Be your body’s best friend. It sounds pretty simple. But if you’ve ever scraped the bottom of a half gallon of ice cream with the self-loathing that could peel lead paint off the walls, or sworn to yourself that you would jog every last pound off your body, “as God is my witness!” with a vehemence that would make Scarlett O’Hara wince, then you know that being best friends with your body is a lot harder than just admitting it sounds like a cool idea.
When I first contemplated the possibility of being my body’s best friend, I realized that not only was my body not my friend, but it was barely an acquaintance, and not someone I would voluntarily hang out with. My body felt like a vaguely hostile stranger who was probably stalking me, my mind frequently snarling rude remarks at it to keep its distance. I didn’t need to be friendly. I needed a restraining order. At the best times, my body felt like the unwelcome relative you find sprawled out across your couch and halfway over the coffee table every morning. When will they just leave me in peace?
Shifting this dynamic takes time, much like getting to know someone. First, just say “Hi.” For some of us, looking into the mirror and just saying “Hi” without any other words, judgments, or commentary, is weirdly difficult. We suddenly notice that we have an automatic commentary that starts up the minute we get a glimpse of our reflection. “Looking like those prunes you ate this morning, huh?” Or, “Didn’t take long for that birthday cake to find your thighs, did it, Fatty?” Criticisms arise instantly about our weight, our size, our age, the details, and the whole of our appearance.
“Hi” is where you start letting go of the critique. You wouldn’t see a stranger for the first time and tell them they look like hell. Or would you? Let’s assume you have a certain modicum of restraint and politeness towards other people. Let’s assume you don’t scold the neighbor across the hall every time you see them, and that you greet the mail carrier with a bare minimum of civil enthusiasm. “Hi.” You can do at least that much for the person who looks back at you over the bathroom sink.
Practice just saying “Hi” in the mirror. To your face, to your body, to the pimple under your nose. Just say hi to it. Be friendly, perhaps in a guarded way at first, knowing trust grows slowly. When you catch yourself saying more than just “Hi,” stop, turn away from the mirror, take a deep breath, and then turn back and try again. Keep trying, even if it doesn’t work at first. In fact, if no matter how hard you try, you can’t simply say “Hi” to yourself in the mirror, be patient with yourself. Turn the “Hi” into an aspiration. Say to yourself, “I wish to someday be able to just say ‘Hi’ to myself in the mirror.” That’s enough. Gently aspire to it.
The “Hi” practice does two things: it starts to turn the tendency of your judgments about your body from negative to more neutral, and helps you to notice your own negative thoughts and feelings towards your body. Just as a neutral greeting in life sets the stage for a later friendship, you’re putting into place a foundation of tentative trust and friendliness you can start to build upon. In addition, just saying “Hi” to yourself when you see your reflection gives your mind something else to do other than torture yourself with negativity about your body. It’s like handing a toddler a colorful plastic rattle to trade for the pen knife. A good idea, and keeps down the blood spillage. Win-win all around. With this as our starting place, in later chapters I’ll introduce more practices to help move you in the direction of increasing friendliness toward your body, one step at a time.
Try out the “Hi” practice, and let me know how it goes!