The Mirror Diet

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

As far fetched as it may be, there was a morsel on the BBC radio this morning about a new diet – one which involves avoidance of a mirror. Now, as someone who generally prefers to avoid reflective surfaces already, I was more than a bit amused by the proposal to undertake a deliberate act of mirror dieting and to discover its improving effects. Like most diets, the suggestion is that you’ll somehow improve yourself by doing it, but here sadly the similarity ends. A moment’s casual reflection regrettably leaves one only to reason that the less you see of yourself, the better you’ll feel. Not exactly the way we’re accustomed to react to the success of losing a few pounds for example. Instead the exercise is more akin to telling someone you can bear the deprivation of their company; it has all the hallmarks of loss while at the same time giving a fairly broad hint at underlying unpleasantness.

I suspect however that a deeper analysis is required to unearth the florid meaning behind this unique drill. Surely the object can’t be merely what amounts to ignorance of materiality (which pointedly carries with it the assumption that you’re normally not worth looking at anyway). As with any diet the object has to be a combination of both winning appearance and health, in this instance a healthfulness which can only be intellectual (since there’s no implication that mirror dodging will magically change your physical appearance). This necessarily implies that the healthier mental state which mirror dieting supposedly foments will ultimately have the dimension of making you feel better about yourself and maybe even about the way you look. It’s that mind-body dichotomy at work again! Where does one draw the line? Is it the mirror which separates our components? Is the deteriorating body on one side of the mirror and the uplifting mind on the other? And which side is which? Or are the two indistinguishable?

Should we choose to continue further down this gangway of research, we are bound to confront the very issue which is at the soul of a mirror – namely, so what if it reflects a different view of what we once were or never were or now are compared to others (and besides who are those double-dyed “others” who apparently have such a monopoly upon appearance)? The question reduces itself to that age-old psychological matter of personal acceptance. Remember what Buddha said, “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way”

The corollary deduction is also intriguing. If there is any substance to mirror dieting one must per force conclude that looking in is more beneficial than looking out; and – on a nettlesome level – that what is within us is likely more aesthetic than what is without us, perhaps a small though convenient compliment. Here, however, I’m not entirely prepared to cave. Call me cautious, even wary, but I am not about to concede that the inner workings of mankind trump his exterior shell in every case. In this respect the mirror diet may amount to little more than deliberate deception or concealment, at the very least an illusory feat.

It would be preferable not to compare our exterior and interior; rather we should instead embrace the currency of our state of affairs, and the more compelling the need to do so, the better – for example, upon the eve of your wedding. What after all could traditionally be a more inopportune time to avoid a mirror than during the lead-up to one’s wedding? And yet as an exercise in constraint it is the perfect time to do so! Under the heated lights of the moment, one would be obliged to face the obsession with oneself, that shaky self-esteem, the failure to make the standard whatever you may harbour. In short, you are forced to accept yourself. Instead of looking to others for approbation of your achievements, you avoid not only the mirror but also the opinion of others. It leads one to consider who in fact we see in the mirror – ourselves or the opinions of others?

Winning the freedom of personal acceptance is not about convincing ourselves that we are perfect or about to be. Mirror dieting simply removes the distraction and highlights that our personal acceptance requires appraisal of both our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and successes, our failures and weaknesses. Being at peace with yourself doesn’t mean you are made differently than anyone else. Get to know the one person from whom you’ll never escape – you! So often the anxiety and stress we endure is the result of objecting to acquiescence to who we are and where we are. To accept is to receive – and more often than not we’re given a gift.