Over the weekend I saw my pal Tash, who has had a run-in with skin cancer. She had a small, scaly scrape site, where her hair meets her brow, and had been referred to a skin specialist to get it checked out. “We need to get rid of it” he said, “it’s no big deal. Book yourself in for a day procedure and we’ll knock it out. You’ll be having a nice dinner before you know it.”
Not really. The little procedure turned into a big one, which turned into 16 metal stitches and an overnight stay. That turned into bruised eyes and cheek which became a week at home with rapidly grubbing up hair. The ‘no-big-deal’ had turned out to be a fairly big deal which involved cutting a crescent from her forehead, stretching the skin below the cut and pulling it up into her hair. The only way to keep it there was with a staple gun, so that was employed and Tash was shell-shocked. She’s known cancer before. Twice.
“I look so ugly”, she said lifting up her hair: “look at this, like that monster of Frankenstein.” The nieces widened their eyes and grimaced, impressed by the hardware in her skull. “Not really” said the wonderful Riley – “you look like you had an operation. Like Popper had.” Tash seemed a bit cheered up by this and came out with us all for dinner. Looking at her smiling and laughing as she had a glass of wine in the candlelight; you would never have said she had been scared out of her wits.
But what she said struck home: instead of focusing on her remarkable ability to deal with what the world threw at her, she thought she looked ugly to us. And what we saw was a brave woman who has been through the mill and lived to tell the tale. God, isn’t that just the female way? How often do we do that to ourselves … say hard, cruel, ugly, untrue, hurtful things? Words we would never use on anyone else – especially somebody that we liked, or even (god forbid) loved.
Then my mom did it too – she referred to herself as ‘fat and ugly’. She is neither.
I asked her : “would you say that to me?”. She frowned.
“To the girls?”, she shook her head: “Of course not, never”.
She got the point …. “but I am fat.” She isn’t.
I caught myself doing it today too – grabbing the little pooch of g’n’t/chocolate cake belly that precedes me these day: “God, I have let myself go. I am fat as fuck.” I’m not. Would I ever say those things to anyone else? No, I would not.
Nor would I say: “you are so stupid, you are pathetic, you are a lazy toad, you are ugly, you look like death.” I would not. But I have said all of those to myself today. I didn’t even realise it until I saw this short film on Facebook. And then I realised how often I do it.
The spot was created by Ogilvy & Mather Paris, and first aired on French TV to mark International Women’s Day. It encourages women to start sharing positive thoughts using the hashtag #PenséeQuiRendBelle or, in English, #OneBeautifulThought. Dove is serious in their message: later this month a print campaign featuring some of the positive thoughts women have shared in response to the film will kick off in French press.
To put the script together, the writers asked women on the street to record their most personal thoughts about their bodies. In the video – which was staged – we watch the same women react when they heard their thoughts spoken by actresses. The film shows two women chatting in a cafe. One woman is criticising the other’s physical appearance in the most awfully blunt way – it’s brutal to watch. And worse to hear. Women at tables close to the actresses are horrified.
I was horrified – I have said those things to myself. I have heard my friends say those things to themselves. The video is stunning. It whacked me right upside the head and made me really think about the way I speak to myself. I’m betting it will for you too.
Life’s too short – something Tash learned in her twenties and again in her late thirties. It’s exhausting being angry, mean, negative, disapproving. To anyone: but, more especially, to yourself. It’s so much easier and lighter to focus on what is working. And then to do more of that. So – here we go – positive sofa-psychology 101: each morning when I wake up, I’ll be reminding myself of three things I am grateful for. And after my shower I am going to look at myself in the mirror and give myself two compliments. And then I am going to thank myself for them. Even if it feels weird and offbeat, I am going to keep going until I no longer have to fake it. I will believe what I am saying.
Now isn’t that a beautiful thought?