Self-love to me has always felt like such a faraway concept. Something I have always been vaguely aware of, but never something I considered serious enough to actively partake in. It wasn’t until one of the low points during the first COVID lockdown where I found myself consistently getting tired, my motivation for anything and everything drying up, and the feeling my life was going no-where engulfing me, (something I’m sure some of us have experienced on some level during this long year) that I hesitantly decided to pick up a book on self-love that had been lying on the kitchen table for the past 3 months. Hesitant being the keyword here, however. The unwillingness I had to actually read the book I held in my hands was baffling, I felt like I was judging myself for even just picking it up. And looking back, I think this has something to do with the perception around self-love that is shared by so many of us and stops us from considering it a priority.
What do we think self-love is?
When we think of self-love, we may think of some sort of spiritual awakening only for those who are willing to go down the path, or of an idea reserved only for a character’s climactic realisation towards the end of a film (like I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer). Perhaps it's one of those ‘cheesy’ self-help books we tend to roll our eyes at, like the book I was holding. Even as I opened the first few pages, I couldn’t stop the thought of ‘I can’t afford to be spending my time on this’ from running across my mind. After all, I had more important things to be doing; deadlines, work, people to see, jobs to apply for to make sure I did not end up an unemployed graduate. All of which very clearly came first on my list of priorities, especially when up against ‘making myself feel better’.
I read an article talking about how the “moment we start treating ourselves with love and respect, the moment life begins to move forward with ease and things begin to fall into place” and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the time.
Self-love is presented to us as a luxury, not a priority, if it is even presented to us at all.
And as we grow up in the presence of social media, like TikTok, we are hounded by this huge emphasis on romantic love. It suggests the only way to feel complete is to ‘find our missing piece’ or to ‘find our soulmate.’ We learn from a very young age, first through experience and then later through society, how nice receiving love from others can be. It makes us feel happy, warms us up, gives us a feeling of wholeness. But we are rarely taught how much better it can be, and how much more essential it is, to receive love from ourselves too. That treating ourselves with respect is just as important as treating others with respect. Or that being kind to ourselves is just as important as being kind to others. It’s so easy to pour love into others without realising we aren’t giving ourselves that same love, especially in a world where we’re raised to put others first.
I don’t blame myself for harbouring this false perception. Instead, I turn to the non-existent exposure to self-love I had while growing up.
How lack of self-love practice harms us
Personally, the discussion around how much practicing self-love can mentally and physically, improve our state of being was rarely made clear to me; either through society, the media, or those I looked up to. I never knew that there are real, tangible benefits that come out of showing ourselves the love we deserve. Our self-esteem can improve. Our self-respect can grow. Our self-worth can flourish.
We can even be oblivious of how dire the consequences are of depriving ourselves of this self-care and self-love.
I always found it tricky to partake in activities solely for my enjoyment and relaxation because of tight schedules, deadlines, and necessary projects. However, I didn’t know that by not making time for ourselves, we are unconsciously placing our emotional wellbeing at the bottom of our big list of priorities. We are sending ourselves the message that we don’t matter. There is a quote I read from an article recently that I think puts this into words perfectly: “self-love isn’t vanity, it’s sanity”.
Instead, the idea of showing ourselves love, being kind to ourselves, and doing things we enjoy are replaced with harsher, more cruel ideas such as ‘working ourselves to the bone’ and ‘slaving over our work’. Because how else are we to get ahead in life if not by gruelling over our schoolwork to get good grades? Or slaving over the work we bring back from the office to ensure we receive that promotion? In this instance, practicing self-love through things such as self-care can be perceived as something that will hold us back from success. It can be seen as being lazy or showing a lack of ambition, or a lack of drive to succeed. Spending time doing anything other than work might show a lack of determination for success. Even until the last few months, any time I had that wasn’t spent on wor would be spent in a perpetual state of guilt, and ruining the reason I was watching Netflix to begin with.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” - the Buddha
Self-love and self-care are things we should be doing, not something that we would only do if we had the time. To reference a quote from Buddha, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
The most important part of the journey is the first step
I’ve read a few more self-love books since the first one I picked up in the kitchen that day, realising that as cheesy as they may appear, they contain so much valuable advice. But I think what I’ve learned the most is that self-love is not some sort of spiritual awakening only for those who are willing to take that path. Instead, it plays a hugely essential part in all our lives, perhaps even more so for the ones who do not consider it important enough.
Self-love is not a myth. It is not egotistical; it is not selfish.
Comparing myself now to where I was a few months ago, it’s crazy to see how much these negative perceptions of self-love were holding me back from making it a priority in my life. Back then I read an article talking about how the “moment we start treating ourselves with love and respect, the moment life begins to move forward with ease and things begin to fall into place” and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the time. But I now truly understand what they mean by it.
My journey of loving myself is one that I feel I have barely scratched the surface of. Beginning this exploration only just a few short months ago, it still constantly feels as if I am still only on the first step with this huge, long, daunting road ahead of me. And even so, by actively putting effort into ensuring I make self-love a priority in life, I’ve begun to notice how my mindset has started to change, how my behaviour has started to change (to myself and to others), and how differently I am talking to myself. In essence, I’ve begun to feel genuinely better. And all by working to make sure I show I value myself as much as I value other people, proving to myself through actions that I consider myself worthy enough to be put first.
This doesn’t mean that the journey of self-love isn’t hard. It does not stop the down days we are inevitably going to have and, personally, working to prioritise myself and my needs is one of the hardest things I have tried to do. But I also like to think about how much I have pushed past my negative stigma of self-love, and in doing so have made the first monumental step. I am now on my way; I have begun the journey. And that itself, in anyone’s case, is something to be immensely proud of.
Anam is a British-Indian recently graduated History student and content creator with Pardesi. Noticing the lack of South Asian representation growing up, Anam is hugely interested in bringing awareness to South Asian history and stories that are overlooked in mainstream media and society. Her interests include advocating for the mandatory teaching of Britain’s colonial past in school curriculums and exploring complicated conversations around cultural identity. She’s excited to be working with Pardesi as a Content Creator to learn and hear from so many more South Asian women across the world!