“Self-love.” How can I define it? When do I know that I truly, properly love myself? When I put on a crop top regardless of what I ate for dinner? When someone calls me a bitch and I take it as a compliment? When I adopt a “thank u, next” attitude towards life’s hardships?
When it comes to “loving oneself,” whatever that means, women live in a world of unsolicited messages that come with a lot of pressure. The creepy dick pics of self-love, if you will. The worst part is that every new message seems to contradict the last. In celebration of everyone’s favorite and/or least favorite holiday, I’d like to focus on this particular juxtaposition:
- You can not be truly happy until you find love (“love” remains undefined; sorry everyone).
- You cannot expect healthy, loving relationships with other people if you do not first love yourself (still no definition provided).
Basically, the majority of mainstream media tells women: find love to be happy. And wannabe psychologists on social media decided to tack on: also, love yourself, all of the time, or you cannot love or be loved by others.
It sparks a debate that no one wants to participate in. The contradiction tells us that self-love falls completely within our own control. Reality rips self-love away, changes its appearance and sometimes hands it back as an unrecognizable mess. The contradiction tells us that in times when we lack love for ourselves, we also lack the capacity to give and receive love interpersonally. Reality calls bullshit.
The exciting and terrifying challenges of life cause self-love to fluctuate, and there should be no shame associated with questioning how okay we are with our current state of existing. Some challenges are persistent, such as the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and ableism. Others can happen to any of us, often quickly and unexpectedly. Financial distress. Suffering a miscarriage. Survivors’ guilt following a community disaster. No matter how events like these might impact one’s sense of self-love, everyone has the potential for healthy relationships with family, friends, caregivers, intimate partners, and any other source of love and belonging.
At two distinct times in my own life, mental illness has drained the self-love from my usual confident and carefree persona and replaced it with self-loathing. In neither of these times did I appreciate useless sentiments such as, “If you want anyone else to love you, you have to love yourself more.” Further, in neither of these times did my loved ones adopt an abusive attitude simply because I didn’t know if I met my own standards as a human being. And if they had, the blame for that would have fallen on them.
When anorexia had me crying in an Urban Outfitters fitting room, my mom told me I looked great in floral and bought me a cup of tea. When post-traumatic stress disorder told me to just give up on dating because my assault had ruined my ability to trust another man for the rest of forever, my friends drove me back to a concert we had just left and fought the no re-entry policy so I could “get that harmonica guy’s phone number!!!” So, take that, pseudo-psychologists on Twitter. I have received love in moments when I had nothing but contempt for myself. It’s not only possible, but natural. As social animals on a very long journey, we need each other’s care the most when we struggle to care for ourselves. And thankfully, others are often willing to provide if we only find the courage to accept their support and service.
This Valentine’s Day, remember that no matter how someone feels towards themselves in a given moment, they still hold inherent value and are never at fault for experiencing abuse. Instead of demanding: “Love yourself, or no one else will love you,” ask: “What can we do that will allow you to love yourself more fully?” And if you fall on the receiving end of that question this Valentine’s Day, I hope you buy yourself a freaking rose or something. Or find me. I will.