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Stacey Nelkin Headshot

Is A Little Vanity Really So Bad?

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I'm an actress and on-camera relationship expert with a teenage girl at home. Needless to say, there's an ample amount of mirror gazing going on in my apartment.

Not so in the home of Kjerstin Gruys, a UCLA sociology grad student, who decided to shun all mirrors before her wedding, a journey she chronicled on her blog, Mirror Mirror Off the Wall.

The grand experiment began as Gruys was shopping for wedding gowns for her upcoming nuptials. Rather than finding the experience to be exciting and joyful, she found herself becoming obsessed with her body and weight. She had won a battle with anorexia a decade earlier, and she was troubled by the return of the intrusive, overly self-critical thoughts that had accompanied her disease. She wanted to come up with a way to keep this type of thinking at bay.

"I just kind of kept coming back to this pattern of perfectionism, and obsessing about my appearance, and I thought, 'If I can't think myself out of it, then maybe I need to change something about my environment to force me to change,'" Gruys explained to ABC News.

Her solution? To forgo looking at her reflection for a year. That meant no mirrors, no shop windows, no gleaming surfaces of any kind. She even asked friends to remove their sunglasses when sitting opposite her because she found herself checking her reflection in them. She didn't even look in a mirror on her own wedding day. Rather, she relied solely on appraisal from her loving fiance and friends, figuring that they would be kinder to her than she was being to herself.

I understand Gruys' impulse to simply look away from her reflection. I also struggled for years with anorexia during my career as an actress in Hollywood, a place where looks are paramount. When you have an eating disorder like anorexia, looking into a mirror is no simple feat. You don't see yourself wasting away as others see you. Anorexia is all about perfection and control. If I had just eaten and had a small bulge in my belly, I would be reluctant to get undressed in front of a man. It took me decades, but I finally learned that my body, face, hair and clothes didn't have to be "just right" in order to be attractive to a man.

Yet even though Gruys and I probably went through similar bouts of self-punishment, I believe that her idealistic solution is not at all pragmatic. And ultimately, it won't even help.

Practically speaking, getting an accurate assessment will be difficult. If you're gaining weight, your husband probably won't tell you. If you're fortunate, he'll be blind to the change by his love for you. And even if he isn't, most men are smart enough to know that the only way to respond to the leading "Am I getting fat?" sort of questions is to say, "You are beautiful. I love you the way you are."

But the problem with Gruys' method of reflection goes beyond whether or not your significant other finds you attractive. Falling in love or getting married doesn't mean you give up your own sense of yourself, your ability to look in the mirror -- literally and figuratively -- and appraise. Just as many women maintain separate checking accounts, interests and hobbies even after they wed, they should also retain their own sense of themselves that is not dependent on their husbands' appraisal.

Hopefully, your partner will augment your self-regard, but you can't still cede this power to him. What if the relationship sours? Are you still going to look to him for approval and validation?

At the end of the day, we all have to face ourselves in the mirror and react with love and compassion, not with judgment. Some days will be harder than others and our loved ones can give us a boost when we're feeling particularly low. But we still have to make the effort to look in the mirror and be kind about what we see.