I learned about the “lotion challenge” in my early college days. I was most aware of my body then, and most judgmental of it. After getting over the bump in my nose and accepting that I’d never have a Britney Spears ski slope, I didn’t have a laundry list of things I’d like to fix. There was, however, one lasting body hang-up: the sides of my waist. I wouldn’t look at them and I certainly wouldn’t touch them. I avoided full-length mirrors and pulled my jeans up above my hips as if I were avoiding re-opening bandaged wounds. I feared my waist sides — I feared seeing them and feeling them, but I also feared what would happen if I didn’t check them daily.
Enter the “lotion challenge.” The idea is that you take a bottle of lotion, and you apply it every day to a part of your body you don’t like. Work your way up to two minutes of application time. Do this until the bottle is empty.
I took this “lotion challenge” thinking I could probably use the self-work. I didn’t want to have a debilitating fear of my own skin anymore. In November 2006, I wrote in my journal, as if writing to the source of my body image fears:
“I’m going to take the lotion challenge, too. I’m going to pamper my stomach and back. You stop my hands every time I try to put lotion on that area. You seep into my eye sockets and tell me how big it is, how much muscle I’ve lost. Well guess what? It’s my body, not yours, and it deserves some TLC. Especially after all the abuse I let you inflict on me. No more.”
A 3-ounce bottle of Freesia-scented lotion would start me on a path to body acceptance.
The first night, alone in my room, I had music playing and the lights low. I maybe made it to 30 seconds, but it felt like 10 minutes. I would bound into oversized pajama pants and a University of Wisconsin sweatshirt and try to forget about my sides.
The idea behind the lotion challenge is that we neglect caring for parts of our body that we don’t like. By applying the lotion for over 120 seconds, we are simultaneously showing tenderness to a neglected area and also forcing ourselves to confront a fear that really doesn’t merit the weight assigned to it.
Lotion was nutrition for my psyche and my skin. Over the course of a week, I gradually worked up to two-minute application sessions. The lights weren’t always low, and John Mayer’s “Heart of Life” wasn’t always playing. Some days were harder than others. Some days I’d have to tell myself, out loud, that I need to be nice to all of me. Other days I didn’t have to convince myself I was ok.
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 dimmer.
But without fail, after every shower, I confront my sides and smear self-care all over them. I do this because I refuse to be afraid of my own body.
Clare Milliken is a Chicago-based writer and editor, with a knack for closet organization and urban hiking. If she ever finds a way to make a career out of hip-hop dancing, Real Simple and talking to strangers, she’ll be certain she’s on the right track. Follow Clare on Twitter.