click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Mirror Mirror Off the Wall
Mom with a View

Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Making character our primary focus does not mean that we should go around unkempt, wearing a burlap sack.


Rumor has it that certain left wing kibbutzim eat pork on Yom Kippur. Their ostensible goal is to demonstrate that the day is completely irrelevant to them. I always thought that if it truly meant nothing, they would treat it as a regular day and not arrange a dramatically defiant repast. Clearly it still holds some power over them.

Likewise with children who fight with their parents to prove their independence. True independence doesn’t need to be asserted. Children who have matured and cultivated their own individuality and sense of self don’t need to provoke a fight with their parents to show it.

And I think the same also applies to Kjerstin Gruys, a UCLA doctoral student, who spent a year not looking in any mirrors in order to separate herself from an unhealthy obsession with body image (and presumably to write the recently released book, Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year). It’s not the mirror that’s the problem (although she does claim that the average woman looks in the mirror 70 times a day – how is that possible? Aren’t we all too busy for that?!). As with the other examples, true independence from her obsession would make mirrors irrelevant, not taboo.

I certainly agree with Ms. Gruys that 70 times a day seems, shall we say, a bit much. But I don’t think the mirrors are really the problem. The desire to look attractive is hard-wired. It’s natural and normal. And can even be good (I actually wish that some of those baristas at Starbucks with the tongue piercings and oversized holes in the ears would look in the mirror a little more frequently!). We want to make sure that we are presenting an appropriate image of ourselves.

And that’s where the problem lies. Obsession with looks to the detriment of all else means we’ve missed one of life’s crucial lessons along the way, a lesson that can’t be learned by simply avoiding all mirrors.

It means that no one taught us that our internal self is more important than our external self. No one advised us to emphasize character over beauty. Or if they did, we didn’t believe them because we didn’t see anyone truly living that way. And that’s a real shame.

It’s a delicate balance. Making character our primary focus does not mean that we should go around unwashed, unkempt and wearing a burlap sack. That’s also not independence.

Concern with our physical appearance is here to stay. It just shouldn’t be our main emphasis.

We want to look presentable. We want to look dignified. We want our looks to reflect our inner good. We don’t want to look like we don’t care and we don’t want to look like we care too much. We don’t want to be obsessed and we don’t want to be cavalier. We want a healthy balance, a healthy relationship with ourselves, a healthy perspective on our bodies, a healthy attitude towards our external presentation and a healthy focus on our character traits and the inner life of our souls.

Extreme reactions aren’t usually effective. Just like fad diets don’t last and a ban on sugar leads to binging. Mirrors are a part of our lives. Concern with our physical appearance is here to stay. It just shouldn’t be our main emphasis.

Ms. Gruys was certainly right to try to deemphasize the role of looks; to diminish the time spent looking in the mirror. But if all the time and effort spent focusing on the outer self wasn’t replaced with a focus on developing the inner person then perhaps the whole experiment was for naught. To wit, her breakdown purchase of “Tammy Fay”-style fake eye lashes a few weeks before her wedding. Even though she ultimately pulled them off…ouch!

June 1, 2013

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 8

(7) donna brocker, June 6, 2013 7:39 PM

Queen Esther should be our role model

Dear Emuna,

I loved your article because I think that for women it can be very hard to get modesty/tzniut right - often times looking at very religious women you get the feeling that they feel it is a crime to be attractive/beautiful and yes there is a fine line between attractive and attracting! I love that you are article give orthodox women the permission to be stunning, healthy, in shape, and down right pretty and beautiful and well put together and not to feel that this is not modest :) If Hashem sent earrings with the manna, and if the sages decided that cosmetics should be sold in every town, then yes, its not only our middot that count! Hashem made the world beautiful and creative and modesty should be done in the best possible way it can (not frumpily) so that we stand before our King with pride, just as Queen Esther stood before her earthly king. And we should be WOW so that the world will look and think - those jewish ladies have got it all! Great families, so balanced, so modest and dignified, with inner beauty, but also so elegant. Thanks Emuna!!!

(6) Gabrielle, June 6, 2013 6:04 PM

I believe that our immage is important, like said it reflects who you are and how you are. In this world we go from one fashion to the next, form one style to the next everything changes so fast. But God He is the same, and aren't our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit? Were we not created to His immage? Balance! I'm a mother of 3 beautiful daughters they are young and beautiful but the body is flesh it will fade as fashion does. And your inner beauty will stay with you for eternity. So then? Balance!

(5) Anonymous, June 3, 2013 5:05 PM

I think the words balance and moderation are two of my favorite adjectives. This article reinforces that belief.

(4) Annie, June 3, 2013 4:42 AM

Oh, those huge piercings-they are so ugly and look so painful ! What will happen when the fashion dies ? Their ears will never shrink back, they'll have those huge holes forever. These only look all right on people like Masai warriors. Actually, they're not great even on them, really. But tender-looking, swollen pink ears-ugh !

70x a day ? that's once every 13 minutes. Who looks in the mirror that often ? I don't know how often I do. I SEE myself in a mirror every time I am in the bathroom and bedroom or use a public lavatory, but even these wouldn't add up to 70. Maybe if one counted every time one sees oneself reflected...but I don't do that every 13 minutes !!!

(3) TMay, June 2, 2013 10:30 PM


The tattoo process can introduce hepatitis into the body which can take years to show up.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment