (be seduced by?) his own reflection on the upstairs landing, followed by a nose-to-virtual-nose.

  4. Since becoming a mom, I often forget to look at myself in the mirror and I inevitably leave the house with something askew or completely non-coordinated. Then I’m out and about and feeling self-conscious because I know I look crazy! So looking in the mirror has slowly morphed for me. Whereas before, I used to spend a lot of time looking in the mirror criticizing my perceived flaws. Now, as an act of making time for myself, I have to remind myself to take a quick a look.

  5. I actually grew up in a house without mirrors and that did not improve at all my confidence in my body image. Quite on the contrary, it was a source of extreme frustration while growing up, and still is every time I visit my parents’ house. Not having a mirror prevented me from accepting and embracing my own image. Actually, even to-day, every time a look at a mirror, I feel like I am looking at a stranger. If you ask me, not having a mirror put me in serious trouble with my image; not having one. Just saying.

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