Sondosia had some really interesting things to say about self-love, which has started to get me to think about the problems I have with the way a lot of people talk about self-love.
“Love your body!” “Everyone is beautiful!” “You’re an amazing person!” “You’re more awesome than you know!” “You’re perfect just the way you are!” Most things that get classified as a “positive affirmation.” Anything put on black-and-white pictures of overweight women doing yoga or birds flying into a sunset. You get the idea.
The problem is that they always sound false to me. I mean… I know I’m not perfect just the way I am. I forgot to turn in a form for long enough that I have to petition the provost to persuade them that, yes, I am attending this institution of higher learning. That is not the act of a perfect person! That’s actually the act of a somewhat ridiculous person!
As for the beauty thing… well, yeah, everyone’s beautiful in the sense that everyone is sexually attractive to someone, and that human bodies in general are pretty cool-looking. But conventional attractiveness is still a thing. While I’m fairly conventionally attractive (thin, white, clear skin, symmetrical features), I doubt hairy legs, bound chests, and haircuts that make one look like a teenage boy are going to be all the rage at Cosmo any time soon.
I would rather have a clear-headed assessment of my flaws and virtues than a smarmy “you’re perfect just the way you are.” For one thing, as a mentally ill person, I’m pretty inclined to declare that my flaws are everything, everything in the world, I suck at all the things. It is very difficult for me to get from “I suck at literally everything” to “I’m fabulous and amazing.” On the other hand, it is fairly easy for me to go from “I suck at literally everything” to “I am forgetful, antisocial, and excessively poor at sales, but on the other hand I’m a pretty good writer, a kind friend, and a Lawful Good Paladin.”
Once I know my flaws, I can say to myself that it’s okay. Everyone has some flaws; mine tend, at worst, to cause minor annoyance to myself and other people. I’m not a horrible person or secretly Hitler. Now that I know what my flaws are and the ways that I differ from Society’s Norm Of How People Should Be, I can work out how to deal with them if I want to– or I can just accept them as a part of myself. You know what? I’m antisocial. I’m staying in on Friday night to watch My Little Pony. I’m cool with that.
And I’d like to be able to point out that I’m forgetful without people being like “stop being so mean to yourself!” I’m not being mean; I’m being accurate. Yes, in high school, I was a creepy, ugly, socially awkward loser. Yes, I am peculiar to the point that it is astonishing anyone wants to date me. I don’t want to put my energy into denying that; I want to put my energy into being like “yep, and I accept that about myself, and I’m awesome anyway.”
I want to make it clear here that I’m absolutely not saying anything about what other people should like. If you happen to find that “everyone’s beautiful” and “you’re perfect just the way you are” make you feel better about yourself, go for it! There is room for more than one way of handling self-image in this world, and what works best for you is going to be rooted in your psychology and lived experience. Ultimately, you should do what makes you feel good.
But for me… you can stack up all your “everyone is beautiful” posters. I’d rather have “prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked female.” And “maybe I am ugly. I’m still fucking awesome.” I’d rather accept my flaws than pretend I don’t have them. And I’d rather have self-compassion than self-love.