The act of loving ourselves has become just one more intoxicating and impossible ideal, which we're all encouraged to ‘aspire’ to, and derive ‘inspo’ from. The right to love who and what we are, as we are, has somehow been taken from us, and reduced to the status of yet another thing that we ‘should’ be doing.
Self-love has become what we berate ourselves with on a daily basis: it’s in the vitamin supplements that we should be swallowing, and in the yoga classes that we should be attending, and in the forgiveness that we should be feeling, and on the meditation cushions that we should be using. However, self-love is not just another commodity, tagline, Promised Land, or pastel-coloured quote on social media, posted alongside carefully crafted images of bodies, beach scenes and bowls of greens.
Self-love is a choice. It’s a way of being, and a way of seeing. It’s not something that we should be doing, and there’s no need to wait until New Year’s Eve, or a promotion, or a holiday, to choose it.
Self-love is easy, although it doesn't mean that everything is going to be easy. It means that through making the choice to accept who and what we are - just as we are - our thoughts and our feelings and our burdens and our struggles and our triumphs and our preferences, become our most sacred possessions, because they’re all that we have, and there is no reason not to love and care for them.
True self-love is neither discriminatory, nor selfish, and it neither harms, nor excludes. Nor is it reserved for the most evolved, beautiful, peaceful, powerful, fit and fulfilled amongst us. Self-love in action is peaceful, and harmonious, and it’s accessible to everyone. It’s not even an intricate process: it’s about making choices in alignment with what we know to be true for us, and caring for those choices. Deeply.
Self love is when we’re able to say, 'actually, I'm exhausted, I'm going to have a bath tonight, would we be able to talk during the week?' or 'I don't want to drink alcohol today because I’d like to see how it feels not to,' or ‘what you said really resonated with me, thank you,’ or ‘I need some time off work to figure out what I want,’ or ‘wow, having a good cry can be so healing,’ because when we choose these things, we’re also choosing to offer those around us the space to discover what feels loving for them, too.
And what feels loving for them could be different from what feels loving for us, and that’s ok. Because when we choose to love ourselves, we don’t need anyone to do anything differently, or to be anything different from who, and what, they are. Everything becomes lovable: anger, frustration, betrayal, insecurity, disappointment, sorrow and sadness – ours, and other people’s.
Choosing to love ourselves conditionally, or only in those moments when we’re ‘winning’, or when everything seems to be ‘going well’, or when others are admiring and complimenting us, is seductive, and dangerous. The test is to choose self-love when everything is going down the shitter, or when some things are going smoothly, and others not so much. Like when those that we care about are letting us down, or disapproving of our decisions, or when things aren’t turning out as we expected, or when we need to say no. Because when we can say no, with love, life becomes a very different experience.
Self-love is a luxury that we can all afford, because it lives in our hearts. It’s unconditional, and all encompassing. It helps us to recognise pain, and fear, and hate, and supports us in making loving choices in response. Which we’ll need to do, because loving ourselves doesn't mean that other people are going to love us. Quite the contrary: people love other people not loving things. Bonding over what we wish we did or didn't have, or what we wish we were or weren't, is strong social adhesive. So when we say: It’s my bloody life, and I’m going to live it and love it anyway! Others often don’t know how to respond.
Self-love is a revolutionary act. When we choose to love ourselves - no matter what is or is not happening in our lives – we’re no longer confusing waiting, for living. We’re no longer relying upon the opinions of others, or on some hastily made New Year’s resolutions, or on the imposition of strict restrictions, or rules, or a few lofty intentions, or fervent desires to be ‘better’ than the person that we already are.
Instead, we are making a choice - and we can make it right now.
Madeleine Ryan is a freelance writer.