What is self-love? How do we quantify the steps we can take to achieve it? This is a complex question that also has to take into account various ways in which the culture we are saturated in makes this easier for more the more privileged. We need to acknowledge the ways in which self-love becomes all the more difficult when our society is homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, and ableist. In this context, self-love becomes radical, and an essential part of survival.
How do we exemplify self-love when the golden standard of beauty is thin and white? How do we care for ourselves when we are told that aging is shameful and unattractive?
How do we banish the internalized self-loathing that comes with living in a culture where constant media messages are pummeled at us, telling us that natural female bodies are unacceptable? That we are only beautiful and worthy if we fit into a certain gender?
How do we reclaim acceptance and love for disabled bodies and minds? How do we bring back a sense of value to ourselves, an acknowledgement of the great wisdom madness can bring?
How can we become more nurturing to our emotional needs as men and masculine people when we are told sensitivity, vulnerability, sadness, love, and femininity are shameful? How can we honor our identities and selves when sometimes that means being met with physical, verbal, and sexual violence?
These are complicated questions that do not have simple answers. Dismantling a structurally heterosexist, transmisogynistic, ableist, transphobic, ableist, and ageist society is something that takes the constant time, energy, and efforts of many people over long periods of time.
Living in a world where we have these minority identities can be exhausting, and actively participating in the deconstruction of these structures can be incredibly draining.
This is why self-care is such an inherent part of self-love. How do we show people that we love them? We accept them, and listen to their needs. Often, we forget to care for ourselves in the same way that we are accustomed to caring for others. Self-care can be much less intuitive than care for our loved ones, which at times can feel like a second nature.
Self-love might not be easy for many of us, but actively participating in self-care can be a step towards that.
So, how can we care for ourselves? Ensuring that we have enough energy on a daily basis is a start. Eating healthy meals regularly and hydrating is crucial in maintaining a basic level of physiological energy. Healthy food is not always accessible; however, there are community cupboards, YMCA food boxes, and organizations like Food Not Bombs that aim to provide healthy foods to low-income individuals and families. While exercising is also not accessible to everyone and is not a supplement for professional supports and/or medications, it can help in making your body feel better.
Realizing that our knowledge and resources are limited and ensuring that we seek professional help when we need it is also an integral component of self care.
Secondly, it is important to protect your energy. While this may sound esoteric, it is actually a very tangible priority. Many of us have limited stores of energy, and it is essential to save that energy towards caring for our own basic emotional and physical needs.
This can include taking time to yourself to do something that you enjoy. Taking a long bath, expressing yourself through art or a musical instrument, taking time to be in nature, connecting with friends and family, being around animals, connecting with your religion or spirituality, or playing a sport are all good self care options; whatever gives you energy and a sense of joy and well being works.
While taking steps to care for ourselves is very important, it is unreasonable to expect that we can do it alone. Creating a community of people who are accepting and supportive is important in caring for ourselves. It can be hard to take care of all of your needs by yourself when life becomes overwhelming; that is why having these people around us that we can rely on for love, caring, and acceptance is so pivotal.
Lastly, caring for ourselves means being accepting of our limitations. Kindness and compassion towards the self are at the core of self-care and self-love. While it can be difficult, many people use the method of imagining that they are talking to a beloved friend or a small child when speaking to themselves.
Negative-self talk is something many people deal with, and can be extremely detrimental to our sense of well-being. Learning to cope with this and realizing that thinking something does not make it true is a start towards greater self-care.
Caring for ourselves is challenging work, especially for minority identities. Minorities that deal with oppressions are never responsible for the psychological devastation that dealing with chronic discrimination brings. Minority communities are never responsible for educating others and fighting for visibility.
However, these tasks are often imposed upon us regardless. Loving and caring for ourselves and each other is a radical act of resistance to systemically oppressive structures that infiltrate into the macro and microcosmic aspects of our lives and relationships.
I would like to acknowledge all of those who embody identities that are not considered normative; that are degraded, discriminated against, and that face violence because of them. I would like to acknowledge your brilliance and your inherent strength. Your constant bravery and courage to exist as you are is seen, and is an inspiration to myself and so many others.