A powerful act of self-care, the lotion challenge brings our body image fears out of hiding. We confront those fears with kindness and compassion for ourselves. This challenge is a valuable piece of my recovery toolbox, and I have reached a much greater level of acceptance with my body. That being said, I mentioned in the previous piece that I still have my bad days:
It’s been seven years since I took the lotion challenge, and I still do it almost every day. The sides of my waist are by no means my favorite part of my body. On bad days, a brush on the waist from my boyfriend can briefly flash me to a time when I thought of cutting off my sides. I will immediately swat his arm away on those days, and the lights might need to be a little dimmed.
There is a scene near the end of A Beautiful Mind that I like to play back when the bad days roll through. John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics played by Russell Crowe, is schizophrenic, and he explains that he still sees things that are not there, but he chooses not to acknowledge them. “Like a diet of the mind I choose not to indulge certain appetites,” he says.
This has been my approach to bad body image since I saw the movie years ago. When statements like “you are not toned enough,” or “you didn’t work out hard enough” or “you don’t look good today” come across my consciousness, I tell myself that hearing these things within myself is much different than believing them or responding in a way that sabotages my long-term pursuit of wellness. I’ve learned to hear these messages without validating them.
What does this look like in action? Imagine yourself standing in front of a mirror, scrutinizing your body and the flaws you perceive. Validating those thoughts would mean you carry them around all day, letting them dictate what you wear, what you choose to do for exercise, how you interact with people, etc. Letting them cross your mind without giving them any credence would mean you “catch” the thoughts and subsequently put them in perspective. In my experience with this sort of seeing-without-validating, I tell myself:
“I am the same person I was yesterday. My mind is tricking me.”
“You feel this way now, but this is just a feeling. This will pass. People have bad days, but these days are not the norm.”
By recognizing and working through these bouts of bad body image, I’ve identified several triggers that help me talk myself out of a negative headspace. For instance, the Clare who gets less than seven hours of sleep is much more prone to bashing her body, as is the Clare who doesn’t get enough sunlight or move her body or eat proper meals. If I feel down, these things, rather than some perceived issue with my hair, skin or nails, are most likely behind my doldrums. Knowing these things about myself, I can more quickly identify why I might be feeling particularly self-critical.
In a culture that is constantly telling us we need Cara Delevingne eyebrows, more contouring or fuller hair, an ability to recognize those messages, as they seep in from the outside and also appear within ourselves, is an invaluable tool.
Once we can recognize them without validating them, we can start to unpack them, and hopefully revoke their ability to impact our daily lives.
The lotion challenge has helped me, and hopefully others, make the bad body image days few and far between. And just as I refuse to be afraid of my own body, I refuse as well to accept the thoughts that only serve to isolate and abuse me.