Self-love is hopefully a word you hear a lot about these days. It’s a word that should connote positive affirmation and appreciation of one’s self in every form- mind, body, and soul. I firmly believe that as human beings, we are born with the innate and essential knowledge that we are whole- and we are enough. But growing up in a highly Westernized culture systematically teaches you to hate yourself- mind, body, and soul- through interlocking internalized oppressions that wiggle their way into our unsuspecting minds and take hold and distort our self-image, and more generally, our sense of self. That is why learning to love yourself takes us down a long and winding road filled with menacing obstacles that keep us from feeling whole and centered. It requires just as much unlearning as it does learning: unlearning all of the lies in which we have come to hold self-evident, that we are not worthy, not beautiful, not enough. But these are lies. And in order to successfully untangle these destructive thoughts, we must take care of ourselves.
Self-love and self-care go hand in hand, because in order for us to love ourselves, we must practice what that love looks like on a continuous basis. And self-care can look different from person to person. Some acts of self-care include, but are not limited to: dancing, singing, biking, yoga, good hygiene, healthy eating (for what’s within your means), meditation, reaching out to others, being emotionally honest, sexuality, etc. In this post, I’m going to share my ongoing journey to self-love and fulfillment, and what self-care tools are working for me in the hopes of bringing about radical vulnerability- meaning that I’m going to be vulnerable with you in the hopes that readers can relate to my experiences and feel less alone; to feel a sense of belonging. Now, all aboard the love train!
When beginning to think about my own relationship with self-love and self-care, I feel that it is important to be honest with all of you and share that I am a person who lives with mental illnesses. My mental illnesses take shape as depression, a social anxiety disorder, and the scars of an eating disorder that still haunt me to this day. My mental illnesses have brought me almost unfathomable pain and misery, driving me to the brink of suicide when I was only a teenager. This lived experience provided me with an acute sense of my own mortality, and through healing has left me a heightened awareness of just how precious and valuable life is. Having brushed lips with the angel of death galvanized me to start rebuilding my self-love and sense of self from the ground up, and I’m continuing to learn a lot about what it means to really love yourself along the way of this restoration project.
For starters, I have learned that mental health and physical wellness are deeply interconnected. Having dealt with deep seated body dysmorphia and negative self-image, I first took to yoga to get my body positivity back on track. And wow, I can hardly believe what a profound impact yoga and mindfulness has had on my life. Beginning my continuous yoga journey has helped forge a relationship between my mind, body, and soul. It livens and opens energy channels of my body that I hadn’t realized I had! It reminds me that my body is a good place to be because of how great it can feel when mind and body are aligned, or in sync with each other. I’ve learned how to send loving thoughts to those parts of myself that I haven’t always known to love. It fosters a deep sense of calmness that reverberates throughout my whole being, helping me finally feel at home in my own skin. The thing about bodies is that you don’t get to control which one you’re born into, and you can’t just wrinkle your nose and do a switcharoo if you feel dissatisfied. I’m going to be in this body for the rest of my life, so I want to nourish and sustain it in ways that make me feel good and energized. This newfound connection to my body and yoga practice inspired me to quit abusing substances and become totally sober (besides the occasional boost of caffeine). I feel happier and much more lively because it of it, by guiding myself to establish good sleeping and eating habits that help me sustain energy and feel engaged.
And speaking of cool things bodies can do, let’s talk about sex. Sex, whether you’re flying solo (masturbation), or with other(s), is a great form of self-care that is important to most sexually mature people, though there are plenty of asexual people with varying expressions (or non-expressions) of sexuality. I, however, am not asexual. My sexuality has been a formidable and irreplaceable force in my self-care routine. Don’t worry though- I’ll spare you the details. Sex and sexuality helps me feel loveable and desirable, both for myself and for others. It’s a way of enacting the belief that I deserve to feel good and loved, and my sexuality is a crucial component of that. In public discourse, sexuality is viewed as dirty or shameful, but sexuality can be such a healthy, pure, spiritual, and sensual experience that I hate to see it reduced to such vulgar and degrading terms. Let’s break down sexual taboos and start enacting sex positivity! Also, where are my bisexuals and pansexuals at?! MAKE SOME NOISE!!
Moving on- another integral part of my self-care and self-love is my gender expression. Being able to express my gender through what I wear and how I style myself is one of the most liberating experiences I could hope for. Every day, I wake up and am (more or less) excited to greet the day because one of the first things I get to do is choose my outfit. Adorning my body with different sorts of garments (of which I love to mix and match), jewelry, and some cosmetics give me the feeling that I am in control of who I am- self-determined, creative, and way too queerly punk to conform to society’s standards. It’s a daily declaration to the world that I get to define and decorate my body on my own terms. The empowerment I feel by resisting transmisogyny every single day is both rewarding and exhausting- sometimes the threat of danger can feel crushing and demoralizing. In face of this everyday form of trauma, I equip myself with as much love and compassion as I can muster- giving myself time every day to look into the mirror and appreciate the beauty I see gazing back at me. And you know what?! I LOVE the femme that I am. Knowing that no matter how much others tear me down, I’m more resilient than they are cruel. To really love ourselves, we must also recognize the humanity and dignity in everyone else, or else we are acting in opposition to our own humanity.
One other form of self-care that I practice most days is making time for me to be totally immersed and swept away by music. As a lot of people with mental illness will attest, music brings me so much joy and solace and can put me in a very happy and blissful state of mind. Listening to music and dancing can heal and provide nourishment for the soul- I love to get lost within the sounds and give myself over to the feelings and sensations it brings forth. I have an incredibly emotional connection to the music I listen to, and it assists me in feeling deeply without hesitation. Listening to and appreciating music helps me stay open and not close myself off from feelings (a symptom of depression). It helps me stay present and live in the moment.
Loving and caring for oneself is essential in our well-being and survival. In fact, as inspired by Laverne Cox, it is revolutionary. I show myself love through self-care in many different ways, from doing yoga to flossing my teeth. It is in no way selfish, and in every way self-fulfilling. To quote the great Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Caring for and loving yourself in a world that dehumanizes people around every corner is absolutely beautiful and necessary. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but is worth it. As cheesy as it may sound, you really are your own best friend, and you need to treat yourself accordingly. And though I have my own adversity, I really do love myself, and that’s powerful. I’m powerful, and so are you.
Artist credit: Demi-Brooke on Flickr
Ruth Sybil May is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film studies. Ruth is a transfeminine, non-binary person from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes.