Are social media ‘self-love’ campaigns excluding a complicated narrative?
by Dina Lobo
Scrolling through my instagram feed in the past year or so, I’ve noticed an increase in self-love promotion from varying accounts I follow. I specifically follow accounts that centre around feminism in many forms and I’ve deeply appreciated and learned lots from those accounts, but I’ve come to an uncomfortable disconnection when it comes to posts on self-love. Not because I underestimate its importance, but because the vague way in which it is promoted can be discouraging. It can also be damaging for women’s self-esteem and their unique journey to self-love.
The concept of loving one’s self and the journey it takes to get to that awareness is unique to each individual. It is far more complicated than waking up one morning, looking in the mirror full of pride and prophesying to yourself: “I choose to love you without conditions starting today.” First off, we have childhoods, environments, relationships, circumstances, traumas, and baggage that deeply affect our self-esteem and the way we perceive ourselves in society. So, I repeat, it is much more complicated than just deciding to do it by reading a caption full of peach and heart emojis demanding you to “love yourself first.” Although the posts might come with good intent, the heavy and multi-dimensional concept of self-love is unfortunately being sold and promoted as a linear, straightforward process, or a concept you must fully realize now or “you’re missing out on being an empowered woman.”
These vague self-love posts directly make self-empowerment parallel to self-love. It makes those who are just coming to terms with their identity feel badly about themselves or that they aren’t ‘strong, cool, and empowered ’ because they have yet to learn how to love themselves. It excludes a complicated narrative that every person, especially women of colour, go through by making it seem like an easy task. This radical overnight success of self-love that does not exist also encourages a type of negative narcissism. This narcissism centers on never being held accountable for your actions. It dismisses our responsibility to analyze and criticize ourselves in a healthy way.
As a child who was bullied at a young age and struggled with internalized racism, my self-esteem went through a rough patch, but my relationship with myself continues to change and grow. I used to focus on how I was perceived in society and the validation of others was the only thing I counted on to redeem and lift my self-worth. It’s not that I didn’t think I was smart, cool or pretty enough, it was because I thought it didn’t matter what I thought of myself; it only mattered how others perceived me because that is the opinion I thought mattered the most. Looking at my worth and self-image from the external was damaging and it took a lot of conversations with my inner child throughout the years to teach myself a new and healthy way of thinking.
As a now 23-year-old, I know I’ve come such a long way in terms of how I view my self-worth and I don’t care for the validation of others, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times I’m harsh on myself. The biggest thing that changed and helped me is that I’m more self-aware than I ever was before. Self-awareness is key here. That self-awareness is the biggest form of self-love because it reminds me to look inwards. I know that loving myself is hard, but it’s a process without a structure and a specific end goal. I tend to love myself when I feel good about myself or when I feel I’ve succeeded in something, but I struggle to love myself unconditionally. Meaning, when I have completely failed or when I’ve made a mistake and I’ve hurt someone, or when I’m ignorant or when I’m unproductive. This is where the true test to my self-love appears. I thought that if I really did love myself, then my insecurities, self-doubt, and self-esteem issues would have disappeared, but they didn’t. They re-appeared many times despite my efforts. I kept getting disappointed in how the work I was putting in and all the crap I was reading on self-love didn’t make me feel as empowered as I thought I was.
I was wrong in feeling this way. Something I’ve come to understand now is that I won’t be able to love myself in the ideal way or the way these Instagram posts think self-love should look like. I believe the constant effort I put in listening to what my heart and body needs and the effort I put into learning new forms of loving myself is enough. I think when I choose to dress and dance for myself solely, it’s an act of self-love; a moment where I accept a negative flaw in my personality, is an act of self-love; forgiving myself and learning from a mistake is an act of self-love, or the effort in trying to be patient with myself is an act of self-love (yes just the effort in merely *trying*), learning to trust myself, even if only sometimes, is an act of self-love. The small acts of self-respect, the time spent alone consoling your broken heart, the way you talk to yourself in the shower as you decipher your thoughts, even recognizing your insecurities with some pride, are all acts of self-love. I realized it’s a kind of love that we cannot fully overcome in a few days, months, or years because it’s a fight for life. A continuous process that will continue to evolve with me. If you view it as something you are waiting to overcome, you are setting yourself up for failure. It’s not learning to love oneself that is revolutionary, instead maybe the most revolutionary part is the choice you make in being self-aware.
I don’t believe self-love is a concept we can fully understand by some Instagram social media influencer as the newest ‘cool girl’ trend. It’s a life-long conversation we can have with ourselves to create new ways of loving and caring in every phase we go through. There is also a sort of beauty knowing we may never learn to give to ourselves the way we can give to another. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Isn’t that what makes falling in love with another a beautiful and selfless movement? Isn’t it kind of cool that we give to those we love, whether that be a lover, a mother, a child, or a friend, in ways we might never know how to give ourselves?