How Getting Rid Of This One Item Changed My Life

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Something good is happening lately — I feel fitter, happier, and in control. My clothes seem to fit better than they used to and I'm more energized and confident. No, it's not the latest fad diet. I haven't changed a thing about my workout routine. Here's the thing: I no longer own a full-length mirror.

Mirrors weren't always a problem for me. When I was young, I hardly gave my reflection a second thought. I was a skinny kid — the little girl with a voracious appetite and endless energy. As a teen, I could eat what I pleased: A cheesy Buffalo chicken calzone, big helpings of my mom's unbeatable spaghetti, sandwiches piled high with cold cuts. Even with college nights of heavy drinking and the late-night eats that went with them, I only gained a few auxiliary pounds. In fact, I loved food so much that I made it my job after graduation when I became an assistant editor at a national food publication in New York City.

New York. A job. I was an adult. And, just like that, my pizza party was over.

I started gaining weight — fast. Pants ripped unceremoniously. Sweaters grew tight in the shoulders. Cellulite showed up in places I never knew it could (Arms? REALLY?!). My identity as the skinny girl who could hold her own at 25-cent wings night, was shaken. My metabolism had come to a screeching halt; for the first time, I felt the need to watch what I ate. But, the "eat what I want, when I want it" mentality was nearly indelible after a lifetime of being able to do exactly that.

The one thing that ate me alive was seeing my new body in my full-length mirror.

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I knew I'd gained weight, but I didn't want to let it change my life. I conducted business as usual: Dinner or drinks with friends five nights a week (with guilt-erasing healthy lunches, and a workout here and there). But the one thing that ate me alive was seeing my new body in my full-length mirror.

I'd always been an indecisive dresser, but now it was out of control. Mornings began with me ripping through my drawers and closet for multiple outfit changes and painstaking tweaks. If a pair of jeans made my legs look too thick or a shirt didn't fall perfectly, I'd nix them — even if, to everyone else, I looked great. The dressing panic became a habit; I was consistently running late for work, missing big chunks of movies, and — in one extreme circumstance — losing a reservation at a restaurant because I spent so long deliberating over a dress.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
This anxiety may seem obsessive, but it's not at all unusual. According to research done by the NYC Girls Project, a municipal group dedicated to raising the self-esteem of young women, a fear of being overweight typically begins at the age of 10. We are taught that a perfect appearance is the end-all-be-all. We're taught to hate our flaws — not embrace them.

It's those voices that chip away at our self-confidence, and despite my skinny youth, they'd finally gotten to me, too. As much as I hate to admit it, whenever I caught my reflection in the mirror in a less-than-glamorous state, it instantly triggered those nasty thoughts — especially when I was still adjusting to my curvier body.

We're taught to hate our flaws — not embrace them.

By the time I left my job at the food magazine, I'd gained 25 pounds. I got a new job as a travel writer, moved from my home in Brooklyn to the healthier, more active town of San Francisco. My full-length mirror did not come with me. It wasn't deliberate; just a question of logistics. I figured I'd pick up a new one when I got there. During that first California run to Target, I focused on all the major necessities: Sheets, towels, toiletries, shelving, a lamp. Afterward, I realized that somehow, a mirror didn't make it onto the shopping list. I shrugged and told myself I'd get one the following week. Winging my outfits for a couple days wouldn't be that bad.

And, wing it I did. I chose straightforward outfits that looked great spread out on my bed: White jeans and a chambray top, a cropped gray sweater with a black pleated skirt, floral pants and a black slouchy top. I'd put the clothes on in the morning and if the ensemble worked when I looked down at myself, I'd walk out the door with the confidence of a street style star.

Without even realizing it, I'd broken free from my hyper-critical routine. A couple of mirror-less days turned into weeks — and then months. During that time, I started to pick up some new healthy habits that had nothing to do with my weight. I had a new freedom from self-judgment (and I hadn't been late for work in months!). Without the mirror, I felt better.

Finally, I decided that my room would be a judgment-free zone, without any reflection in which to scrutinize myself. In my transition to a naturally healthier lifestyle, a mirror would only provide a road block; a way of dissecting my appearance and obsessively tracking its change. My chill zone is not the place for bad body-image vibes, especially at my most vulnerable times: Before work or late at night.

I think of myself as a confident person. I like my body, and I like leading a healthy, fit life. I also love long dinners, cocktails with friends, and the weekend bagel with a generous smear of cream cheese. My body is not perfect, but it's a reflection of my life and I wouldn't change a thing.

Danielle Walsh is an Associate Web Editor at AFAR. Follow her on Instagram at @deedubbayew.

The Anti-Diet Project
is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, rational fitness, and body positivity. You can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Got a question — or your own story to tell? Email me at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com.

It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Read more Take Back The Beach stories here.
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