***It’s a Saturday night. I’m at my friend’s house and we’re getting ready to go out. “Aaah I look so fat and ugly!” my friend suddenly blurts out, her arms flailing frantically in the air as she wrestles with her dress in a desperate attempt to get it off her decidedly ‘too fat’ body. “There is no way I can wear this dress out tonight, I look like a fat old frump,” she exclaims, flinging the dress onto a heaped pile of clothing that she’s already deemed unfit.
“Yes, you’re too fat,” I encouragingly egg her on. “You’re probably better off just wearing a tent or an XXXL t-shirt to cover that blob of a body. You shouldn’t have eaten that second slice of cake at lunch. Why the hell did you have a second helping? As if one piece wasn’t already pushing it. Can’t you just learn some self-control, other people can say no. Why can’t you? No wonder you look so fat and ugly,” I add, just to make her feel better about herself knowing that I share her same sentiments regarding her body image, because don’t we all want to feel understood and accepted?***
The above scenario never actually happened. Well, of course, it didn’t! Because any half decent friend with half a brain would NEVER respond like that to someone they care about.
In real life if I happened to be the friend on the receiving end of one of my friend’s verbally violent self-loathings I would physically fly across the room, shake her back to reality and knock all those nonsensical thoughts out of her head.
It does happen in real life. I’ve had countless experiences of witnessing similar ‘self-depreciating’ dialogues, and more often than not, I’ve been the subject of my own self-destructive criticisms, as I’m sure almost everyone has.
The only difference I’ve noticed is the way I respond depends largely on who the subject is. When the subject is a friend (or anyone other than myself for that matter) my reaction is characteristically one you would expect from a friend: to exert every inch of my power to counteract her negativity with reaffirming positive statements.
“Nonsense! You’re beautiful, don’t say such rubbish about yourself!”
That is the most likely response to fall out of my mouth before my brain has time to catch on to the words I’ve just spoken. It’s the most natural counteraction I know. As a friend, my main objective is to remedy her blatant attempt at self-harm; to defend her against herself, the same way I would stand up for her against a bully.
But when I am the one hurling verbal abuse at the face staring back at me in the mirror, I have to confess to possessing a double standard. I guess you can call me a hypocrite because I’m not the same friend to myself that I would be to someone else.
It dawned on me one morning while I was enacting this exact scene; a show-stopping performance of my internalized, angry soliloquy addressed to the self that had failed again:
Failed to look a million dollars on a student budget; Failed to stay away from the junk food, so now I have a big fat pimple on my chin, plus a desperate need of a new full-piece swimsuit because I’ve failed to make it to the gym and therefore flunked all prospects of that ‘summer-ready-bikini-body that is being flashed in front of my eyes from every direction and every second page of every women’s magazine.
Oh, and on top of all that here I am hating myself, so I’ve clearly failed dismally at that ‘self-love’ concept that is preached through the pages of the same magazines (usually on the opposite page of the “three easy steps to a bikini-body” guide, because you know, that really helps hit the message home harder.)
Eventually, I stopped my taunting tantrum to take a breath while thinking up more ammunition to (figuratively) slap me in the face with. But then I noticed those eyes; my eyes, staring back at me, had a human quality that didn’t match my demonic utterings.
“Why are you trying so hard to tear yourself down?” I finally let the vulnerable voice inside me speak. I realised in that moment that if my inner voice had belonged to anyone outside my body, I would never dream of entertaining such soul-crushing comments.
Why can’t I show the same amount of respect, patience, and understanding to myself that I so easily offer to others? This simple act of self-reflection exposed my transgressions in transparency.
We are raised up on the mantra of “treating others the way you would like to be treated.” But perhaps it’s time to revisit the teaching that slides so easily off our tongue without a second thought. What would happen if we dared to play the motivational tape backward:
What if we dared to treat ourselves the way we treat others?
When phrased like that the meaning largely stays the same, but it opens up a new lens for interpretation. We are forced to first reflect on how exactly we treat ourselves. I would argue that if there is an imbalance between the way we treat ourselves in relation to others, we risk being categorized as either narcissistic or self-abusive.
I decided I didn’t want to be either. So, I started to monitor my interactions with myself and others. The results of my self-regulatory experiment confirmed what I already suspected: I have a tendency to treat others better than myself. Moreover, I’ve developed this bad habit of constantly comparing myself to others, and no surprise once again, I always come out second best.
Now while this was great news for everyone else I interact with, it wasn’t such great news for me.
How can I expect others to respect me and love me if I can’t even get it right myself? It started to seem a little unfair to expect others to treat me fairly when I didn’t even deem it necessary to treat myself that way.
How come could I encourage all my girlfriends to stop comparing themselves to others; tell them to stop running in search of unattainable perfection the media imposes on us, while I deemed it perfectly practical to place my happiness in the hands of photoshopped mannequins?
Okay, so the answer is simple right? and it’s already out there! Just start loving yourself? Right??
Trust me, I’ve tried. This whole concept of self-love that is preached to us from every platform of society only works in theory. It’s a perfect example of something I find myself saying over and over again on a daily basis: Easier said than done. Sometimes life feels like one long list of things that are easier said than done.
Everyone’s forever talking. Talking over everyone else. And above all this constant noise of unsolicited advice and instructions that aren’t user-friendly, there’s my inner voice screaming “practice what you preach.” But ‘practicing what you preach’ is a theory too. And I’m done talking, especially when I have nothing nice to say to myself.
So the next step in the hypothesis of this self-love experiment is to take action. Just, not the same action that’s been shoved down all our throats in the form of that pathetically ambivalent universal “Learn to love yourself in three easy steps!” that reads something like this:
Step number 1. Love yourself.
Step 2. Repeat Step one. Every day.
Step 3. Repeat step 2 or go back to step 1 if you get stuck.
Oh please no. Like I said, I’ve tried, tested and failed, AGAIN!
I finally figured that the only common denominator in all these ‘body confidence’ buzz words is self. Self-love; self-acceptance; self-confidence; they all require an action of the self. Why then am I constantly looking to other sources for inspiration on how to love myself, shouldn’t I just consult myself?
After a lot of soul-searching, I finally came to the conclusion that perhaps what I needed was to stop being my own worst enemy. Don’t we all!?!?
So that is exactly what I’m going to do. From this moment forward, I am going to practice being friendly, to everyone around me, including me. I’m going to try and invite the friend that lives within my heart, to inhabit my head. I say try because I know at times, I’m bound to fail, but from this moment forward, I am going to focus my energy on dealing with my failures as a friend and not a foe.
And, I’m going to keep a diary to myself and record the entries here, to hold me accountable (because sometimes we all need a little nudge) as well as to (hopefully) inspire you to write yourself some friendly letters too.
I’m not asking us to perfect the near-impossible task of always loving ourselves, I’m proposing that we start exercising our friendly voice’s vocal chords so that when we do find it hard to love ourselves, our inner friend shouts louder than our inner enemy.
Then maybe we can all unite in the reassurance that we’ve all got friends in both ourselves and in others.
Featured image: Jade le Roux