Self-love - it’s a great concept, right? In reality, it's not that easy to achieve, especially in a culture that is fuelled on exploiting our insecurities and anxieties (thank you consumerism). The media is constantly bombarding us with the message that everything in our lives will be better if we just love ourselves more, and you can’t scroll through Insta for more than ten seconds without coming across some sort of post advocating for more self-love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the notion at all. I’m sure that for some people, achieving a sense of self-love has been a game-changer for them, propelling them forward to tick off life’s never-ending to-do list. But for the rest of us, myself included, the prospect of loving ourselves is really quite daunting. It requires unwavering self-confidence, an iron-clad conviction in your decisions, and the ability to shake off any negative nellies as quickly as you can say ‘Taylor Swift’. Yes, self-love is important, but it’s also really bloody hard. So just why is it so difficult?
State of flux
According to the Brain and Behaviour Foundation, self-love means ‘having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness, taking care of your own needs, and not settling for less than you deserve.’ So, talking to and about yourself with love, prioritising your desires and being nice to yourself are just a few of the ways it reckons we can show ourselves self-love. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t say with hand on heart that I do this all the time. Heck, I didn’t even do this today. I called myself a twat when I uploaded the wrong tweet at work. I took ten selfies of a pair of new earrings I had bought before I was happy with the image - the rest of them I told myself I looked like a chubby elf in.
Having spoken about this at length with my friends, the consensus is that the feelings we have towards ourselves are in a constant state of flux. Personally, I have great days, and I have shit days. On those good days, I think I’m pretty fecking awesome, but on the bad ones, I couldn’t tell you a single reason why my existence is worthwhile. The notion of self-love suggests that it is a constant - a state of being that you achieve when you finally accept yourself and every single thing about you. It’s getting through that final stage with the big baddy at the end of a video game, it’s levelling up until you can level up no more. Whereas self-like (or a least, my definition of it), allows for fluctuation. It acknowledges and accepts that life is a goddamn rollercoaster baby - there are going to be times when you are on top of the world and other moments when all you can do is curl up under your duvet and weep.
“Self-love can be hard for me because I’m a single parent, and my sense of self-love comes from how I parent,” says Alysanne Parker, a Graphic Designer from Essex. “If it’s been a good day, and I’ve kept my patience, I feel like a good person. However, the minute my son detects even the slightest bit of stress, he plays on it, then I get more stressed and he gets louder (and more annoying) and by the time we’ve both calmed down I feel dreadful. It’s made worse by the fact that I don’t have “mum friends” or a partner to talk to. But also, no one on social media - myself included - says this stuff. Because who wants to admit to having a full-blown argument with a four-year-old? That’s when I find self-love hard.”
Take those positive pants OFF
Liking yourself and disliking your flaws aren’t mutually exclusive. You can think you’re a good person and still be really iffy about certain parts of yourself. It’s OK to have negative thoughts and feelings. Society is constantly screaming at us to be more positive and to only focus on the good, which can lead to feelings of guilt when we aren’t able to do that. Welcome to the party toxic positivity, we’re (not) so glad you could make it.
According to Verywell Mind, toxic positivity is ‘the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset’. AKA a "good vibes only" approach to life. There are obviously benefits to being an optimist and engaging in positive thinking, but toxic positivity doesn’t allow you to experience the difficult emotions that are a part of life, instead telling us to put up a cheerful facade. Negative emotions, although unpleasant and hard to deal with, need to be felt in order to process them, and move on.
Maybe this is a side-effect of being British - stiff upper lip and all that - but how often do you answer honestly when someone asks ‘how are you?’ How frequently do you share a snap with the world when you’re at your lowest? Over the last year, I’ve heard so many people respond with ‘yes, but it could be SO much worse,’ or ‘but think of all the free time you now have!’ in response to someone expressing their feelings about the pandemic. The intention wasn’t to undermine that person, they were simply trying to make them feel better. But, at any point last year, it was OK not to feel positive, disillusioned, anxious, and like the whole world was going to shit. When attempts to be positive are insincere, or delegitimize real feelings of fear or sadness, that is NOT OK.
Take off the mask
Part of putting on that false mask of positivity is about trying to live up to the perceived lives of those around us. Seeing everyone else apparently coping fine with life and getting through each day with a smile on their face leads us to believe that we need to be the most positive version of ourselves. As everyone preaches self-love on their social media feeds, the thought of being vulnerable and honest about how far away from that we feel is terrifying.
“I reckon we are all far too busy comparing ourselves to others, rushing around without stopping, and putting pressure on ourselves to be the best that we forget to take a minute to acknowledge what a bloody amazing job we are all doing with this whole life thing,” says Rosie Phipps, a Teacher living in Southampton. “We are deserving of our own compassion as much as the next person.”
This is why, in my opinion, rather than punishing ourselves for not living our best self-love life, we need to all start with self-like. We need to remove the pressure to achieve self-love overnight, and instead focus on ways to show ourselves small acts of kindness everyday. Give yourself some credit just for getting out of bed, or logging on to work, or showing up for your friend when they needed you. You might not feel like climbing onto the nearest tall building and screaming ‘I LOVE MYSELF’ at the top of your lungs, but if you acknowledge just one good thing you did for yourself today - whether that’s having a shower, making yourself a cup of tea, or going for a walk in the sun - that is showing yourself self-like.
Seoana is a digital content creator & the Founder of Self Like Society, a platform for women to share their self-like journeys and to dismantle the overhyped expectations of self-love. Her aim is to empower women to like themselves more by sharing self-care tales, tips and the occasional treat. SLS creates a range of curated treat boxes, which are made up of beautiful, handmade items from a range of women owned small business.
You can find Self Like Society: