Friday, January 11, 2013

A Poor Reflection On Society

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In October, my father was niftar (passed away). Sitting shiva is part of Jewish mourning rituals, where the immediate family members of the deceased sit on low stools, rip their clothes, and mourn for a week.

Another part of shiva is covering all the mirrors in the house. One reason given for this custom is so that mourners are focused on grieving and not on their appearance. Another is because it is forbidden for mirrors to be in a place of prayer, where we should focus on God and not the appearances of humyn beings. Frankly, it’s a blessing that you can’t see yourself during shiva, since you’re also to allowed to shower, shave, or do much in the way of hygiene.

To be honest, it was amazing how empowered I felt sans mirrors. I’ve read about women who have done campaigns where they avoid looking into mirrors for a specific amount of time, and I’ve even considered doing something like it, but I just found it impossible. Ignoring the mirrors that hang in my bathroom and by my bed, they’re just about everywhere in the public world. There are huge ones above the sinks in every bathroom at my school. A building I pass as I walk to and from school is made out of reflective glass. Every public bathroom has mirrors. How could I avoid these mirrors on a regular basis?

But during shiva, I didn’t have this problem. Confined to the four walls of my home with covered mirrors, I felt AMAZING. Even though I knew I looked horrible by any societal standards in my unwashed, unshaved, and greasy state, it really didn’t bother me. If I had been exposed to reflective surfaces, however, I know I would have been messing with my hair in useless attempts to make it look less limp, staring at my skin and fretting about the surfacing pimples, and generally brooding over my lackluster appearance. Without mirrors around, I wasn’t physically capable of caring about how I looked, because I couldn’t actually see how I looked. Instead of worrying about my appearance and how I was presenting myself, I could focus on shiva and the people around me so much better.

Although I appreciated my Week of No Mirrors, the shiva period has been over for a while and I’m back in the real world, again surrounded by reflective surfaces. Although my self-esteem and confidence in my appearance was never abnormally low, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Western girl who’s completely and totally satisfied with every aspect of how she looks. I’m no exception to this rule.

It’s really a pathetic statement about our society that the only way a girl can feel good about herself is when there are no mirrors around. I know I shouldn’t generalize my own feelings as those of every other Western girl, but based on statistical and anecdotal evidence, I don’t think my own attitudes aren’t too unusual. So it’s just completely and totally messed up how obsessed we all are about how we look. Why should I care? Who am I trying to impress? And yet, I do care, and apparently am trying to impress somebody.

As much as I may dislike mirrors, they’re a reality I’ll have to face. I certainly hope my daughters and their friends will not feel as self-conscious as me and my generation, and that they do not have to grapple with looking into mirrors the way that I have.


  1. Are you familiar with "mirror fasts?"

  2. I've read about them before. But alas...not so practical for me.