Self-love has become a ubiquitous platitude that promises a carefree life of ease, if you can only learn to love yourself as you are. The problem with that, of course, is that there are many obstacles in place which prevent us from accomplishing that goal. These systemic barriers include factors such as size, race, age and ability. Mainstream self-love movements take on a bland, one-size-fits-all approach, diluting the message and putting forth the incorrect notion that self-love is equally accessible for all types of people.
Mainstream self-love relies on a commodified version of self-care as an act of self-love. It preaches the soul-restoring merits of a bubble bath, facial, or other things that require both time and money to devote to non-essential tasks. True self-care can be as banal as opening that mail you have been tossing on the kitchen counter for a week, washing your hair, or scheduling an appointment with a therapist. Taking care of your body and your mind does not need to include buying expensive luxury items, especially not at the expense of your basic needs.
MSL has become an exclusionary movement which disregards the experiences of marginalized groups. Loving yourself in a larger body, for example, requires battling the ways in which society stigmatizes fat bodies and unlearning internalized fatphobia. This barrier is simply not present when a thin person tries to accept or love themselves. Loving yourself with a disability involves confronting ableist policies and advocating for yourself in inaccessible spaces. Loving yourself at 40 includes accepting the natural signs of aging that are so often pathologized by our youth-obsessed culture. Loving yourself in the LGBTQ+ community can be affected by the changes you may want to make to your body. The list goes on. Genuine self-love can be achievable, but we must acknowledge that the journey is much more difficult for some people than others.
To MSL, if you are not actively loving yourself every second of every day, you have failed. In actuality, even the most self-assured, confident people have moments of doubt. I prefer the goal of self-acceptance over outright love; it leaves room for the inevitable ups and downs. Acceptance of your body, for example, could include neutral statements such as, “I don’t love my stomach today, but it does a good job of digesting my food.” Body neutrality can be a stepping stone to self-love and is a valid part of that journey. It relies on the idea that your body is doing its best to keep you alive every day, regardless of how you feel about it. In terms of mental health, a self-acceptance mindset might include something like, “My depression is acting up, but I will do my best to keep myself safe today.” Again, this acknowledges the challenge in a neutral, non-judgmental way without dwelling on the negative thought.
True self-love can be a lofty goal and a lifelong adventure. Be wary of people who claim to have unlocked the secret to self-love from a waist trainer or diet program. You will never find love from a place of self-hatred. You cannot heal from wounds in the same place you received them. Surround yourself with people you admire, not those who make you feel envious or inadequate. Be compassionate with others and with yourself. You are a glorious work in progress, always.