As teenagers, there’s a pressure to have the perfect high school relationship. From endless streams of rom-coms to the plethora of public displays of affection, the media isn’t subtle about displaying people in relationships. However, they almost never show real steps to build a healthy relationship, or be happy on your own. Nowadays, the term self-love has been thrown around from one celebrity to an- other, each promoting their own methods of self-love. We see it everywhere, but what does it really mean? Self-love doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not just accepting who you are. Rather, it should be an ongoing state of appreciation and admiration for yourself through actions that help better your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Everyone starts caring about their self-image at different times: for me, it started as early as my first day of preschool. I would compare myself to the kid next to me, even for the littlest things–how much attention they were getting from teachers, their clothes, everything. As the years passed, the ability to have any self confidence slowly drifted away. Just like many other kids, I was exposed to the internet, social media, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show and even the Cosmopolitan magazines beside grocery lines at the local Safeway on Middlefield, which all set up a false body expectation. Although I know that Palo Alto is such a diverse place with so many people of different cultures, I couldn’t help but to compare what I looked like to other white teenage girls. Even now, I still struggle with this perception of beauty as white, skinny and blonde, while knowing that I am none of those things.
I used to look at myself in the mirror and point out all of the things about myself I hated. I hated how my eyebrows twisted up at the end and wouldn’t arch down. I hated how when I put my hair in a ponytail, it would make my face look more round. I hated how my thighs were just a little thicker than average. I hated how I had a stomach that couldn’t be concealed. These things that I hate don’t go away, but my feelings toward what I see as ugly aren’t suppressed either–these are features, not flaws. That’s not to say that I don’t still compare myself to the models on my Instagram explore page, but I’ve embraced this idea of coming to terms with the fact that beauty doesn’t have limits. I found clothes I felt confident in and people I looked up to. I stopped following accounts that made me feel insecure about myself, and instead, began looking up to the people who were like me and were capable of being in a healthy relationship as well.
As I write this column, it would be a complete lie to say that I wholeheartedly love myself. Most of the time, I don’t love myself, no matter how much I want to. Maybe you can relate to this–an overwhelming feeling that everything about who you are and what you look like is ugly and no one will ever love you. It sounds so exaggerated, but isn’t it true? No matter what gender you identify with, we all have moments where we base our entire existence and purpose in life on the possibility of love. But, it’s the wrong love we’re so focused on. We judge ourselves so harshly and hate who we are, and yet we seek others who can love our little quirks and flaws. Our existence should be supported by the love we have for ourselves, rather than the love we can find in others.
Think of something that you love about yourself–not just something about your appearance, but about who you are as a person. Before we find others who can appreciate every part of ourselves, it’s imperative to find how we can be kind to ourselves. It’s not just being able to accept our flaws and the things we hate about ourselves, but also learning to appreciate everything, whether it’s your smile and laugh, or your compassion and ambition. Self-love is not just accepting the bad things, but also praising the good things.
The idea of self-love is so recycled that we often hear the same things over and over again: before loving others, we must first learn to love ourselves. Self-love shouldn’t be centered around finding a significant other, but around finding the peace and happiness within to build confidence, realize self-worth and be content with feeling lonely. Self-love isn’t something that is achieved—it is something that is practiced. It is not a one-time thing, it is a year- round thing. It is not just something that you, alone, are struggling with. It is something that every single person in the world battles with everyday.