I can recall a warm and slightly windy afternoon in Barcelona this past fall while I was on my semester abroad. I was sitting at a street side coffee shop table sipping a petite café con leche, eavesdropping on the nearby conversations in Castellano. My eyes locked on the two young girls consumed in conversation sitting at the table adjacent to me. Both were covered head to toe in tattoos, endless images in reds, blacks, and blues twisting and winding their way across their arms, down their sides, and all along their legs. I couldn’t look away. I realized that my prolonged staring could be misinterpreted, considered rude, but the truth was I just had to keep looking. One of the young ladies had a quote inked right beneath the lacy side strap of her bra, along her rib cage, that read, “true beauty cannot be seen with the eyes.” I found myself thinking about the quote constantly. Even as I woke early the next day for my medieval history class my first thought as I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror brushing my teeth was this loveliness of those words.
In a society ruled by the media and brainwashed on a daily basis by advertisements, television, and constant contact via cell phones, I-pads, laptops, and radios it often feels impossible to disengage. Images portraying female idols and icons are recognized as those found along bus stations in Bebe ads and the women flanked across the pages of Vogue and Elle magazine dramatically underfed and over made up. So why is it that we have a cultural obsession with the external? What has driven us to worship women’s secondary sex characteristics over their intellect and wit? Since when are my “baby blues” and “nice ass” the only things that will get me talked about in a group of males (and females!). For me, the saddest and most troubling aspect of our obsession with external beauty is that I have found it to be one of the most heinous girl on girl crimes of our time. Women talking shit about other women’s bodies and appearances has become a rampant social crime. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times each day that I hear girls gossiping with other girls about the appearance of…another girl! And I can guarantee you that eighty percent of the time the conversation involves harsher words than not. So why is it that we find ourselves both the victims and the perpetrators? Why is it that girls are counting calories, devoting hours to the gym, putting on makeup before class, and ultimately feeling incredibly uncomfortable in their own skin and then turning around and tearing each other down?
Sitting in that café in Barcelona this fall I couldn’t help but think about my own life and my own insecurities. I will be the first to admit that I am no exception to the girl on girl crimes of today, and I had to ask myself, why??? This year I ask us, as women, but most importantly as peers of the planet, to ban together to fight for the same team. We as females hold the power to redefine what beauty truly is and what an ideal woman should be.
Allow me to introduce you to a woman who is taking this challenge and meeting it head on. Kjerstin Gruys describes herself as “a 20-something PhD student and newlywed. In my academic life I conduct research on the relationship between “beauty” and inequality. In my former (more glamorous, but less nerdalicious) life, I worked in the fashion industry. 6 months before my wedding, I decided I needed to go without mirrors… for a year.” Kjerstin began her “no mirrors” challenge on March 26th of 2011, and next month she will become the only recorded person in history to go an entire year without looking at herself. The Trinity College community has the honor and the privilege of being the first public audience that Kjerstin will address after looking in the mirror. Please come and join us on April 4th at 7:00pm in the Washington room to listen to Kjerstin speak about her experience, and to ask her questions about her journey. I encourage everyone to take a look at the link bellow to Kjerstin’s blog that charts her year without mirrors. This will surely be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that will leave a lasting impression on anyone who has ever examined, critiqued, or simply looked at their own reflection!
Love and Gratitude,
The program title (also her book title) is: Mirror, Mirror OFF the Wall: How a fashionista-turned-academic bride-to-be learned to love her body by not looking at it for 365 days
A 2006 survey published in NASPA’s Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice found that 75% of college students are dissatisfied with their weight. A survey published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders just a few years earlier found that 91% of women surveyed on college campuses had attempted to control their weight through dieting; 22% dieting “often” or “always.”
UCLA Ph.D. candidate, Kjerstin Gruys, swore off mirrors for a year last March, six months before her wedding date. Gruys is writing her dissertation on the discrepancy between clothing size standards in the fashion industry and body size standards in the medical field, and will be completing her challenge at the end of March 2012. The Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC) at Trinity College has invited Kjerstin to Trinity on Wednesday, April 4 at 7:00PM (Washington Room) to speak about her experience, research, and book due out at the end of next year.
Gruys is currently teaching Gender, Appearance and Inequality (an undergraduate course at UCLA).
Event Sponsors: PHAB, TCBWO, LVL, The Ivy Society, Zeta, Women, Gender & Sexuality Department, Young Women’s Leadership Program (a project of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women), YWCA of Hartford, National Organization for Women, CT Chapter, National Organization for Women, CT Chapter, and hopefully more to come!
(Link to Kjerstin’s Blog)