‘Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.’ – Louise L. Hay
Self-love is hard. It’s hard because we have been programmed to strive for the best every step of the way. It is hard because we are constantly exposed to images that promote unobtainable beauty ideals. Learning to love yourself is hard because most of the advice offered comes down to ‘just stop caring what other people think’. Of course, we know we shouldn’t care about what other people think, but that doesn’t make it easy – or even plausible – to stop caring! I am going to share some things that have helped me on my self-love journey, in the hopes that it might help guide you through this journey too!
In a world that promotes unrealistic beauty standards, I thought it fitting to start with accepting and loving the physical body, but that is not to dismiss the issues we face when confronted with loving ourselves beyond the physical. Loving our bodies when they don’t look like they stepped out of the pages of a magazine is no easy feat. It is a process that can take years, and that’s okay. I’m still on my journey but I have come so far that it’s hard to imagine why I hated my body so much in the first place. How did I get to where I am today?
Here are the five biggest steps I had to take on my journey to loving myself:
1. Recognize your privilege
‘The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.’ – Joseph Campbell
First, I recognized how privileged I was to have a body that functioned as well as it does. I have two working legs to carry me places, two arms to hold the ones I love, hands to hold a steaming cup of coffee to my lips and functioning lungs to breathe the fresh air of a beautiful new day. I could continue listing my functioning body parts, but I think you get the idea.
This is not to say that if certain parts of your body do not function well, or at all, that you should lose hope. Of course, we all face different circumstances. What I mean to say is that we need to shift our focus onto the things that we do have rather than don’t and once we have done this, we can work on being grateful for these privileges.
2. Be grateful
‘Gratitude turns what we have into enough.’ – Maya Angelou
Once I had recognized my privilege, it was time to be grateful for these privileges. What does this look like? For me it went something like this:
‘My stomach jiggles, but that’s okay – because my abdomen’s job is not to look sexy. It is to digest food, to possibly carry life, to hold and protect my internal organs. You’re doing a great job at that Tummy, thanks!’.
And so, once my gratitude for my body increased, it became much easier to love all of me for functionality and not just aesthetics. I did notice that when I stopped being so ashamed of my body’s physical appearance that my self-confidence improved. I felt sexier even though that was not my objective at all! Why? Well, I’d put it down to a shift in my mindset from negative to positive that allowed me to see the beauty that was already there! Trust me, we all have it.
3. Focus on ability, not aesthetics
‘In nature nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Tress can be contorted and they’re still beautiful.’ – Alice Walker
Now that I was learning to be grateful for my body, I decided I should take better care of it through exercise. This brought about a massive learning curve: exercise fueled by self-hatred and aesthetic desires could only take me so far, and always left me disappointed. However, exercise fueled by a desire to improve, to get stronger and better at certain movements, filled me with a feeling of success! Finally, I was beginning to love my body, to be proud of my body – not because it was skinnier or more muscular, but because it was getting stronger! My concern with how much space I took up in the world diminished and I began to truly embody my idea of gratitude for functionality.
4. Remove negative influences
‘The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.’ – Steven Furtick
Every day when we scroll through Instagram (and the likes), we are exposed to images of perfect bodies. This does not do wonders for freshly found self-esteem, and it definitely skews our view of how we should evaluate our bodies’ worth. This negative impact on my fragile self-love journey led to me deleting Instagram for a while, which helped hugely. However, the second I re-downloaded Instagram, I was bombarded with these images that seemed to scream at me to ‘do better!’. I was faced with a choice: Live afraid of participating on social media platforms or remove the influences that made me feel like I wasn’t worth my own love – I chose the latter.
Do not be afraid to unfollow influencers and companies that promote unrealistic expectations and ideals. Speak out when people you know feed into these ideals. Know your worth is grounded in more than the way you look. Now that you’ve removed the negativity, you can fill it with positivity!
5. Positive self-talk
‘Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.’ – Brene Brown
This one is hugely important. Positive self-talk is about so much more than looking in the mirror and telling yourself how beautiful you are (though that is important too!). It’s about stopping the negative self-talk in its tracks, acknowledging that what you just thought is not true and you are worth more than degrade yourself like that. It’s about praising yourself for your accomplishments and openly appreciating aspects of yourself. I challenge you to make a list of all the things you are good at and refer to that list when you start feeding into the negative voices. Take note of your small accomplishments and relish them. Whether you hit a PB in the gym or you just made the yummiest cake ever, you are worthy of your pride!
Try these affirmations to inspire positive self-talk:
‘I am worthy of my own love.’
‘I am healthy.’
‘I am everything I need to be.’
‘I am motivated.’
‘I am beautiful.’
Self-love is not a destination, it’s a journey and it’s one that you deserve to be on! Give yourself the time and space you need to work towards loving yourself more. It is important to note that these are the five things that worked well for me, you might find other things that work better for you! The best part about self-love is that there is more than one way to approach it. There are numerous factors to be considered when beginning a journey of self-love, and so the ride is never quite over, but it is glorious when you get going!