This morning I got a text message from a friend.
Let’s call her Ellen. She woke up this morning, looked in the mirror and didn’t like what she saw. She texted me:
My butt is huge. I look like a whale.
Looked in the mirror and thought—ugh.
I know… nobody’s perfect, yadayada.
This stopped me in my tracks, because I’ve really been trying to put in to practice the things I’ve learned recently.
And then I thought about all of the different ways and times this exact same conversation has been played out in my life (primarily among women). And here is how it usually goes:
Ellen: “My ass looks enormous.”
Me: “No it doesn’t, you look great!”
Ellen: “Whatever. I’ve gained 30 pounds since the baby. I know I’ve got to start working out.”
Now, here the friend traditionally has one of about three options:
1. Try again to oppose Ellen’s self-loathing comment. Probably with no success.
2. Divert Ellen’s self-loathing to someone else so she falsely feels better about herself: (“Well, at least you don’t look like Margaret. Have you seen her lately? Poor thing.”)
3. Make Ellen feel better by diverting to ourself. (“Well, at least you don’t have neck folds like me. I look like a turkey. Ugh.”)
Maybe we continue on like this for a while.
Then we both sigh, maybe take a sip of wine, and say something generic either about starting to work out or “that’s life” or “getting old sucks” or some other such catchphrase.
I could have gone that route. But, instead I wrote this:
Think about something for a minute. Your body is healthy and strong. It’s been here for you your whole life. Would you look at another woman and tell her, “Your butt looks enormous!?” I doubt it. That would be mean. So, why are we as women sometimes mean to ourselves? Be kind to yourself.
I don’t know if it sunk in. But I hope so.
But here’s the thing about the “sinking in.” Most of us have been programmed to look negatively at ourselves for so long, it’s muscle memory. So, in order to change this line of thinking, we have to exercise it like a muscle.
We have many years of programming to overcome.
But that’s okay. Because the important first step is recognizing it.
The second step is to talk to yourself with a different voice. And repeat.
You will catch yourself using negative self-talk. Lots at first.
But when you do, congratulate yourself on catching it. And then say something nice.
Over time you’ll slowly find the positive self-talk overtaking the negative. One day it will just hit you how you’ve changed. And you’ll get chills. And you’ll smile.
You’ll smile at your new habit that’s been formed.
You’ll smile at your new image of yourself.
When I was young I was always taught, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
This is a perfectly acceptable rule to follow. It’s helped me to be kind and empathetic my entire life (to others).
But the missing part was about being just as kind to myself, and also how to treat myself when others don’t treat me kindly.
In addition to being told to be kind to others, often in the same breath, we’re told not to be prideful and to work on our flaws.
But here’s the thing to remember:
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
This is an important difference.
This leads me to the rest of the phrase, which I think should actually read:
Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. And then do unto yourself as you’d do unto others.
If you catch yourself saying something ugly to yourself, picture this first: say it to your best friend, your mom, your sister or your daughter. If you wouldn’t say it to her, don’t say it to yourself.
Author: Caroline Harrington
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: flickr/Julia Coutinho