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viewpoint

Mirror, Mirror

| Tuesday, March 30, 2021

I’m a body checker. And if you live in a women’s dorm at Notre Dame, your public spaces might be encouraging you to become one too.

This morning, I was sitting in the Lewis Hall third floor lounge, drinking my Dunkin’ Donuts and trying to avoid doing my reading on the social circles surrounding early Argentine tango. As I was procrastinating, I noticed a fellow Lewis chick walk up to the elevator and press the call button. While she was waiting, she turned around to face the full-length mirror on the wall opposite the elevator doors. We have one of these in the same position on every floor. She adjusted her top, pulled up her jeans, stared at herself. A few minutes later, another resident did the same thing. I didn’t pay much attention to any of this — these are normal rituals — until I walked past the exact same mirror and caught myself doing the exact same thing.

I wondered why I was checking out the fat on my arms while I walked into the bathroom. Who was going to see me, anyway? Would it matter if someone was going to see me? Yes and no, I thought. Why was I doing it now, then? I do this every morning. First, in the mirror in my room, I check to make sure my jeans fit right around my thighs. When I leave the bathroom before I go to class, I check to see if my waist looks bulgy in the mirror across from the elevator. When I come back to my room, I check to make sure I didn’t look “weird” all day.

I don’t know where I first heard the term “body checking.” Maybe around the time we all started noticing how weird looking at yourself in the Zoom camera all day is. Body checking is the practice of compulsively or repeatedly “checking” your body in the mirror. Probably the most famous body checker is the Evil Queen from “Snow White” “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” I didn’t think I was in league with the Evil Queen. But today, I realized how often I police my own body and how often other girls are doing it too.

I sent a strange text to my friends’ group chat (a group chat of all ladies in five different women’s dorms) to see if they also had full-length mirrors in their public spaces. A Lyons resident said they also have full-length mirrors in their hallways, and most everyone else (Pangborn, JFam and Farley) said they had full-length mirrors in the bathrooms. Only Walsh had none. I then sent another strange text to two of my guy friends (Zahm and O’Neill), and they said they had no full-length mirrors in their dorms at all, except the odd one that someone might bring with them for their room. Strange, right?

Why am I obsessing over full-length mirrors? Because they let us see our whole body, they let us do an awkward half-turn to see how our leggings fit our butts, they let us check and check and check.

As women, we’re told that to be beautiful is to be worthy. We’re told our bodies are only good if they look good to cis men and not because they run and dance and house our very cool brains. The full-length mirrors in our dorms are a symptom — or a cause — of this cultural obsession with the female body. I’m not saying that society isn’t critical of the male body, but where are the full-length mirrors in their dorms?

I’m done checking, and I’m done having the spaces I live in tell me that I should check, that I should want to check, that I should try to look “good.”

I think it’s time to ask ourselves if we really need those full-length mirrors in our common spaces.

 

Alena Coleman

class of 2022

Mar. 24

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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