Self love can be a tricky concept. Honestly, I’m not always sure how I feel about it, but then again – no I don’t want to think of the ‘then again.’ Do I love myself? Is loving oneself an essential part of life? Probably. It sits at the highest point of Maslow’s hierarchy, perched right atop self-actualization. Can you achieve one without the other? (“I’m actualized, gosh darn it, but I’m not happy about it!”)
First, let’s get to some sort of operational definition of self love so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.
I’m not big on dictionary definitions and generally seek out more specialized sources for information on a topic.
Self love is, according to one source, “regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.” Another site says that one doesn’t need to logically understand self-love, “you either get it or you don’t.” A third page describes self love as “taking the time to listen to your wants and needs.” So, now that we know what exactly we’re talking about, let’s get to breaking it down.
The kind of self love described above is usually aimed at the individual, but the subject becomes exponentially more radical when we consider it as a tool of our collective identities as women.
Contemporary feminism suffers on occasion from being overly insular in its application of critical thinking. Like any movement, it loses momentum when it dwells too much on the individual and loses sight of the big picture. Though not without its benefits, choice feminism (sometimes referred to as agency feminism) extends analysis really only so far as as the individual woman, not necessarily taking into account how her behavior relates to or impacts other women. To focus on the self without considering the consequences is to exist in a vacuum.
Sometimes, when people think ‘self love’, they imagine a woman getting a massage or taking the day off to binge watch her favorite shows on Netflix. While these things can absolutely demonstrate self value, they are not the limits of self love. Self love is a process, and consists of more than a day or two of pampering. Self love means looking inward and accepting the parts of your personality that define you, while also being able to identify those aspects which contribute to self destruction and self harm.
As women in the world, we get a lot of negativity thrown at us by the media or those around us, and this happens to us from the moment we enter this world. Girls are often told they aren’t good enough and this message plants the seed of self doubt in our minds, which follows us throughout our journey to becoming women. Self love takes understanding what it means to exist as a female in the world, and helping cultivate this understanding in others.
Self love does more than serve one’s ego. Ego has existed for centuries, while collective self love is revolutionary. Collective self love challenges the ego, which so often divides women instead of bringing them together.
Lately in my life, I’ve focused on cultivating strong bonds with other women, as well as reestablishing connections with my own two sisters. I value these connections more than anything else in my life; my sisters are absolutely everything to me. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve been able to be more honest with each other, and this honesty has been hugely beneficial to our relationships. In both our individual and collective self love we have helped each other grow.
When I first came out as a lesbian, I thought I’d be hard-pressed to find any gay female friends in the area but time has proven me wrong. I’ve met some true kindred spirits in the last couple of years, and we’re steadily forming our own little L-word circle. I’ve also been lucky enough to have had the same best friend for most of my life. We met in kindergarten and went to the same school through twelfth grade. During that time, we were speech partners, co-directors of choir, and joint presidents of our high school’s spell bowl team (we were called the Spell-cats and we have the shirts to prove it).
She and I eventually went to different colleges and were unable to maintain our sleepover schedule, but we made up for it with regular movie marathons on holiday breaks. She was there (with cake and ice cream) when a two-year relationship of mine went bust, she was also there (also probably with cake and ice cream) when I graduated from college and later came out of the closet.
Recently, this best friend moved out of state to live with her boyfriend in their new house. It’s sort of insane to think about, so I haven’t been dwelling on it too much. I know life goes on, and I know, too, that at the bottom of everything we’ll still be able to count on each other. You don’t have to be biologically related to someone to be sisters—I’ve seen enough Jessica Jones to know that much.
It hurts my heart when women say female friends are hard to make or keep. The only issues I’ve ever had in connecting with women came about from insecurity or lack of trust, and these issues themselves usually stemmed from some trauma. Applying the concept of self love to sisterhood takes courage, and a willingness to be truthful with yourself and others.
Friendships with women are so important. Not only are they survival strategies in a world that too often brings women down—they’re fabulously rewarding and good for the soul.
Self love requires a delicate balance of self acceptance and self improvement. Within the current discourse, there’s a lot of talk about being your “authentic self”. Though on the surface this sentiment sounds noble, what does it really mean? What if my authentic self suffers from internalized misogyny or homophobia? What if my authentic self is a bad tipper? How do we separate the good from the not-so-good? I’ve got news for ya, it’s not always easy.
Practicing self love takes time and concentrated effort.
Self love is about the journey toward being your best self, but loving yourself along the way. Self love is not to be used as an excuse for self complacency but as motivation for being your best self, because you deserve it. And that kind of accountability is liberating.
Love among friends is pretty much the same. I expect my friends to love me unconditionally and to be there for me, but because I value them as friends and as people, I do my best to show them the same effort in friendship. With this practice comes trust. I know if I act in ways that are harmful or destructive, it is not because that’s just my “authentic self” but because I’ve lost sight of who that is. Through it all, I know my sisters will be there for me, just as I’ll be there for them. Self love is solidarity, and solidarity presents a challenge to the system because it empowers both the individual and the whole.
Juliette Faraone studied digital media and film at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College before earning her BA in comparative literature from the University of Evansville. She is currently a staff writer for Screen Queens and lives in Indiana with her girlfriend and two cats. Her work can be found at http://www.juliettefaraone.com