By HELENA WU, columnist
It’s a cycle as predictable as clockwork. You wake up in the morning, groggy and disoriented. The alarm vibrates near you in an aggravated, staccato drone. But through the haze, one primitive, inexorable impulse beckons persistently: go look in the mirror—now. Every day you automatically obey the command, and you have done so for so long that the mirror check ritual is almost perfunctory. It doesn’t end there, though, not by a long shot. Throughout the day, you most likely will continue to monitor your appearance via any reflective surface you can find. Bathroom mirrors, iPhone cameras, and scientific calculators all become devices to inflate your vanity.
Caring about how you look is completely normal, a habit that is ingrained into our psyche by our culture, in a world of first impressions and flashing glances. After all, it just wouldn’t do to be unkempt; you wouldn’t want people to believe that your personality might be just as unattractive. As with everything else, though, there is an almost indistinctive border between what is worthwhile and what is excessive. If you find yourself longing for a mirror in the middle of class, that might be a sign that your self-worth relies on your physical appearance a little too much. There is a difference between using the mirror and letting it use you. It is incredibly easy to fall into the latter’s trap.
Whenever we consider an item a necessity or repeat a behavior religiously, there is an opportunity to learn about ourselves from examining our actions. What are our internal and external motivations? How are we engaging in the activity, and what benefit are we deriving? Unless you’re spiffing up for a college interview or an event that is equally as momentous, excessively preening in the mirror soon becomes nonproductive. No matter what, a mirror is an external object with no inherent value other than what you see in it. Invest too much in a piece of glass and it becomes a crutch.
There is an easy way to prove how much the mirror matters to you: go without it, for as many days as you can manage. At the end of the first day, you may find yourself instinctively walking into the bathroom, not because nature is calling, but because the mirror is. Even forgoing your cell phone might not be as difficult a task, especially if you use your cell phone camera mainly to check your hair. If you balk at this idea at first glance, it is proof that such an experiment is all the more worth it. We only truly comprehend the importance something holds when it is taken away from us. Chances are that the absence will feel unbearable at first, but you will soon find new perspectives to reward your endurance. There is more room for risk-taking and independence—and yes, even happiness—when grooming yourself is not a priority. There is freedom when you stop holding yourself to such a high, sometimes stress-inducing standard over something ephemeral like appearance—but it is a freedom that not many are willing to explore, whether out of fear or stubbornness.
Can you last one or two days without looking at yourself in a mirror, cell phone camera, or car window? How about five, ten, or eleven? Your self-care doesn’t have to stop; you could primp and prep through your usual routine, but without feedback. This way, there is no affirmation for external attributes; but maybe that’s for the better. Perhaps needing validation for outside appearance is simply a sign that there’s no acceptance of what’s inside.