mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mirrorless Monday, or why it must be someone else's fault if you don't like what you see in the mirror...

I was at the gym at the university I work for a few days ago when I saw a sign that they would be celebrating "mirrorless Monday" as part of "body image week" and covering up all the mirrors in the bathrooms and locker rooms, as well as in the weightlifting areas. There are so many things wrong with this that I fear I may break my keyboard typing them. It's the kind of stupidity that can only come out of the bubble that is higher ed, where there aren't enough real problems, so instead people need to be protected from the real world.

The first is the fact that most people don't look in the mirror because they are trying to decide how they feel about themselves, but instead to solve more practical and immediate questions - like if they have a piece of this morning's breakfast stuck in their teeth or if their hair is sticking up. The reality is that we judge people by their appearance, and preventing people from looking at themselves doesn't mean that they will not be judged, but instead that they will not have the opportunity to look their best when being judged.

The second problem with this is the idea that if you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, it's the fault of society or the media or advertisers or something other than the choices that you have made in terms of diet and exercise. Feeling bad about how you look isn't a bad thing - it's a way of making you realize that maybe you should put down that third donut and spend some time on the elliptical.

Yes, I realize that part of the reason for body image week is probably because of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. But the reality is that a very, very tiny group of people suffer from those things, while most Americans are overweight or obese - 1.6% of Americans are anorexic or bulimic while 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. Rather than protecting people from feeling bad about the way they look, the University would be better served by making more people feel bad about the way they look, because chances are they SHOULD feel bad about the way they look.

The third problem I have with this is that it assumes that looking in the mirror makes you feel worse about yourself. But for many people - especially people who actually make some effort to live somewhat healthy lives - looking in the mirror is an uplifting experience, because it validates what they've been doing and lets them see the results of good choices they've made. When I look in the mirror, I do see that I could stand to lose a few more pounds and put on some more muscle - but I also see that I'm in much better shape than I was a few years back, and that I've got a little bit more muscle than I used to - and seeing that the choices I've made are working.

Is "Mirrorless Monday" the biggest problem ever? No. But I do think it illustrates an attitude that is prevalent in this country, and especially on college campuses - the idea that certain things - including physical appearance, wealth, success, intelligence - are completely outside of people's control, and if you aren't where you want to be it's not your fault and you shouldn't feel bad about.


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