Merriam-Webster’s Definition of Self-Love
: love of self:
a : conceit
b : regard for one’s own happiness or advantage
Just love yourself, they say. You don’t love yourself enough, they tell you. You can’t find love because you don’t love yourself, they say. Good things would happen to you if only you’d love yourself first, they exclaim.
I see this advice everywhere I look, many times I see it from well-meaning friends (who usually have plenty of love in their lives) towards their friends who might be struggling with loneliness, life challenges, traumas, or even changes to their outward appearance they have little control over and are trying to adjust to. Sometimes those challenges or changes are things society tells them they are unworthy of love over. Sometimes they are conflicted because they still think they are worthy but don’t understand why they aren’t seeing that reflected back to them.
F*ck you, I say (to the people giving this lazy, over-simplified and usually nonhelpful “advice”). Life is hard enough with being bombarded with yet another thing to feel badly about ourselves over. Sheesh!
Self esteem doesn’t just come from what we think of ourselves, or how highly we consider our worth, or how much self love we give to ourselves. While those things are all important, so is how we see ourselves reflected back to us from our family, our close friends and society in general. This is why it’s so important for the marginalized to see positive examples of themselves in the media, and not just stereotypes. Our level of confidence is in a constant battle between reflected appraisals, social comparisons and self attributions. So, if you are practicing lots of self love (self attributions) as most of us do but suddenly don’t see that being reflected back to you, you might spiral into a sticky web of social comparisons while trying to figure out why your self attributions aren’t quite matching up to your reflected appraisals. People who have experienced changes in their appearance might be extra prone to notice these things, as we live in an incredibly shallow society that places the utmost importance on our outward appearance, especially for women. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t love themselves. It’s because they love themselves that they give AF at all.
It can be very confusing but someone’s struggle doesn’t generally mean they don’t love themselves. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t have a high regard for their own happiness or advantage (the definition of self love above). Many of these people being given this ridiculous blanket statement of needing to love themselves more are doing everything in their power to do just that. They are heavily invested in being the best version of themselves they can possibly be. They are doing the hard work of battling the same demons every human being deals with. So, that “advice” can be quite insulting to those of us who bust our asses on a daily basis to make life as amazing as we possibly can on our own.
According to the ancient Greeks, there are 8 Different Types of Love:
– “Eros” Erotic Love.
– “Philia” Affectionate Love.
– “Storge” Familiar Love.
– “Ludus” Playful Love.
– “Mania” Obsessive Love.
– “Pragma” Enduring Love.
– “Philautia” Self Love.
– “Agape” Selfless Love.
We all have the need for all of the different versions of love. What if the friend you are giving the advice to “just love herself more” is actually only receiving self love and all of the other versions of it are lacking and/or out of balance? Perhaps you could try being more loving to your friend (agape, storge, philia) instead of just giving her something else to fret over? Humans are naturally critical of themselves, as a form of survival. Some self criticism is necessary to push one to improve to be our best selves. But, we all have the basic need to love and be loved. It’s in our DNA. Let’s stop ignoring that.
So, skip telling people they need to love themselves even more. And, try loving them a little more yourself. That’s what friends are supposed to do.
With all of that said, I would be curious to hear all of the ways you all are practicing self love. What does self love mean to you? For me that means taking care of my mind, body and soul. Nurturing my creativity, looking for awe in the world around me, being loving towards others (interested in their stories, their aspirations and their struggles, looking for what makes them special and complimenting them on what I see in them. Letting them know someones actually sees them afterall. Isn’t that what we all want really?), getting out into nature when I can, painting my toenails even if there is nobody else to see them, doing yoga at home, practicing gratitude and loving-kindness meditation daily, indulging in the arts (music, cinema and literature), and constantly looking for ways to learn and grow. It goes on and on and on. And, I’m the best woman I’ve ever been because of not only the self love I have given to myself but also because of what I have seen in the past reflected back to me, and even because of the struggles – maybe especially because of the struggles.
I wish each and every one of you love (to be loved and to love) in all of it’s many forms and variations. May you find a happy balance in it all.
This post is part of my Bag Lady series. You can find the whole series right here. Or check out the original post to see what this is all about right here. This is an ongoing project, one in which I obviously need more subjects to take part in for the photography, but I’m also interested in hearing your stories and sharing them here, if you’re open to that. Let me know if you want to take part somehow!