I spent my summer without access to a mirror. Sure, there was a small one affixed above the sink where I brushed my teeth, but the house where I was staying had no wardrobe mirror. For two months, I didn’t see my full reflection.

The timing of this was particularly interesting seeing as it was summer, a time when, under ordinary circumstances, I’m particularly prone to self criticism. Pulling on a bikini is usually followed by craning my neck around to look at my backside with a disdainful eye or sigh over the downward pull of my belly that seems to increase with every passing year.

Without a mirror in which to examine every flaw, however, this is what happened: I put on my swimsuit, threw on a cover up, and went to beach. It was no different from how my 4-year-old niece approaches readying herself for a swim:  a practical matter, dreamily free of the self consciousness that seems to plague every woman I know.

It was the same in the evening, when I threw on a sundress or buttoned into a pair of jeans. There was no mirror in which to ponder if I’d be better off wearing something else. I bought and actually wore a tennis skirt without ever once examining how it did or didn’t flatter my legs, my achilles heal for body image.

Under ordinary circumstances, I don’t consider myself someone who spends a lot of time in front of a mirror. But when I began thinking about it, I realized that I actually do. My full-length mirror is on the inside of my closet door, which means every time I get dressed, need to change shoes, put on a jacket, or grab my handbag, I’m looking at that mirror. And every opening of that door is an opportunity to assess, and yes, often criticize.

The one challenge of not having a mirror, of course, was the inability to see if my top matched my skirt or which shoes to pair with my jumpsuit. For that, I relied on my sister, who happens to have a knack for style, and my daughters, who are never shy with fashion advice for their mother.

Now that I’m home, I’ve been considering what I’ve come to think of as the mirror conundrum. I’m not ready to live without one, but I do plan to be more thoughtful about how I use it. My intention is to rely on it for the practical purpose of putting myself together with a modicum of style (since sisters and children aren’t always around to help out on this front). Beyond that, I’ll get on with my day. I may relocate the mirror to a less intrusive spot or switch the door I use to open the closet. Either way, when I do catch a glimpse of myself,  I intend to be more aware of the thoughts that trip across my consciousness, aiming for kindness and self-compassion rather than criticism.

Photo credit: Logan Ripley via Unsplash