“How did you learn to love yourself?”- I have been asked this question so many times that it has made me start to ask “who taught you not to love yourself?”. I see uncertainty, confusion, loss, insecurity, and dread- all masked by a brave smile.The look in the eyes of the women who prompt this question is enough to bring on a sense of overwhelming compassion. I know what they’re feeling, I recognize the timidness and self-doubt; I had felt those things most of my life. I had been taught to hate myself, to loathe my appearance, to question my needs…to doubt my worthiness of love. When I reflect on how I had been taught to view myself, I can understand why loving myself was considered brave and rare…we live in a world where it has become the standard for women to hate themselves, where self-love and confidence are now equated with rebellion.
It isn’t hard to see why many women feel this way- we just have to look at what women are told from the time we are children. We are told to be beautiful, that slim is attractive and fat is hideous. We are told to hold our tongues, that having an opinion and standing up for ourselves makes us bitches. We are told to fall in love, that those who are alone are lonely, that our worth is defined by our “other half”; as if we were born incomplete. We are told that our roles aren’t as valuable, that we are only worth 75% of what a man is worth. We are taught to belittle and attack other women, because while they share our gender, we are in constant competition with them; for men, for love, for attention. We have been taught that we are both the enemy and the other. In a world where we are taught to hate everything that we are, how could we possibly learn to love ourselves?
I’m not going to say that it is simple or easy- loving yourself is anything but those things. It’s complicated, difficult and it will challenge you in ways you never expected or prepared for. But what I will say is this; it is worth it, it will be the best thing that you ever do for yourself. I work at it every day, the same way successful couples work at relationships- consistently and with patience. I give myself all of the compassion, understanding, acceptance, and support that I would give to anyone else that I loved…the only difference is that I start with me.
I started with small things, I began to start my day with waking up and standing in front of my mirror completely naked- no makeup, no hair product, no flattering clothes…just me, raw and vulnerable. I would take in my entire appearance and I’d find one thing about myself that I loved, just one. The first time I tried to do this it took me nearly 2 hours to find one part of myself that I loved, the whole time a quote kept replaying in my head “if I asked you to name all the things you loved, how long would it take until you said yourself?”- it drove me mad. I broke down crying- this was 6 weeks after my car wreck.
I stood there with bruises covering my body- ribs to knees, an incision running down the length of my atrophied leg, cuts and scars all over my face and neck. I was emaciated from being on bed rest and I barely had the strength to sit up most days. If you think its hard to love yourself on a normal day, try doing it on your weakest and most broken of days. It was in that moment that I realized I had to change my thought process, the only way I would get past this self-loathing was to start loving the most hideous parts of myself- I started with my incision. Instead of touching it with apprehension, I ran my fingers over it the way I would caress a loved one. I looked at it for what it had given me; the opportunity to walk, to live my life, to become independent again…that was when I learned to love it. I woke up the next day and repeated the same process, this time it took only an hour and a half. It took me less than 3 seconds this morning.
I began to apply this idea to every part of who I am and what I do. I began to forgive my past mistakes, to love what I had learned from them. I stopped explaining myself to others. I began to love the sides of my personality that others had always told me were too much. I valued my tenacity, sassiness, tenderness, vulnerability, and sensuality. I stopped apologizing for being who I was and doing what made me happy. Little by little, I began to love myself- all of myself; even the sides that I would rather keep hidden. I started to forgive myself and accept that I would never be anyone else’s idea of “right” or “perfect”- but that doesn’t mean that I was any less deserving of love or happiness.
It isn’t easy to do this every day, there are days when it is very difficult to love myself. There are days when I don’t want to look in the mirror, but I make myself do it; I take a deep breath and I start all over again. I remind myself that my value, my happiness, my satisfaction and my love all comes from me. I define my life, I am the end all- be all in my world because it begins and ends with me. I will have to live with myself every day, for the rest of my life- and how much more beautiful and wondrous it would be if I loved who I was.
So in response to the question “how did you learn to love yourself?” – I learned that loving myself came naturally, I had to unlearn hating myself. The most beautiful thing about this revelation is that it comes from me, which means that no one can ever take it away. No one can make me feel differently about who I am, no one can ever make me question my worth because I have finally learned that I define that- not them. I learned that no one else could do it for me, that if I wanted to live freely and unencumbered by the mass amounts of doubt in this world, I had to love myself. And what did I learn from this? I learned to love myself, shamelessly, unapologetically- I love myself.