Why Self-Love Is Not A Dirty Word

I declare 2017 the year of self-love. Forget all associations of narcissism, or masturbation, because that is not it. Self-love is as simple as saying to yourself: ‘You know what? You’re an awesome person. And I’m going to do everything possible to make you happy.’

You’ve probably said something along these lines to a boyfriend or a best friend recently, but when did you last say it to yourself? When was the last time you cooked a Gizzi Erskine-worthy meal for one? Think about everything you do for someone you love, but don’t do for yourself. All those compliments and favours you dole out, while you tell yourself how fat and unlovable you are.

So often, even the things we do for ourselves are to marred by a desire for outside approval: for instance, letting a delicious meal go cold while you crouch, eagle-like, over the table getting the perfect Insta-shot, or spending so long Snapchatting your workout that you neglect the activity itself.

Sure, we see ‘self-love’ spoken about in women’s magazines but frankly it’s often just a tool to endorse being a bit overweight, or a panacea for the ghastliness of being single. In a society obsessed with interpersonal relationships – in a civilisation based around pairing off and forming part of a family unit – then what is there, really, to inspire our all-important relationship with ourselves?

Self love is a declaration that it is your prerogative to look after yourself and feel good; it’s running yourself a hot bath or turning your phone off and putting yourself to bed at 9pm, in the knowledge that relaxation and sleep will make you function better than scrolling through work emails until the early hours.

This also means refraining from those negative behavioural patterns that leave you feeling deflated. Like continuing to eat once you are full, because you are feeling emotional. Like not washing your makeup off after a disappointing night out on the pull. Like continuing to be friends with someone who is relentlessly negative, or staying with the abusive partner who makes you feel inadequate. Or, a specific but very relevant example for millennials, falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of social media, where with just a few clicks you’re stalking your ex’s new, leggy significant other, along with their holiday snaps from last summer.

These patterns – let’s call them ‘self-neglect’ patterns– are specific to the individual. For those of you I haven’t had the privilege of co-habiting with, I must confess a natural tendency towards untidiness. If I’ve had a stressful or emotional week, it’s most likely evident from my bedroom floordrobe. So for me, little gestures like making my bed in the morning are a ‘self-love’ gesture. But it might also be something like taking the time to cook a nice meal, or booking an endorphin-boosting gym class.

In my experience, many women find it hard to believe in self-love; they have grown up watching their mothers in caretaking roles, and have been made to feel that if they do not allow their needs to be subsumed by those of their children or husband, then they are selfish. Women actively need to be given permission – by a magazine, or a considerate partner, or a chocolate advertisement – to treat themselves.

There are so many reasons that all of us – men and women – are predisposed to find self love a little, well, selfish. Yet self-love allows you to be a better person to your loved ones; your improved self-esteem and aura of happiness will bring light to their lives. It’s like the diagram you get on the in-flight safety leaflet. You can only competently help a loved one with their oxygen mask once you’ve got one on yourself, otherwise you’ll probably asphyxiate while you are fumbling with the adjustable straps – and then no one’s a winner.

Ultimately, I’m a firm believer that if you take care of your own needs – whatever they be – and acknowledge their importance, then you are less likely to feel like the world owes you something – and more likely to play a better part in it. After a year of international political uncertainty and an unprecedented amount of celebrity deaths, it’s time to take the reins on the only thing you really can control: your love and respect for yourself.

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