Happy Valentine’s Day! Amid all the hubbub about romantic love, I want to talk about one of the most important, yet neglected loves of our lives: self love.
People have been talking about self love and self care a lot lately, and much like the growing popularity of progressive movements like feminism, it’s been a mixed bag. On one hand, loving and caring for ourselves is so, so important and these discussions have brought issues of mental health to the forefront. On the other hand, I’ve seen “self love” misused as a marketing ploy to get consumers to “treat yourself,” often completely missing the radical and political roots of self love and care.
I want to take a closer, more critical look at the concepts of self love and self care, and how we can incorporate loving and caring practices into our own lives.
Self love/self care for women and people of color
For women, and in particular women of color, self love and self care are tricky beasts. We’ve been socialized to care for others, especially the men in our lives. Media messages tell us to buy things to make ourselves prettier, thinner, and more desirable and worthy of love. Even contemporary marketing messages that claim to celebrate self love are still trying to sell us things that have been traditionally marketed as fulfilling a lack in our lives or ourselves—makeup, clothes, jewelry, etc.
And for women of color, Eurocentric beauty standards, and often, dating experiences with partners who fetishize us or our culture, make us feel less desirable or worthy of love. In addition, the daily stressors and accumulated trauma of simply living as women of color, as well as statistically lower socioeconomic status and wealth, make it much more difficult to care for ourselves. And for those of us fighting for a better world, self care is imperative to sustaining ourselves and the movements we advocate for.
It makes sense then, that self love and care are inherently political for women and people of color. Self care has its radical and political roots in the civil rights and women’s rights movements, where “women and people of color viewed controlling their health as a corrective to the failures of a white, patriarchal medical system to properly tend to their needs.”
Defining self love and self care
It’s hard to even define what it means to love ourselves and to care for ourselves, beyond the superficial examples we often see of taking cute selfies or doing yoga. These acts can, of course, be acts of self love and care; but I think it’s important to properly define these concepts so that we can apply them to our lives wholeheartedly.
I’m taking inspiration from two incredible Black feminists, bell hooks and Audre Lorde, which only seems appropriate given the roots of self love and care. Also, happy Black History Month! 🙂
bell hooks defines love in All About Love as “extending oneself for another’s spiritual growth.” I’ve been mulling over this definition in regards to self love, as well.
Like bell hooks, I believe that love is an action, and that to cultivate love in our lives we need to continually make decisions and act in a way that is loving. I like to ask myself the following questions to check in and make sure that I’m acting in a loving way towards myself:
Am I making decisions that help nurture my long-term growth as a person, rather than decisions that only bring me short-term joy? Do I allow myself to relax when I need to, but also push myself to keep growing?
Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Although self love and self care are closely related, I see self care as a dimension of self love; in order to love ourselves, we must care for ourselves.
To be truly transformative, I think that self care needs to be a practice. Without incorporating self care into a routine that we prioritize and center in our lives, it can become just reactionary rather than sustaining. For me, this requires that I really know myself and can answer the following:
What helps me relax and clear my mind? What motivates me and makes me excited to wake up and start the day? What brings me joy, and how can I prioritize that in my life? What makes both my mind and body feel good?
Learning to love and care for yourself
This isn’t an instructive post on how to love and care for yourself, because only you can figure that out and it looks different for everyone. I’m still learning how, too.
Like any other kind of love, it takes diligence and patience. You might not be easy to love at first, or ever; but you deserve your best shot at learning to love yourself.
I think it takes a lot of reflection, so that we can understand ourselves and why we make the decisions we do. It takes a lot of intention, so that we can make better decisions for ourselves going forward. And it takes a ton of patience, because the path to self love isn’t necessarily going to be a straight or easy one.
Personally, I’ve come a long way. For the first time in my life, I have a clear idea of what makes me happy and what I can do to center my life around those things. I make conscious decisions to cultivate healthy relationships with food and my body. That said, I still have a long way to go, and that’s okay.
How do you cultivate self love and incorporate self care into your life?