Why is it that, when any word in English is deployed in an effort to express self-love, there are people at the ready to critique such usage as conceited, narcissistic, vain, arrogant, or haughty?
I know, I know. This seems like such an unnecessary question to ask, but our treatment of one another demands it. What is wrong with acknowledging, hell CELEBRATING your self worth? Why are we so eager to police self-affirming behavior?
This isn’t to say moments of encouragement are rare, but even these moments seem embedded with conflicting accounts of how to be: be sexy (but not sexual); be confident (but not cocky); if you’ve got it, flaunt it (but dress for your size).
Manufactured imagery buffets us from every direction and tells us that our body is a reflection of our worth. It insists that there is only one way to be considered beautiful and being considered beautiful is not only important, but is seemingly aligned with being right and natural and good and worthy of love and sexual validation and so on and so forth (whereas those who aren’t beautiful yet are somehow wrong and unnatural and bad and undeserving).
This is reminiscent of what Naomi Wolf calls the ‘beauty myth’: a fluid, capitalistic ploy designed to keep people obedient and distracted.
But, like… what even IS beauty?
“Whatever it is, you’re not it!” shouts the myriad of photoshopped faces from the magazine rack.
In the context of objective standards, beauty is a phantom, a dogma. So long as we feel ugly and desperate to look like the images we’re told are natural, we’ll keep buying products and ideas and systems that will make us “better” and “more desirable.” And so we waste countless hours berating ourselves for what we aren’t. We tell ourselves that if we were just [taller/thinner/had fuller hips/a smaller waist/broader shoulders/thicker hair] we’d be happier with how we looked– with who we are.
“You’ll never be enough!” the billboards say.
But, what if we considered that it doesn’t matter, truly, what we look like in reference to marketing cues. What if our worth never has anything to do with our body, and “beauty” is a poisonous concept so long as it is dispensed like currency? What if we embraced the idea that our- that everyone’s- worthiness isn’t dependent on our damn bodies proximity to some unattainable definition of “perfection”?
Let’s step outside of this prescribed, abysmally heteronormative concept of beauty as a measurement for worthiness and instead embrace the idea of beauty as a feeling. Let’s present ourselves as we are and marvel at the real, indescribable miracle of our naked, imperfect, and wonderfully human bodies.
Consider this: Yes, you― because of, not in spite of, all your flaws and oddities- are enough. You are worthy. You are deserving of love, especially from yourself. You are lovable. Loving yourself is a birthright. It’s necessary.
There is no doubt that we derive purpose, in part, from our self-esteem, sure, but we need to do some self-conscious work to strip away the societal pressure to be and look a certain way (even if that certainty is apparently reducible to “just not how we look right now”).
There are sublime consequences to such self-love, though, so proceed with caution.
The recognition of such beauty risks that a person might grow confident in their self worth. They might demand more respect and expect their voice to be listened to, their needs met, or, god forbid, their autonomy affirmed.
That is, if we can come to appreciate our own selves, categorical variations be damned, we will find ourselves less judgmental and fearful of others and we will, instead, encourage with our whole hearts any effort made by anyone to see the value in themselves.