The biggest cliché of 2021 is still relevant if you learn how to accept yourself, even the dark, unpleasant bits
As I write this column during the Christmas week, there’s a post on Instagram that asks me to ‘Be the least productive version of yourself. Take a vacation from your vacation. It’s called self-love.’ Pretty useless advice when you have a deadline looming, or have kids, or a life in general.
Self-love was perhaps the biggest cliché of 2021, right up there with gratitude and positivity. The phrase was tossed around so casually that it’s now become a sign of privilege and carelessness. Activities such as meditating on a cup of tea to carve out ‘me time’, or cutting contact with those who don’t serve ‘your best version’ are so out of touch with reality that we’re all collectively disgruntled with the concept of self-love.
So why am I carrying a phrase that was ubiquitous last year into 2022? Because the concept is still relevant today. Because after 20 months of loneliness, chaos and uncertainty, if there’s one lesson we’ve learnt, it’s that self-acceptance (if not love) was key to survival.
Why is it so hard to love ourselves?
Is it self-love or vanity? Can you only appreciate yourself when you’re successful/ healthy/ perfect? Most of us only love the photoshopped versions of ourselves. Women especially are hardwired to find faults within themselves as we’ve faced enormous amounts of ‘corrective’ criticism. For instance, I always assumed I had a massive nose because as a child, I was asked to keep pinching the bridge to make it smaller. Moreover, we’re also well-acquainted with our dark, unpleasant, shadow sides, which make it harder for us to love ourselves.
The truth is that love enjoys novelty and it’s much easier and enjoyable to fall in love with someone new. But self-love has cascading benefits, including better health, confidence, and a refined sense of discernment that helps us make better choices.
Where shall we begin?
The most challenging part of this journey is taking the first step. Do you even feel like you deserve your own love? If not, how can you begin to change that mindset? I cannot convince you to do that in this column. The initiative has to come from within you. If you, like me, love to make the wrong choices, ask yourself: ‘If you were your own son/daughter, what changes would you like to make?’ This question usually clears my vision, even though I may not like what I see.
The good news is that you don’t need to make a big life change to find yourself, even small changes will do. It could be a nap, therapy, healing, a fitness plan, journaling, or learning to play a new musical instrument. You need to decide how you wanted to be cared for. As Joan Didion, who passed way last week, said, ‘Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.’
For most of us, the Instagram version of self-love is unrealistic and exhausting. But I look at it as striking a balance — between acceptance and criticism, indulgence and discipline, the good and bad, so that we can harmonise the sunny and shadow sides of our personalities.
For instance, I could spend the morning doing reiki, sending love to the diseased parts of my body, but the day would be spent working and the evening, drinking and dancing. I love exploring the metaphysical with various spiritual practices but I consult my therapist too. I also realise that different situations / personalities need to be handled differently. Diplomacy, compartmentalisation, and prioritisation are balancing tools for adults that are more effective than simply dropping people.
I write about self-love because a month ago, after I posted on Instagram that I really like myself, someone asked if I was always this way or if I had to work on myself. I realised then that for me it has been a decade-long journey. Yes, it involved crystals, reiki, yoga and therapy, but more importantly it’s been a cumulative effort over the years, managing my life, prioritising my needs (without completely disregarding others), and taking care of my wellbeing every single day.
No one can make you do it, just like you can’t fall in love because someone asked you to. But you can begin by adding one small act of kindness that feels healing for you. It could be wine, it could be green juice — in this unpredictable, new world, how will you love yourself today?
Vasudha Rai has authored Glow: Indian Foods, Recipes and Rituals for Beauty Inside and Out and blogs at vbeauty.co
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