Saturday, October 25, 2014

Could You Avoid Mirrors for 1 Year? Kjerstin Gruys Did

This past May sociology PhD candidate Kjerstin Gruys released the memoir “Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall:  How I learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at it for a Year.”  The book chronicled Gruys endeavor into wedding dress shopping, something that ended with her owning four possible wedding dresses.  This experience, and her recovery from an eating disorder, led Gruys to give up mirrors, and all reflective surfaces, for a year.  The result is a reflection on beauty, the industry of beauty, body image and what it means to “love your body.”  mirrormirror

I am also a sociologist and my own research rests in how women use music as a means to heal themselves following trauma.  This month my first book will be out in the world.  My book, “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos“, addresses (among other things) how women have used music as a way to help themselves heal during and after treatment for an eating disorder.  Because of this background, and the things I have learned writing for this website, I was fascinated when I heard of Gruys work and thought that a post from a couple of sociologist women hanging around talking about body image could be interesting.  Check it out below.

ADRIENNE:  In the book you talk about the inspiration for Mirror Mirror coming from your experiences buying wedding dresses.  What do you think it was about buying a wedding dress and looking in mirrors that made you decide to give up mirrors for a year? 

KJERSTIN: I think that my wedding dress experience was so disappointing (and angering!) because I had such high expectations. Women are told that shopping for a wedding dress is supposed to be a joyful once-in-a-lifetime-so-it-better-be-good experience, and that we’ll “know” when we find “the one.” I think that expectation is unrealistic and damaging, especially when the reality involves pushy/rude salespeople who are paid on commission!  I chose one year instead of shorter because I’m a “go big or go home” kind of person, so a more ambitious goal was more exciting to me. More importantly, I wanted to really learn from the experience and see if it could produce lasting change. I knew it would take a month for me to even figure out HOW to do it, and hoped that a year would be enough to feel the benefits.
ADRIENNE: Preach!  The woman at David’s Bridal was shocked that I didn’t want a vale and that her tricks of “close your eyes and pretend you are walking toward him. What is the dream dress you are wearing?” didn’t seem to work!  All I said was “Uh, I just don’t want anything to fall out.” What do you think has the largest impact (in pop culture) on the ways girls and women view their bodies?
KJERSTIN: I think that advertising images are the most harmful, not only because they depict only a very narrow range of body types as “beautiful,” but also because photo retouching has become increasingly exaggerated, leaving girls and women with truly impossible body ideals to contend with. The models don’t even look like the models these days!
ADRIENNE:  Could not agree more!  I feel like, when I see “normal” women in any sort of media that I have to stare in disbelief that she was allowed to be photographed in her natural state!  Can you think of any positive steps being taken to combat this? (websites, campaigns etc.)

KJERSTIN – I think that the Dove Real Beauty Campaign has a lot to be proud of, and I like what we’ve seen in some European countries that require runway models to above a minimum Body Mass Index (BMI) in order to walk the runways.realbeauty
ADRIENNE: How do you see healing connected with loving, or appreciating, your body?
KJERSTIN: I tell girls and women the same thing over and over: our bodies were made to be lived in, not looked at. Truly, when we claim our bodies as OURS, we have no choice but to love it and appreciate it. We have no other vehicle with which to experience our lives!ADRIENNE: You talk about recovering from an eating disorder in the book.  What advice do you have for others who are recovering?
KJERSTIN: My advice for those who are recovering comes in two pieces, both from my own recovery experience. First, every single day that you spend NOT recovering or working toward recovery is one day closer to having an eating disorder for your entire life. I meat a woman in her 50s while I was in recovery. She’d suffered from bulimia since her teens, wore dentures, and looked 20 years older than she was. We became friends, and I loved her, but it terrified me to know that I could BE her if I didn’t make the decision to recover.  Second, I urge all people recovering from EDs to learn about the ways our media culture is toxic to women (and increasingly men!). Tap into the anger you deserve to feel, and use that anger (at our culture, not ourselves!) to help power your recovery. My own anger helped me identify as an activist and advocate, not just a victim.
ADRIENNE: This message is so empowering, especially since girls are taught that their bodies will be up for discussion and that they should be discussing other girls bodies.    Do you have any suggestions for helping girls to lay that claim? 
KJERSTIN – Any way to remind girls of all the great things their bodies can DO is good, whether that’s an athletic activity or even just really good sex education, such as information about sex that tells girls they deserve to find sex pleasurable!
ADRIENNE: If your year without mirrors had a musical soundtrack, what would it be?
KJERSTIN: A soundtrack!? That’s great!  Here are a few:
Firework” by Katy Perry  Such an empowering song! An anthem for people in their most vulnerable moments of self-doubt and loneliness. The music video for this one brings me to tears. (I especially love the part when a formerly insecure chubby woman jumps into the pool in her bikini!)
 
Born This Way” by Lady GaGa This is a great song for body acceptance. I’m also an admirer of Lady Gaga for being open about her struggles with disordered eating and the pressure she feels as a pop star, to be thin.
 
I’ll be your Mirror” by Velvet Underground. It encapsulates my relationship w/ my husband. It was the song for our first dance.
Shake it out” by Florence and the Machine. A great song when you need to rid yourself of negativity!
Breathe (2am)” by Ana Nalick. When I’m feeling particularly (i.e., really) low, I try to not avoid my feelings but let myself experience them, breathe through it, ride the wave… This song is a great reminder!
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Kjerstin Gruys is a PhD candidate in sociology at UCLA and the author of the recently published book “Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year” (Avery; May 2013) which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly who described it as “inspiring” and “required reading for those women who struggle with body-image – and even those who don’t.” – She has written for Salon.com, The Huffington Post and maintains a blog at A Year Without Mirrors.

Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, PhD is the author of the forthcoming book “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos”, which is available for pre-order on Amazon.  She studies emotions and music as well gender stereotypes in pop culture.  Adrienne is a professor of sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.

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  1. [...] “I tell girls and women the same thing over and over: our bodies were made to be lived in, not looked at. Truly, when we claim our bodies as OURS, we have no choice but to love it and appreciate it. We have no other vehicle with which to experience our lives,” said Kjertstin, in an interview with We Are the Real Deal. [...]



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