How I have come to know & understand self love.
Photographed by Carly Dame. I love this shot because it captures the light and shade, and I believe you can't appreciate the light, if you don't have any darkness.
The term "Self Love" gets thrown around so much in the wellness world that unfortunately, like anything that gets talked about a lot and used as a buzz word it can become, shall we say... taboo? However, self love, self care, and self acceptance (terms that are very much one in the same) are all areas in which each of us face, try to improve, and maintain in our lives. So I'd like to try and go a little deeper beyond the IG quotes of "Love Yourself" and share some of personal lessons I've learnt and am still working on along my own journey.
How you approach self improvement:
There can be a negative side to practicing self love if you approach it with a level of perfectionism and control. It can do more harm than good if you bring a judgmental, rigid, obsessive energy towards exercise, nutrition or self care practices. It can also be unhealthy if you are constantly chasing an ideal that is unattainable to you or unrealistic for yourself. This can lead to constantly comparing yourself to others and experiencing chronic low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with yourself and your own life. So what is a healthy way to approach it?
Self-love starts with self-acceptance:
Begin the work of learning to really accept who you are right now just as you are, and saying that you don't need to improve anything. This way instead of your inner critic taking over, you can start from a place of feeling whole and your outlook can shift so that you turn to your healthy practices to ground, nurture, and take care of yourself as opposed to making yourself "better". It's a difficult thing to achieve because all of the little things that we don't like about ourselves and want to improve are also the very things that can be the catalyst to push us forward to grow and evolve. So it's not realistic to feel 100% accepting of ourselves 100% of the time - and it's not healthy to be your own worst critic. I think there is a balance to dance between those two ends of the spectrum. If you can reinforce accepting, supportive, and compassionate thoughts and come from that loving place then any self-care rituals you practice will start to feel like a bonus in your day, like you are treating yourself to something that you know is good for you, rather than something you have to do in order to get closer to your ideal self.
For me personally there were many years where I was told that I "needed" to change something about my appearance by my agents in the fashion industry, and because how I look was directly correlated to my livelihood it became a part of my job. I remember having specific weight and hip measurement requirements in my contracts for Tokyo. So I went from running track in high school for the pure love of it, to exercising because I was told to. I could feel a huge shift in how I felt when I worked out; it became a chore instead of an endorphin release. I was told to be on a strict diet, with no guidelines of what that meant, and there was suddenly great attention and caution around what I was eating.
Looking back I can see that when I was on a regimented diet and exercising a lot, I was much unhealthier physically and mentally than when I am just being me, listening to my body, eating when I'm hungry, paying attention to my cravings, nourishing myself, and going with my bodies natural flow of exercise. My approach now is much more relaxed. Sometimes, I am in the flow of excercise and sometimes I am in the flow of just resting, and that is totally ok. Once I stopped living my life for other people and gave myself the permission and freedom to be myself I was liberated to accept my body just the way it is (no measuring tape or scale in sight). Then and only then could I move forward. And I can honestly say that I look better now, when I am not trying to be someone else's version of myself. In the beginning it might feel unnatural and you might have to fake it til you make it by repeatedly giving yourself encouraging words, especially whenever a negative thought enters your mind - acknowledge it - let it go - and then give yourself positive reinforcement until this becomes natural.
Learn about your insecurities, embrace them, and relinquish them:
Often we might think we have all the answers and know ourselves very well because we create stories in our minds about why things are they way they are. We have our own story of ourself, and yet we have these insecurities that can be deeply rooted in something we are not even aware of. In my experience it has been incredibly helpful to write it all down on paper, get to know my insecurities, embrace them as a part of my story but not let them define myself as a person. If you can accept any shame or mixed feelings you might have about your insecurities, and finally...let them go. It can be helpful to talk to someone else to have a sounding board - a loved one, or a professional who can offer a listening ear and or tools to help with this process. You are NOT alone in feeling this way and other people will understand.
Another thing I found helpful was to consciously shift my energy and attention on to the people in my life. We can get caught up in our own issues but connecting with others is one of life's gifts that can bring our focus to something bigger than ourselves.
Learn your emotional threshold and set boundaries:
Humans are so resilient, we experience things that push and extend over our emotional threshold every day. But just because you "can" stand an uncomfortable circumstance or relationship doesn't mean you have to or should. That old phrase "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" is true, but what it fails to mention is that what doesn't kill you can do harmful damage. Know and accept your limits, and respect your values. If you notice that a friend, relationship, work environment, or any environment (even your Instagram feed) is making your feel uncomfortable, less than, or is not good for yourself in some way then draw a clear boundary in your mind and take the necessary steps to remove yourself from the situation.
Explore what your own authentic self-care practices are:
Open any health mag and you can find hundreds of ideas on ways to "take care of yourself." Sometimes these messages can make us feel like we aren't doing enough to take care of ourselves. It's important to remember that behind those magazines and advertisements are business that are selling wellness products and real self-care is more than a face mask on a Friday night. I'm just saying we all have our own story, emotional wounds that need healing, and ways in which we like to be cared for. Discover what your self-care practices look like - ask yourself what you need in this present moment. It could be something that helps ground you in a routine or an experience that takes you outside of your daily life. It can be physical movement, nurturing or relaxing. Walks, restorative yoga, and hot baths can be great. Seeing a naturopath can be a good resource if you have physical ailments that you would like to learn to treat with lifestyle changes/self-care practices. There are also many ancient Ayurvedic healing practices that you can research and try.
I think the biggest lesson I have learned about self love is that it is a never ending journey with many ups and downs. The relationship we have with ourselves is the longest relationship we will ever experience. There are times when taking care of yourself comes more naturally, and times where life throws us a lot and it can feel very difficult. Doing the best that you can for your mind, body, and spirit, with the tools you've got is what matters. By no means do I feel like I've got it "figured out"...getting to a place of inner peace and confidence, and unapologetically being my truest self are goals that I am constantly work towards. Some days it can feel like those things are aligned and other days it can feel like more of a struggle. But I am trying to appreciate the journey of learning my own self care practices, and working on staying in that mindset of honoring, accepting, and loving who I am.
Sending accepting, healing vibes to you at whatever part of your journey you are on...