Kjerstin has launched a project going a full year without looking in the mirror, the same year in which she was getting married, incidentally. A Ph.D. candidate in sociology, Kjerstin has focused much of her academic work on body image and eating disorders. But her years in the fashion industry as a merchandiser for Abercrombie & Fitch, and then GAP Corporate, were hardly an aside: Her dissertation on the shifting standards of clothing sizes merges her passions of body image, cultural body imperatives, and fashion. The best way to get to know Kjerstin’s work is following her blog, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall—and reading her upcoming book chronicling her yearlong adventure, slated to be published by Penguin in 2013.
I first really became conscious of body image and women’s issues in late high school to early college. I had anorexia, and in going through the physical and emotional elements of treatment, I had to carve out an understanding of how our culture kind of shaped my experience. Having an eating disorder, you’re always aware of your own body image, but it’s not until you’re recovering that you’re really forced to take a step back and realize that you have to question a lot of assumptions.
In recovery I had to gain weight and I couldn’t get on the scale, couldn’t know the number; if I got on the scale I’d have to check in with my physician or whatever. But I just had to trust the process. I had to trust that I really didn’t feel comfortable with the numbers going up, and I had to trust that the process of recovery was at some point going to get me comfortable with a larger number. In terms of recovery there’s a lot of self-monitoring and constantly asking myself whether my behavior is in line with my values or with my disease. And luckily the past four or five years the values have won out over the obsession.
So when I started this project I had to consciously think: How am I going to do this in a way that I know is healthy? I didn’t want it to make me feel more symptomatic and paranoid, so I actually had to make the decision to get back on the scale more frequently to make sure that my paranoia that I’m constantly gaining weight has a logical answer. I’ve had to get back on the scale, and I felt kind of ambivalent about that. But now I’m very pleased because it’s not worse—it’s better. In one sense the project has made me say, You know what, good enough is good enough. And that is actually a shift of my values. I’m still very perfectionistic at times, so there’s been a step back from perfection, which is great. But there’s also a sense of trying to find something else to quiet my questioning mind that’s scared about not knowing what I look like in the mirror. It’s possible that I still have some dysmorphia about what my body is, and avoiding mirrors sometimes allows my imagination to run wild. And getting back on the scale has helped me not be dysmorphic about that. Getting on the scale most days of the week keeps me more in tune with what’s going on with my body, which is important if you have a history of ignoring your body!