Mirror, mirror … you are an eating disorder trigger no more

Mirror, mirror … you are an eating disorder trigger no more

Mirror, mirror … you are an eating disorder trigger no more

Mirrors have been part of my life since puberty, when I started getting acne and wearing makeup. Mirrors didn’t rate before then. What a wonderful time that must have been! In my early 20s, a friend suggested I get a fun house mirror that made me look thinner (I frequently asked, “Do I look fat?” and my friend was tiring of the question).
Like scales, mirrors give a false validation
For a person with an eating disorder (ED), mirrors can assume an exaggerated role, much like the scale. I wonder if this is a “chicken and the egg” situation. Did preoccupation with my appearance fuel the ED because of the mirror or despite it? Whatever the case, as years passed, I cared more about how I looked, not only to me, but to others.

As the ED grew stronger, my self-confidence grew weaker, and I depended on the reflection in the mirror to validate my worth continually each day. While it feels vain to admit that, my mirror peeks were never to admire my reflection. They were the opposite. I almost always found fault.

Aging increased the problem

Aging increased the problem. As I grew older, the mirror and the ED teamed up and I had to try harder, I had to try to look younger in every way. They made a formidable team. If I was content with one aspect of my reflection at that moment, my attention would be drawn to some other flaw on which to focus, hurling rapid-fire insults to make sure I got the message. Heaven forbid I had the audacity to feel content in my body. 

Since I began recovery of my healthy self nearly three years ago, I’ve ditched the bathroom scale, an accomplishment of which I’m proud. Eliminating that “moment of truth” first thing each morning has made a remarkable difference in my recovery. I felt terrified at first, but now I don’t even think about it.

My latest quest is to try the same approach with the mirror.

Besides scales, the mirror is a great go-to place for bodychecking – for years I had partaken in daily weighing, measuring and/or looking at my body in the mirror for feedback. My solution to nullifying this mirror dependency, to be effective, would have to be drastic. I decided, yes, I would have to remove or cover mirrors in my home. 

I resisted this approach because it scared the daylights out of me. For a long time, vanity and insecurities about my appearance took precedence over tried-and-true advice from others who had fully recovered from their ED.

The ED had been living in my mirrors, telling me, “You will never be good enough, let alone the fairest of them all.”

As a result, even though I’d restored weight, was feeding myself appropriately, and understood that I’m more than a number on a scale, I’ve been stuck—and I’m tired of it.

I covered my mirrors

So, several months ago, I covered my mirrors. Not all of them—just those where I could see most of my body, basically from my chest down. Honestly, I still care about my appearance in terms of hair and makeup, but the mirrors that show more have been covered. Initially, I’ve used plastic hair clips to fasten fabric over the mirrors on a trial basis. If this strategy appeared to quieten ED’s voice, I would replace the fabric covers with vinyl window cling film sourced online, to make it more aesthetically pleasing. 

If I’d known about the window cling option sooner, I might have tried this sooner, so I want to share this idea with others. I’m also going to share my experience through a two-week period, starting at the beginning.

Day One

I’ve been “mirrorless,” for less than 24 hours, and I’m experiencing a deep sense of peace and calm—more than I expected. I’ve noticed the emotional change most in the bedroom, where I pass a large mirror on the dresser many times in a day. My habit was to bodycheck in that mirror frequently, but I hadn’t realized how often. Now, when walking past it, unable to see my reflection, instead of feeling panic and insecurity, I feel okay. It’s sort of a miracle! I’m trying to trust how I feel in my clothes feel rather than how I look in them. I imagine it might be challenging when purchasing new items of clothing, but for the clothes I have, that works for now.

I am hopeful this comfort will improve over time, as I focus less on how I look. Time will tell, but for now, I’m full of hope and optimism. Why didn’t I try this sooner?

Day Two

I remain hopeful and optimistic about my covered mirrors. It’s strange to have the mirrors that I’ve lived with for so long no longer able to reflect anything —light, the opposite side of the room, or the self-imposed judgment to which I’m so accustomed. It feels peaceful, neutral but also feels like I’m working without a net. I proved that today by wearing a new dress. I don’t yet have a reliable sense of how it looks on my body, so this was a challenge.

I confess that I tried to sneak a peek in a mirror I hadn’t covered yet, but it didn’t work well. Since that mirror is over a sink, I had to stand on my tiptoes and peer down which was extremely awkward. As I peeked, I felt like I was letting myself down. Sitting with my disappointment, I told myself that it’s okay to feel anxious. It’s also okay to slip up and seek reassurance. I’m trying a new, brave thing and need to be patient with myself. The anxiety doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with me or the dress. I need to remember that these feelings will pass, as feelings do. (I’ve since covered the lower portion of that mirror, to remove the temptation).

Day Three

I’ve decided to turn my decision to peek in the mirror yesterday into a teachable moment and to not berate myself about it. Guilt and shame have no place here as I try this new approach. I’ve also learned that if I resist the ED voice telling me to look, the feeling of power and pride far surpass the tiny bit of reassurance the mirror might provide. Most times I’ve sought validation from a mirror, it’s been more negative than positive due to ED’s voice whispering in my mind. I also don’t want to impede my progress. So, today, no peeking and no great desire to peek.

Day Four

This is a noteworthy day because I haven’t had any mirror-peeking urges. I was invited to a neighborhood barbecue, so this was the first time I would be socializing without scrutinizing my reflection before leaving the house. Guess what? I didn’t give much thought to how I looked all evening. I didn’t give much thought to how others looked either; I enjoyed the company and conversation. This feels like progress!

Day Five – Day Seven

My first week without bodychecking in the mirror is over and it’s gone well. I still find myself glancing in the large mirror in the bedroom, but then I remember that I can’t see anything and I feel good! The other day, my therapist asked me how I will feel when I encounter mirrors or windows in other places. Will I critique my reflection? Will I be triggered? That’s a good question, as there are reflective surfaces everywhere. I’m not worried about glass doors and windows because they’re often distorted in some way. Mirrors are a different story. The other day I was in the restroom at a store and was confronted with a mirror that covered an entire wall. I had a moment of panic, but then averted my eyes as I walked past. Before my mirror experiment, I would’ve paused for a moment, checked how my body looked, experienced dissatisfaction, and exited the restroom feeling sadder than when I’d walked in. By not looking in the mirror, my day and my mood weren’t affected at all. In fact, I felt proud for not giving in to the body-checking behavior. ED had no power over me.

Day Eight

I started Week Two with a bit of a bang. Feeling strong, I decided to wear something that has always caused a lot of body checking. This outfit has always made me more aware of my stomach—the part of me I’ve most scrutinized since restoring weight. I’m proud to report that not only did I not peek in the mirror, but I also wore this outfit the entire day. I’m still not particularly fond of it, so I might donate it somewhere, but it passed the mirror test, and I appreciate it for that.

Day Twelve

Today I was asked if the goal of this experiment is to be able look at my body in the mirror and feel positive about it. I’m not aiming for loving what I see or feeling positive about it, but rather to feel neutral, as in this is my body. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just IS. If I make a positive judgment about it one moment, that leaves the door open for a negative judgment to sneak in the next, so remaining neutral feels sustainable. It also feels calm and peaceful. I no longer want to engage in the cycle of body checking which always leads to judgment and shame, which leads to more body checking and so on. One always leads to the other; it’s exhausting and pointless. I also want to stop comparing myself to others, as this behavior cultivates pointless and damaging judgments. All bodies are perfectly fine the way they are.

Reflections after two weeks

I’ve never been a reliable judge of my appearance. The ED had skewed my perception of how I truly am. By covering the mirrors, the wicked ED voice in my mind has been muffled and even silenced. I see now that I have a choice of lens when considering self or others – a lens informed by compassion or judgment. I’ve always viewed my body in a negative light, and assumed others did so, too. It’s astounding how far the tentacles of an ED extend and how firmly entrenched they become after decades of ED compliance. That’s why early diagnosis and treatment are invaluable; the ED has a better chance of being eradicated before it settles in too deeply. 

We can create new neural pathways in the brain when we change our behavior. My therapist used the analogy of therapy being her giving me a small shovel with which to make a new path in my brain. Each time I make a change in my behavior to reject the ED, I’m digging the new path, bit by bit.

I’m sure she called it a small shovel because therapy can be a complicated, often slow process. By covering my mirrors, I feel I’ve started digging a new neural pathway in my brain with an earthmover rather than a plastic toy shovel. I feel powerful. I’m excited to see what comes next!

Mirrors are not a true reflection of who I am

The initial two weeks of my no-mirror-campaign have been interesting. I’ve questioned many things I’ve previously taken for granted, from why I had needed to see my full reflection on a daily basis, to how much damage was caused in trying to achieve society’s unrealistic standards.

Mirrors do not provide a true reflection of who I am. My hope is that without mirrors for validation, I will get better at looking within to where my true value lies.


I am an author who writes fiction as a way to make sense of things for myself and hopefully, my readers. Exploring complex, often painful issues to find meaning and hope is central to my motivation as a writer.

I live in Minnesota with my husband, where the long, cold winters provide ample time to write. My novels include A Charmed Life, Ahead of Time and most recently, A Battle for Hope, a novel about eating disorders. These books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both digital and print form.

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