Don't Tell Me How to Love Myself
It’s 2015. Middle schoolers are whipping and Nae Naeing in the hallways, hoverboards are all the rage and Hailee Steinfeld has just released her seminal pop anthem “Love Myself.” Finally, a 12-year-old me enters the school, burying my body in PINK sweats, sporting a side ponytail and riddled with anxiety.
“I know how to scream my own name / Scream my name / Gonna love myself, no, I don't need anybody else.”
Suffice to say, I didn’t resonate with these lyrics back then and still struggle to embrace the ideals paraded by the self-love movement. It’s not that I don’t have love for myself; rather, I am skeptical of the idealistic standards associated with the concept of self-love that makes the pursuit of such a concept daunting and fruitless.
The version of myself in 2015 was struggling with the last gasps of a childhood form of OCD and overall confused regarding my place in the social hierarchy that is middle school. It felt hypocritical to adhere to this idea of “loving myself” when I hated how my mind worked—how it skewed my perception and constantly inundated me in self-doubt.
While I’ve learned to mitigate my anxious tendencies and overachiever status as a 20-year-old, I still struggle to accept all the parts that make me, me. Part of my “self-love” journey has been realizing that that’s okay. Giving yourself grace is undoubtedly an act of self-love. I don’t want to misrepresent my feelings toward myself by screaming that Hailee Steinfeld song or declaring that I unequivocally love myself to everyone I know. I truly believe that self-love is an ideal we can, and perhaps should, strive for. However, we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to fully achieve this ambiguous accomplishment of self-love.
“I take it nice and slow, feeling good on my own…”
Besides this all-or-nothing attitude regarding self-love, I find that the altruistic intention of loving yourself is often warped in its application. Namely, this pressure to express self-love can be rooted in harmful notions of gatekeeping and scorekeeping. Related to this is my conviction that the self-love movement is, perhaps subconsciously, a patriarchal mechanism designed to incite competition among female-identifying individuals over who can “love” themselves the most.
When you think about it, this innate urge among women to prove our worth or compete with others is grounded in our upbringing and prevailing cultural values. The juxtaposition is kind of ironic. We are told to love ourselves and embrace all of our flaws by the same people who reinforce the historic minimization and sexualization of women. It makes sense that we might find refuge in throwing around these notions of self-love, keeping score of who is doing so “best.”
This is not to discredit the people who express their self-love with purely positive intentions, whether to motivate others or simply be their happiest selves. My qualms reside in the often subconscious motivation behind an expression of self-love, this idea of “one-upping” others by flaunting your remarkably intact self-esteem. Social media is rife with this sort of content.
Typing the phrase “self-love” into TikTok results in hundreds of painstakingly edited videos depicting morning workout routines and homemade matcha. Once again, not dissing anyone who is proud of their healing process. But in a feed full of aesthetic clips and cheesy affirmations, how can we tamp down our inner cringe and truly believe that these practices yield results? By comparing our amount of self-love or self-affirming practices to someone else’s, how can we truly drown out the noise and actually do the work?
“I'm gonna put my body first / And love me so hard 'til it hurts”
There’s a reason why “self” is in the word “self-love.” Every individual has a unique relationship with themself and believing in the existence of a universal set of guidelines bound to heal that connection is short-sighted. To that end, I am in no position to tell someone how to love themselves. I do believe in being brutally honest with yourself about how you view you, realizing that it’s okay to acknowledge the aspects of yourself that you don’t like. Through your introspection, perhaps you realize that these “flaws” are rooted in personal bias or maybe you identify aspects of your attitude or interactions with others that you want to improve. Whatever the result, reflection, however uncomfortable, can reveal your true feelings toward yourself.
This acknowledgment lays the foundation for more meaningful practices to better your relationship with yourself. If you find solace in listening to others’ self-love advice, by all means, continue. Just remember that ultimately, you are the only one who can make significant changes in your self-relationship.
So please, scream your own name. Hype yourself up in the mirror if that’s what helps you. But if I or others don’t feel like doing the same, just know that we’re still thriving and striving to love ourselves every day.
Art by Kate Rispoli
Originally published in Your Magazine