Just two months ago, Angela Deeney was afraid to look in the mirror.
Now, she won’t have to — at least not until Easter Sunday.
What started as shyness to see her reflection turned into a Lenten practice that could continue beyond the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus next month.
Right after Christmas, the University of St. Thomas senior went on a three-week mission trip to Venezuela with some classmates. She was there to help out at the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado in San Felix, a mission of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“We were living very simply doing mission work,” said Deeney, 21, of Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata who is double majoring in Catholic studies and journalism/communications. “So, I had no makeup, had no hair stuff, was showering not as often as I usually would. I really saw that I was avoiding mirrors more because I was afraid of what I’d see inside of it. Instead, I put my focus on the people in front of me and what I was doing and what I thought was beautiful in them.”
Ironically, focusing on the beauty of others made her feel more beautiful herself. She said the experience changed her, and she began to think about continuing the mirrorless routine here.
But, coming back into a culture that emphasizes physical appearance made that more difficult.
A new look
Enter Lent. With the season fast approaching, she decided it was time to take a bold step.
No more mirrors. And, to solidify the choice, she took up a brush and wrote a message across her own mirror, which she displays in the small apartment she shares with five other women near the campus.
The words for her Lenten season this year are these: “Paint the Mirrors.”
The seed for her move to get away from the glass was planted a year ago when she caught a glimpse of a newscast featuring Kjerstin Gruys, a graduate student at UCLA who decided to go a year without looking in the mirror. Having struggled with an eating disorder, Gruys wanted to be free of enslavement to body image. She even kept the mirror at bay on her wedding day.
“I remember thinking, ‘That’s crazy. How could someone do that? I could never do that,’” Deeney said. “I was just so awed by it. But then it bugged me that I thought, ‘I could never do this.’ And, I started thinking, ‘Why couldn’t I do this? Why wouldn’t I be able to not look in the mirror?’ That stayed in the back of my brain.”
Not only did she decide to leave the mirror behind for the 40 days of Lent (including Sundays), but she also produced a website, http://www.paintthemirrors.com, that features a blog. She is hoping others will visit the site and that at least some of the viewers will follow in her footsteps. Her theme, as stated on the site, is “Redefining beauty one mirror at a time.”
“I feel inspired to do this not only for myself, but also for others who place their beauty in the image they paint of themselves in the mirror,” she wrote. “I want girls to know that the light they radiate doesn’t come from that shiny piece of metal, but from the love they give to others in confidence reflecting back to them, illuminating who they really are. I want them to repaint their self-image with this new light.”
Change of focus
Although Deeney is focusing on the spiritual side of this Lenten maneuver, she is painfully aware of the practical side, which will prick her every morning as she prepares to go out into the world and onto the campus.
“The biggest concern? Makeup and hair,” she said. “It may take a bit of practice. I remember the first time I tried putting makeup on without using a mirror — I practiced once just to see if it was possible. And, I had mascara on my nose. If that happens during the challenge, I would hope that someone would tell me or, if they didn’t, that I would never find out because I wouldn’t be looking in the mirror later.
“It’s a great opportunity to not take yourself so seriously. . . being able to laugh at yourself and say, ‘Oh, well, just move on.’”
The mirror avoidance will end on Easter Sunday, when Deeney plans to stare into it to help her get ready for Mass. She hopes what is reflected back is a person changed by focusing on others and on Christ.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to see myself in a new light, how God sees me,” she said. “And, I hope to love what I see in the mirror, just because it’s me and I’m his.”