we need to talk about self-love culture

The concept of “self-love” has been having a moment for what, now – a decade or so? We tout it as an excuse to buy expensive bath bombs and invest in silky lingerie. We call it a movement, a sudden change of thought. We hashtag it on our selfies, even when we don’t believe it.

I’m guilty of it, too. I’ve utilized Self-Love as a marketing message everywhere on this blog – from the No Spend New Year to the Wild Woman, herself. But that doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. And that certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it now. Heck, it’s exactly why we should.

I’ve struggled with loving myself since I was in the third or fourth grade. While most girls anxiously awaited puberty in middle school, I was already deep in it. And I didn’t feel like a woman. I felt like a lump. Most days, I still do. And it’s been 20 freakin’ years. Twenty years of living in a body I don’t appreciate. Twenty years of wishing I was “better,” thinner, more outgoing…

It’s not uncommon for me to find myself curled up in a ball, in literal tears over how much I “hate” myself. From my quiet nature, to my baby cheeks, to the pudge around my middle, to my hips, my skin texture, and my stubby legs, it can be hard for me to name one thing I find attractive – or even potentially appealing. And that’s a problem, y’all. That’s really f–ed up. But I know I’m not alone. Because women (and men)s inability to love ourselves – truly – is why the self-love movement gained so much popularity in the first place.

Personally, I’ve spent and wasted so much time, energy, and money trying to fix the things I don’t love that I don’t even know how to live a life in which I’m entirely at peace with myself. My life is built on the never-ending drama of fixing. I’m obsessed with it. It’s why I love reading memoirs. It’s why I write.

Having someone to love you even in the darkest moments isn’t enough to fix it, either. There is nothing my partner can say or do to make me feel better when I’ve fallen into the nasty pit of self-despair I’ve become so well-acquainted with. But it’s not his fault – it’s my own. It is my job to love myself. No one – no product – no slogan – can do it for me.

That’s what self love literally means, y’all. Loving yourself. Accepting yourself. Even when you don’t think it’s possible.

I have to talk about this today because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and all the pretty influencers out there will be preaching to us about how great it is to love ourselves. But they’ll probably tell us to buy flowers or chocolates, to treat ourselves to a date night. They’ll probably do this as they flaunt their toned bodies on Instagram and pout their pursed Kylie-lined lips at the camera. They’ll tell us the upcoming President’s Day sale at Nordstrom has great deals on matching sweatsuits that are perfect for a private night of rom-com binges with our friends. And all of that is good and well….but it’s not going to fix the deeper issue at hand.

If we can’t love ourselves, Self Love™ is null and void. Plain and simple.

Here’s a tale:

It occurred to me last week as I was working my $10/hour part-time job (that I took after losing my full time job to a worldwide pandemic, as have others) that the fact I assume people look down on me is entirely due to my own lack of confidence in myself. I feel “less than” because I am earning and doing “less than” I used to. My purpose feels “less than,” my future feels “less than,” – and all of that is in my head because I believe I am innately “less than” the people I serve on a daily basis. The people driving $80,000 SUVs. The people building million dollar custom houses. The people who have been able to keep their jobs and safely work from home.

But it’s all my own perception. The average customer who I assume is looking down at me for Windex-ing the front door for the fifth time that day doesn’t know anything about me aside from what I put forth. And I can’t properly put forth a confident, promising young woman if I refuse to admit she exists in the first place.

If I feel like people are looking down on me or judging me – that’s my own self-inflicted problem. That is my lack of self-love. And if they go so far as to be a jerk to me when I’m doing the best work that I can – then that’s their problem. But if I’m walking around with my head down low, falling victim to negative self-talk, and that effects the way I’m treated….then perhaps we’re both in the wrong. Perhaps I’m not giving my best. Perhaps my inability to love myself is rubbing off on strangers, too.

I know I’m biting off more than I can chew here, because I’m not a doctor, or a therapist, or even a life coach, but I need to say this to y’all as much as I need to say it for myself, even if I’m just on the tip of the iceberg:

I think we can find (real) self-love if we just stop harassing ourselves. If we stop digging. If we learn to live and be as we are, without fixating on the things that need improvement – whether that’s our shoes, our skincare routines, or our social calendars. Because every time we keep plucking or sucking in, every time we say we’re “worthless” or we “don’t have a chance,” we fall deeper into a spiral of behavior that makes these kinds of reactions the status quo. We say, “It’s okay to talk down to myself because that’s what I do, that’s how I function,” when that’s not the way we should be functioning at all! We shouldn’t be scraping by; we should be thriving. Even if our finances are a mess, even if our job prospects are questionable, we should feel like we have something good to offer – if not to the world, at least to our partners, our families, and most importantly, ourselves.

As I’ve said before and will continue to say throughout this year, my choosing not to shop this year isn’t just about minimizing the amount of stuff in my closet or getting my credit cards down to 0. It’s about finding an inner peace, about learning to be enough for myself. But for that to work, I have to show myself some love and some grace, too. A slap on the wrist every now and again might be effective, but condemning myself for past behaviors is an act of self loathe – not self love. And if I don’t utilize some compassion in this process, it won’t work, because I’ll feel like both the defendant and the prosecutor. And I don’t want to live that way, do you?

Think about the things you want to change about yourself. (It’s okay to want to grow!)

But now, think about the way you’re going about this process. Do you want to improve because you feel like who you are right now is innately “less than”? Do you want to change because you’re disgusted by what you see in the mirror? Or do you want these things because you love who you are but you’d just like to be a little better, to show it off to the world, to challenge yourself in a positive way?

One of these things is not like the other. And I’m going to try and choose the one that feels good. How about you?