A great new body image book is dropping this week and you need to add it to your bookshelf. Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall might, on the surface, seem like one woman’s story of trying to rehabilitate her body image but it is so much more than that. If you’ve ever lingered to long in the mirror, if you’ve ever worried about how you will look on your ‘special day’, if you’ve battled an eating disorder or disorder eating behaviors, if you wonder how we ever got here, you’ll be interested in this book. I invited Kjerstin Gruys to share her book and experiences here with us, and I also scored a book to giveaway to one of you. And there are lots of links below to help you buy your own copy, too. So read on to learn more about the book, Kjerstin, and how to win a copy!
Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall was born from a personal experience. Can you talk about how the book came into being and what it offers readers?
When I began shopping for wedding dresses I found myself feeling unusually critical of my appearance. I “felt fat” and wanted to lose a bit of weight before the wedding. I started thinking a lot about my appearance, and felt pressure to look “my best” on “the most important day of my life.” This vanity contradicted my values, both as a recovered anorexic and as a feminist sociologist. I didn’t know how to stop obsessing, but eventually decided that I might have to change my actions and habits before my thoughts would change. My main goal in going without mirrors for a year was to reduce the extent to which my appearance was dominating my time, my thoughts, and my checkbook! I didn’t set out to feel “more beautiful” but, rather, to stop conflating my looks with my entire sense of self.
After a few months of the project I started blogging, garnered some media attention, and eventually landed a book contract. Spending a year writing the book AFTER my year without mirrors helped me really “reflect” on what had changed, why and how.
Readers of Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall will enjoy:
- Humorous anecdotes detailing my brushes with the “Bridezilla” culture
- A frank treatment of what it means to have, and recover from, an eating disorder
- Historical and sociological information on beauty privilege and body image
- Meditations on how mirrors inform our self-perceptions and social interactions
- Thought-provoking discussions on how feminism and body image interact and intersect in the 21st century, and much more.
Often times as writers, we are writing what we most need to learn or what we most need to be reminded. What was a lesson you learned from experiencing and/or writing Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall?
My most important lesson was learning how to accept a compliment. This involved a rethinking of what it means to trust. For most of my adult life I’ve struggled to trust people when they compliment me, especially when loved ones complimented me. My reaction was one of suspicion, imagining that the person was only saying nice things to me because they loved me. I felt like I was the only person who could decide whether or not I was good enough. And, of course, I never was.
But during my year without mirrors, I was completely dependent on other people for feedback on my appearance. Sure, a lot of this had to do with making sure that I didn’t have food in my teeth, but for the first time in my life, if someone complimented my looks I couldn’t rush to a mirror to decide “for myself.” Instead I had to trust that the people around me were telling me the truth. Ultimately I realized how backwards my thinking had been: if the people who love you think that you’re beautiful, that’s really what matters the most.
Could you talk a little bit about what makes up your professional life and how you make it happen?
In addition to being a (burgeoning) author, I am also a doctoral candidate in the UCLA Department of Sociology. In my role as an academic I spend time teaching, conducting research, and writing journal articles about my research. I am broadly interested in understanding how “beauty” and style relate to social inequality. In particular, my dissertation examines “lookism” in the workplace.
An issue we discuss regularly on this blog is self-awareness/ acceptance/ and appreciation. Given that, what do you most appreciate about yourself?
I am incredibly proud of my “bring it on” attitude when it comes to projects that I’m passionate about. I often find myself overcommitted, but I wouldn’t be happy without actively engaging in the causes that move me.
Another important topic on this blog is community engagement. What is a community issue that you care about and why does it matter to you? How do you involve yourself in affecting change in that area?
I am passionate about making sure girls and young women (and adult women! And boys! And men!) develop skills for media literacy. Our mass media is saturated with unrealistic and harmful messages about our bodies and our desires. I was heavily influenced by images of impossibly thin women in magazines and on TV. These unrealistic representations of women didn’t cause my eating disorder, but they helped me get sicker and stay sick longer.
For the past three years I’ve been a volunteer with About-Face, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. About-Face is dedicated to equipping women and girls with tools they can use to understand and resist harmful media messages that threaten their self-esteem and body image. I serve as a program evaluation consultant and also give media literacy workshops in local middle-schools and high-schools. It’s awesome.
What do you wish all women knew?
I wish all women knew that our bodies were made for living, not being looked at.
Want to win a copy of Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall? Comment here on what struck you about Kjerstin’s interview by Monday, May 13th at 8 am EST. I’ll randomly draw one name from all the commenters to win the book.