From the dawn of time, I remember learning I should treat others the way I’d like to be treated. As the first-born child of God-fearing, Methodist-raised parents, this message was delightfully reinforced by studying Luke 6:31 while in Sunday school.
“Do to others as you’d have done to you, boys and girls,” the Pastor’s daughter preached as identical, corresponding coloring book pages were passed around the class. My Sunday school friends and I then scribbled in a Caucasian Jesus to bring home to our parents so they could accidentally misplace it in the recycling bin later that week.
As kids, most of us have been taught to treat others the way we want to be treated. Whether it be our parents, religion, or watching Disney’s Bambi (“if you can’t say anything nice…”), we somehow figure out that life tends to be more enjoyable and rewarding this way.
But sometimes we are so adamantly taught how to treat others; we forget how to properly treat ourselves.
How often do you hear a friend dismiss a sincere compliment, catch a parent disapprovingly looking at his or her reflection in the mirror, or see your sibling caught in a toxic relationship?
It has taken me an extraordinarily long time to write this particular post and not because I have a shortage of feelings about self-love, but because I feel as though I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’m a work in progress, but this is a place I think many of us identify ourselves as being in. I dismiss compliments, get caught up in how my physical appearance is lacking compared to others’, and let toxic relationships fester for longer than I should let them. All these things add up to quite a lot of unhappiness.
Until recently, I identified “self-care” and “self-love” as taking five minutes out of my life to apply a face mask or buy myself a pretty dress as a reward for an achievement. These can definitely be expressions of self-care and self-love. But while doing these things can certainly be a way of properly grooming yourself to become the best version of yourself that you can be, I think there are many other facets to learning how to treat yourself with love and respect to maximize your enjoyment from life.
The first is learning how to truly love your physical appearance. The second, in my humble opinion (hey, I’ve been living for 26 years now, that gives me some clout), is who we choose to surround ourselves with.
SELF-LOVE: Physical Appearance, Diet, Exercise
While I’m never one to say “no” to an undressed wad of cold, plain spinach, and long (plyo-filled, of course) walks on the beach, I’ve learned that part of my satisfaction with my body relates to more than just what or how much I choose to eat or workout. My satisfaction comes from how I view food and exercise and what their function is in my life.
Like many women, I’ve struggled with food guilt, binging and purging, abusing the treadmill, counting calories, and struggling to adhere to a workout plan amongst countless other negative behaviors. My senior year of college, I convinced myself that a strict, vegan diet was the pinnacle of all health and further convinced myself to adopt an unmaintainable, intense workout regime.
I’ll look so great, I thought. I’ll be happy.
It’s no surprise that when I set myself up with so many lofty goals surrounding my physical appearance, I failed spectacularly. I hated working out. I didn’t see myself getting thinner. I hated food, which I now felt alienated me. My skin was still acne-prone and cutting dairy out wasn’t helping. To make matters worse, I viewed these failures as an innate character flaw in myself. Food and exercise had always been something I knew I could control, so I controlled them obsessively to feel like I had discipline in my life. Once I burned out, however, I stopped working out and limited my calories to “make up for” my decreased activity. I felt like sh*t. Was I a sh*tty person for not having a pristine physical body or lacking the consistent drive to get there?
A large part of how we see ourselves and how we determine our self-worth comes from our relationship with food and exercise. Unfortunately, in today’s culture, deviations from standards of beauty (flat abs, a miniscule waist, a dance-hall ass, you know the drill) can equate to a perceived deficiency of character or lack of self-care. We all know this is ultimately not true, but sometimes it’s quite hard to remember. It’s difficult to be a woman or gay man on social media. We’re bombarded with images on a daily basis of gorgeous tanned skin, pearly white teeth, and airbrushed perfect bodies. When we become acclimated to these images, it’s almost a cruel reminder looking in the mirror to see how we may not measure up.
Since I’ve turned 26, I’ve found that whatever images I’m plagued with on social media, I’m most happy with my body and self-image when I have a relaxed, non-image focused, sustainable attitude toward food and exercise- not when I’ve achieved a week-long calorie deficit and lost five pounds. I spent a vacation on the beach a few weeks ago and for the first time in a long time, I did not feel the need to hide or cover up my body. I found a sustainable workout regime (and I hadn’t lost weight!) that focused more on just getting me moving as well as found a non-calorie deficient diet I could manage. I enjoyed working out and appreciated preparing dinner. Confident in this, I accepted that my body is just that, – a body. A body is just that, but also so much more. It’s wonderful tool to aid me in doing what it must- living. I can enjoy hiking, dancing, hugging, laughing, and anything in between with what I have now, and I feel infinite. I can do all these things enjoyably without washboard abs, perfect skin, or after a five-day juice cleanse.
Self-love comes from a place of finding sustainable methods that help you find YOUR beautiful, whether it be on the inside, outside, or both. We all know what society finds beautiful, but when is the last time you asked yourself what you find beautiful about you? The more I’ve grown into my twenties (a tumultuous time, let’s be honest), the more I place value on loving myself for who I am and my effort to become a better version of myself. Part of this comes from remembering to practice forgiveness- forgiving myself when I’m not able to finish my workout, and not feeling guilty over eating what I want, when I want to. I’ve grown to appreciate a makeup free face, guilt-free donuts, and loving my body (and mind!) for what it can do for me. Loving yourself begins with thankfulness and forgiveness. After all, a body without a beautiful mind is simply an empty vessel.
We are who we choose to surround ourselves with. Some of these people are in our lives whether we choose to have them there or not, including family members or co-workers. Others, we choose, such as friends and partners who become family.
Much of our happiness or lack thereof comes from this community of people. Will they be there for you or abandon you when you need it most? Are they someone you trust? How do they treat you?
Self-care is taking a part in positive relationships (both romantically and platonically) with those who lift you up. A positive relationship will demand the best of both parties, show you how to truly love and be loved, and teach you more about yourself. You’ll feel safe, trusted, and empathetic and return these courtesies to the other party involved. Cutting those out of your life who do not fit this criteria can immediately be the most painful experience in the world, but how can you care for yourself if surrounded by negativity?
I’ve been pretty lucky to stumble upon some of my closest friends through sports. High school volleyball gave me some of the healthiest friendships that I’ve had for the longest time. Distance has certainly taken a toll on how often we talk, but we all know we are there to support one another whenever or wherever. Through college, I gained more friends as I weeded through others. In my toughest times, they lifted me up and shown me unconditional love not unlike my own family. Relationships are never perfect, but at the end of the day, I’m grateful knowing the friendships I continue to foster push me to be a better, happier person.
After moving away from home, I’ve attempted navigating through a different type of relationship I’m most unfamiliar with: romantic relationships. Romantic relationships have always been more of a challenge for me. This past summer and fall, I let an overall negative romantic relationship fester because I so desperately wanted affection and thought I’d found it. I couldn’t be more wrong. I had been independent for so long and I wanted someone to take care of me, someone to be my best friend and someone to support. As we all know, relationships are a two-way road. I hated who I had become when with this guy and didn’t feel like myself. I was embarrassed. I hardly recognized the girl that left her house at night just to see him for a few hours, knowing full well I’d never get what I truly wanted: a stable, loving, relationship.This past winter, I did what I knew I had to do. I broke things off. It still hurts to this day, but I learned the hard way that just because someone else does not love you, does not mean you should not love yourself.
This past year, I did not do an overall great job of surrounding myself with healthy, positive, romantic relationships. This is why I especially consider myself lucky to be surrounded with friends and family who remind me I am very much loved for who I am. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the hard lesson of not letting my self-image be contingent on someone else’s perception of me. It’s taken some time to begin rebuilding myself up again, and I’ve done so through the positive relationships I choose to surround myself with.
Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I have less time to entertain negative friendships and relationships. I’m figuring out what I value in a relationship and am learning to say “no” to anything that is not that. Remember that you always have a decision, even when it feels like you don’t or when it feels impossibly hard. By evaluating relationships consistently, I’m practicing self-care and self-love. Surrounding myself with positive relationships serves to make me an overall happier, more secure person. I’m able to more effectively navigate life’s trials and tribulations with loved ones at my side.
So my question to you is this: what are you doing to self-care and self-love? It could be something as simple as acknowledging a friend’s compliment or finally having the courage to end a relationship that has been negatively impacting your happiness. It could even be as simple as taking five minutes during the day to apply a GlamGlow Supermud face mask.
Learning to love and care for yourself is not as innate as we may think it is. Life happens quickly. We become complacent, allowing ourselves to think that diminishing happiness is simply a reminder we should re-adjust to this new self-prescribed norm. What we may not realize, however, is that we can be much happier than we think. It starts from within and can require practice.
What if we started treating ourselves the way we treat our loved ones?