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How to Engage in the Radical Act of Self-Love

Why Loving Ourselves is So Hard

How to Engage in the Radical Act of Self-Love Image Our society makes it incredibly easy to feel like we are not good enough and that we will never be good enough, no matter how hard we try. In fact, many societal standards are completely unattainable. Think about female beauty standards for example. It is impossible for women to look like those on the cover of fashion and beauty magazines, and that's because the real life version of the women on those magazines don't even look like that. The images we are bombarded with on a near daily basis are the result of hours of work by professional makeup artists, hair stylists, and photographers with the most expensive cameras, tools, and lighting…and on top of all that, the images are often photoshopped. We will never be able to compete with an image that has been altered to remove pores, or lift cheekbones, or whiten teeth. Some articles report that 90-100% of these images are photoshopped. Even when we know these images are photoshopped, they still negatively impact our mental health.

There is a reason magazines show us images that perpetuate our insecurities. Companies make money off of us being unhappy with ourselves. In 2020, sales in the beauty industry was $483 billion. We are taught to be insecure about the way completely normal bodies look and we are sold products that claim they will make us more desirable. But no amount of products will ever make us look like the photoshopped people on magazine covers so we beat ourselves up and buy more. This cycle is terrible for our mental health and can lead to negative self-talk.

Combating Negative Self-Talk with Self-Love and Self-Acceptance

Negative self-talk is the little voice inside our head that criticizes us and tells us we are not good enough. Do you ever compare yourself to your coworkers and think "I'll never get that promotion" or have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought "If only I could lose 10lbs"? This is negative self-talk. It causes our confidence to plummet which can lead to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, emptiness, and shame. Especially when we feed ourselves these messages day after day, year after year. When we think these negative thoughts about ourselves, we don't leave much room for positive self-talk or accepting and loving ourselves for exactly as we are. Luckily, we can reverse the damage of negative self-talk and unrealistic societal standards.

Our brains are malleable, meaning they process information and adapt or adjust, changing the way we think and act. For example, if you have engaged in negative self-talk for years then your brain becomes used to it, leaving you feeling anxious and depressed. However, with practice and patience, you can change the way you think about yourself, which allows your brain to adjust, leading to confidence and improved self-esteem. Self-love and self-acceptance are two practices that we can incorporate into our daily routine to start to accept and celebrate ourselves. While these two terms are interrelated, they refer to different things that we can work on together. Self-love refers to acknowledging the things that we love about ourselves. When we engage in negative self-talk, we leave little room to actually notice the things that we like about ourselves, so noticing them can help us counter the negative thoughts. For many people, especially those starting out in this journey, self-love is challenging. If this is you, you can start with practicing self-acceptance. You don't need to change a single thing about yourself in order to accept yourself for exactly how you are right now. There may be things you want to change, and that is fine, but beating yourself up won't get you anywhere closer to feeling at peace with yourself.

Tools for Engaging in Self-Love and Self-Acceptance
How to Engage in the Radical Act of Self-Love Image
  1. Mirror work: Mirror work means standing in front of the mirror and noticing and telling yourself things you like about yourself. When you first try this, your brain will likely be flooded with all of your previous negative self-talk. It is important not to beat yourself up when this first happens; be kind to yourself. I encourage you to say the following out loud, because hearing it helps your brain process it. "I love you and you are worthy of love". Now, name five things you like about your body. For example, "I love my dimples" or "I love the way my hair looks in the light". If it is too challenging to list five things you love about yourself, this is where you can work on self-acceptance. This looks like being appreciative of your body for the things that it does for you. These statements can sound like this – "I am thankful that my legs allow me to move around in the world" or "My smile allows me to connect with other people."

  2. Limit social media use: Social media platforms are hot spots for advertisements that take advantage of our insecurities. Also, a lot of the images our connections post have been altered by face tune or filters or even apps that allow us to cover blemishes and whiten teeth. I highly recommend avoiding social media first thing in the morning. Scrolling while lying in bed or before making or beginning our own plans for the day can cause anxiety that leads to sleep issues and can negatively impact our mood for the rest of the day. If limiting social media use is challenging, make sure you diversify the types of images you get exposed to by following people who don't alter their photos and who celebrate their bodies. Here are some of my favorites: Mik Zazon, Florence Simpsonn, Dylan James Mulvaney, Lavinia Rusanda, Spencer Barbosa, & Lizzo!

  3. Surround yourself with the right people: Spending time with people who accept you for who you are, support, encourage and believe in you seems like a no brainer but it's vital to your self-love journey! These are people like family or close friends who tell you what you are good at and will have no problem telling you why they love you. Make sure you pay attention to these messages, don't drown them out. Continue to tell yourself these messages when they are not around. This leads nicely into my next tool...

  4. Positive self-talk: Read the Power of Affirmations article on Take2Minutes for some examples of affirmations. These are short phrases you can tell yourself while you are doing your mirror work and throughout your day. These include phrases like "I am a friend to my body", "I treat my body with the love and kindness it deserves'' and "I believe in my abilities''. I encourage you to state these out loud so that you can hear yourself saying them and also write them down in a journal so that you can see them. Receiving this messaging in many different forms will help your brain to accept it as true. In addition to affirmations, practice talking to yourself the way that you would speak to a friend. If your friend is getting down on themselves, you likely wouldn't pile on the negative messaging. You would probably speak with kindness and compassion, which is how we can begin to speak to ourselves.

  5. Engage in self-care: Self-care refers to things you can do for yourself that bring you joy or pleasure. It also refers to things you can do for yourself to promote health and wellness. Self-care activities can vary widely. Some examples include doing a paint by numbers, coloring, taking a bath, and going for a walk. Or it can look like finally cleaning the dishes in your sink, decluttering your desk, or taking yourself to the doctor's appointment you have been putting off for months. Taking the time to care for yourself allows you to be more self-compassionate, recognize your worth, and it feels good!

Practicing self-love and self-acceptance is really hard work, especially when we have been receiving negative messaging and engaging in negative self-talk for years. The best part about these tools is that you can start them today! You don't need to change anything about yourself to be worthy of love. Engaging in self-love is a radical act because it frees you from societal pressures to be anything other than who you already are.

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