My Shameless Quest for A ‘Skinny Mirror’

LITTLE WHITE LIE A Stockholm study showed that a mirror that shaves a few pounds off your appearance still leaves you feeling bigger than you actually are.
LITTLE WHITE LIE A Stockholm study showed that a mirror that shaves a few pounds off your appearance still leaves you feeling bigger than you actually are. Illustration: Michael Parkin

FOR YEARS I’ve been searching for a so-called skinny mirror, a full-length mirror rumored to exist that makes any person who possesses it look significantly thinner.

I first heard the legend of the skinny mirror from my mother, who in the 1970s removed a full-length Sears & Roebuck mirror from her bedroom on the grounds that it “told damn lies.” Instead, she drove to Ruby’s clothing store to use the fitting room in the Ladies department if she felt a need to see a full-length reflection. “It’s the only skinny mirror you can trust in town,” she said.

I know it’s unhealthy to worry about one’s appearance, particularly the appearance of one’s thighs, waist, and possible jowls. On the other hand, our culture bombards us with the message that to be beautiful we must look thin. Clearly I need a mirror that will take my side. Or as my mother might have put it, why get a second opinion if it is going to make you feel bad?

This brings me to my own bedroom 40 years later, which has a bit of wall space where a full-length mirror would fit perfectly. But a bedroom should be a sanctuary, where every design element makes you feel serene and self-confident. And despite laws of physics that say light waves bounce off a two-dimensional surface to create an accurate reflection, every mirror has its own personality. I don’t want to accidentally buy another “vampire complexion” mirror like the one above the bathroom sink or a “you’re possibly balding” mirror like the one by the front door.

I’d make Ruby’s an offer for its fitting room mirror had the shop not closed decades ago. Of course, if Ruby’s in Elmhurst, Ill., had one in the 1970s, how hard could a skinny mirror be to find?

I started making phone calls.

“Fitting rooms have long been rumored to have skinny mirrors, so where can I get one?” I asked Bob Phibbs, a New York retail consultant known as the Retail Doctor. His clients include Tommy Bahama.

“I wish I could tell you,” he said, “but skinny mirrors in fitting rooms are an urban legend.”

But something about fitting room mirrors makes customers want to buy clothes. “The lighting has to be soft enough that it’s not showing everything but not too soft that skin looks odd,” Mr. Phibbs explained. “There should be plenty of space to turn around in. The walls are always beige or light gray so the colors are not competing with the clothes.”

The only way a mirror could make you look thinner, I learned, is if its surface is curved, like a subtle version of a funhouse mirror. In fact, a mom-and-pop business called the Skinny Mirrors made concave mirrors. It was featured on “Shark Tank” but went out of business earlier this year.

Maybe I could find one of the company’s mirrors, which supposedly shaved 5 pounds off a person’s reflection? They were so flattering that shoppers who used one in a lingerie store in Stockholm, Sweden, bought more underwear than other shoppers, according to a 2014 student research project.

Why get a second opinion if it is going to make you feel bad?

I didn’t find any used skinny mirrors on eBay, but Amazon had a listing—for The Skinny Mirror’s Bare Naked slimming mirror. The item was “currently unavailable.”

Next I emailed Belinda Jasmine-Bertzfield, owner of the Skinny Mirror, but she didn’t write back. I called the company’s phone number. Out of service.

There must be one out there—what about the one used in the Stockholm lingerie-store study?

Linn Gustafsson graduated from a joint program at Bocconi University and Copenhagen Business School soon after writing her master’s thesis “The Body Image Reflection—How a Skinny Mirror Influences Women’s Fitting Room Experience,” and now works in marketing in Geneva.

For her thesis, she hung identical-looking mirrors (one was the skinny mirror) in two fitting rooms. Then she calculated the BMI of 82 shoppers as they emerged from the rooms. Next she showed them images of female bodies, asking each shopper to identify the size that most resembled her own body.

All the shoppers believed they looked bigger than they were, but the ones who had been in the fitting room with the skinny mirror picked an image that better approximated how they really looked.

In other words, we live in a culture where a mirror that shaves a few pounds off your appearance still leaves you feeling bigger than you actually are. Should we all be looking at skinny mirrors to combat our distorted views of our bodies?

“Maybe,” Ms. Gustafsson said. “In the study, I don’t take a stand on whether a skinny mirror is right or wrong.”

What happened to the mirrors she used in her research?

“I actually have both in my apartment,” she said, adding that she prefers the way she looks in the skinny mirror.

“I don’t suppose you would like to sell it?” I asked.

She laughed. “No, I like to keep it in the hallway. It’s a nice last look before you go out the door.”

No skinny mirror for me for now, which may be for the best. After all, mirrors that make you look better without making you look thinner are healthier than skinny mirrors, sociologists say.

“A mirror that makes you feel you have a nice flush to your cheek because of good lighting is a better solution,” said Professor Kjerstin Gruys of the University of Nevada, who chronicled living without a mirror for a year (including on her wedding day) in the book “Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall” (Avery). “Fat phobia harms a lot of people, but there’s no research that says a desire to have pink cheeks is harmful,” said Professor Gruys.

She still remembers fondly a mirror she had in graduate school. Looking into it, “I never looked sallow,” she said, which she credits to warm lighting and apartment walls that were “a very soft blush color.”

For now, I decided, my plan is to improve the personalities of my existing mirrors. “Vampire complexion” will be getting pink-tinted lightbulbs in the sconces that flank the bathroom sink, and “you’re possibly balding” may change its opinion if the front hall walls get a coat of warm, off-white paint.

As for a full-length mirror in my bedroom? Don’t skinny-shame me if I troll eBay, looking for a gently used Bare Naked slimming mirror.

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