Self-love can be a very irritating buzzterm, and these days, it’s everywhere you look. The culture of inclusion is trending and brands are riding the cash cow (“Love your shape! Your size! Your color! In our jeans!”). Impossibly perfect Instagrammers post daily affirmations about their battles with self-acceptance despite crippling imperfections (you know, like freckles). I, along with everyone else and their dog, practice yoga and try my hardest to be okay with who and how I am.
The mandate that we should “love ourselves” is daunting, mystifying, and deeply frustrating…yet, somehow, we’re all supposed to get there. The expectation is to rise above your insecurities and reach “a place of peace” in which you’re okay with the size of your thighs (the proof is in the shorts), or the fact that you tend to date people who mistreat you. The verbiage is part of the problem: when people say things like “you can’t love or be loved until you love yourself!” the question of self-love seems like a binary outcome. Either you love yourself and you’re blissfully happy, or you don’t and have no self-respect. Who the hell knows what’s going on in between?
Okay, so what does it mean to love yourself? I’ve asked around and most people seem to agree on an answer. My boyfriend expressed it as “finding a sense of peace and happiness with yourself, regardless of the exterior stuff that goes on in life.” I agree 100% that happiness is, and always should be, the intention. But this definition feels somewhat incomplete; and again, it supposes a goal, an outcome, an ideal place “you should be at,” and if you’re not there, you’re kind of nowhere. It leaves out any real, tactical mechanism by which you can hope to achieve the happiness and the peace.
So I decided to expand the definition to make self-love more actionable: self-love is about taking full responsibility of yourself, and by extension, of your own happiness. Nobody else can (or should) dictate the terms of your existence, nor should they be responsible for your complete happiness. And while the recipe for self-love will vary from person to person, it must be built on a strong foundation — and that starts with taking care of yourself.
Feeling good originates in both body and mind, so why shouldn’t your body and mind be at their best? I realize this sounds incredibly obvious, but most people I know live busy and complex lives, and their basic needs almost unfailingly get overlooked. I’m guilty of this myself; in fact, I’m a serial offender. I’ve allowed both things and people in my life to take precedence over my health and well-being to a scary extent, and it’s a pattern I want to stop.
Loving yourself means treating your body and your mind with care. Here’s my starter list of practical ways to accomplish this.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat foods that are a) enjoyable and b) make you feel amazing (both are very important).
- Do things that make your body feel alive and powerful.
- Recognize when you need a break — and take one.
- Surround yourself with people who love and accept you for who you are; absolutely no time for fuckboys or haters.
- Set boundaries for anyone or anything that has the potential to harm you, physically or emotionally.
- Clean out and organize your closet/desk/laptop/car/etc. to open up space for a clearer existence.
- Identify patterns, mental or physical, that cause you unhappiness — and see if you can work to break those habits.
- Don’t ascribe intent! Taking personal offense to everything will only bring you down. I promise not everybody is out to get you.
- Be actively mindful — cultivate awareness of what you’re thinking, wanting, feeling, and try to acknowledge all of these without judging yourself too harshly.
Basic, I know…but if you go down the list, can you say you do them all? I certainly can’t. This is where self-love takes a lot of discipline. It’s a full-blown commitment, it does take work, and it’s very, very easy to get lazy and surrender to a cycle of hopelessness, apathy, and frustration. If you know it’s going to be an especially busy week, maybe you need to plan your meals ahead of time. If there’s a person in your life causing you harm, maybe you need to both emotionally and physically distance yourself. I’ll be the first to tell you that none of this is easy, BUT this is where you have an important decision to make: pay it forward to make things better, or stay exactly as you are.
I also find it a helpful reminder that the path to self-love is just that: a path. It’s a path you start on and travel along, but there’s no precise destination; you just keep on keepin’ on. I think of it along the same lines as maintaining good hygiene — you don’t just get a revolutionary scrub down and are set for life, you have to tend to things on a regular basis.
“It’s easy to lift ourselves up and embrace who we are when life is going great, but the true test of self-love comes when we’re challenged by uncertain events and aspects of ourselves that we wish we could change.”
-Yogi Surprise, February 2017
The point here is not to turn into some eternally sunny version of yourself, but to be armed with all of the right tools when life inevitably decides to take a giant dump on you and then light you on fire. You’re equipping yourself to handle your shit as best you can, and that’s the most any of us can ever hope to do. You know — build your house on a rock instead of silt so you can weather the storm and all that.
For me, the intention for everything — self-love included — is to maximize happiness and meaning. I remain eternally surprised by how often we lose sight of these as we go about our lives: Why are you working 60-hour weeks? So that my boss will promote me. Why do you want a job promotion? So that I can make more money. Why do you want more money? So that I can buy nice things. Why do you want things? Because they make me happy. In other words, you’re working long, hard hours because it will ultimately bring you happiness. That’s the short of it, but look how long it took to arrive at that conclusion. With all this lily-padding of reasons, it’s easy to get caught up and take on added stress and self-hatred. Why not start with happiness? ♥️