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How long could you go without looking in the mirror?

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The average British woman looks at herself in a mirror 38 times a day - be that a once-over in a shop window reflection or a check for stray mascara marks in a compact.

So to shun the use of mirrors altogether is a drastic move; but one a growing minority of women are turning to as a confidence-boosting exercise.

The so-called "mirror fasting" movement began in the US, with New York-based blogger Autumn Whitefield Madrano documenting her Month Without Mirrors in May last year.

"The goal was to loosen the grip that self-consciousness has had on me for much of my life — that happened, to a degree, but what I discovered during my month without mirrors was the way in which I use mirrors to manage other facets of my life," the 35-year-old concluded.

"The mirror is a quest for control. Control over the image we present to the world, sure; control over fitting the beauty standard, to a degree. Mostly, though, surveillance is an effort to carefully control our ideas about ourselves.

"In addition to realizing that I don’t have to strive to look pretty every minute, I thought far less about looks this month than I normally do. I didn’t feel better or worse about my appearance; I rarely felt pretty or unpretty. I just didn’t care as much."

Kjerstin Gruys, a 20-something PHD student and recovered anorexic, reached similar conclusions. She decided to go without mirrors for an entire year - including six months in the lead up to, and over, her wedding.

In her blog, Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall, she wrote: "I've managed to better separate my looks from my self-esteem. This is probably the most powerful secret to feeling beautiful."

She's now secured publishing rights for a book that will explore her experience without mirrors, "from the perils of poppy-seed teeth and makeup meltdown, to the pressures of bridal beauty and the nuances of self-presentation as a young academic."

Research published in Behaviour Research and Therapy this year indicated British women look at themselves in the mirror 38 times a day, as opposed to 18 times a day for men.

A summary of research on mirrors and body image by the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) found that what we see in the mirror and how we react to it is influenced by a huge range of variables, including:

"Sex, age, ethnic group, sexual orientation, mood, eating disorders, what they've been watching on TV, what magazines they read, whether they're married or single, what kind of childhood they had, whether they take part in sports, what phase of the menstrual cycle they're in, whether they are pregnant, where they've been shopping – and even what they had for lunch."

It also noted that nearly 80% of women are likely to be dissatisfied with their reflection and more than half see a distorted image, compared to men who "are more likely to be either pleased with what they see or indifferent."

The reasons for this include cultural tendencies to judge women on their appearance more than men and progressively more unrealistic notions of female beauty that we're exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

"It has been estimated that young women now see more images of outstandingly beautiful women in one day than our mothers saw throughout their entire adolescence," SIRC said.

What do you think? Would you go a month - or a year - without mirrors? How much do mirrors reinforce or distort our self-image? Are we better off without them or is "mirror fasting" diverting from the actual issue of self-esteem and how to deal with that in the face of ever-increasing societal pressures? Let us know your thoughts below or on Twitter.

Picture credits: Rex Features

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