The Modern Art of Loving Yourself

Modern love doesn’t mean that it is a type of love we haven’t seen before, but it does mean that it’s a love that is still seen as radical by those it encounters. It makes people look twice when they see you walking down the street. It makes your friends comment “I’m so happy for you!” on your Instagram pics. It both surprises and entangles everyone it meets, creating an aura that they begin to crave as well. It’s the type of love they should really be making potions for.

It’s self-love.

Why is loving yourself not at the forefront of romantic comedies, love songs, and advertisements? Why doesn’t Chipotle give out free burritos to people who come in and say, “I’m taking myself out on a date today”?

Well, firstly, because self-love doesn’t sell quite the same way as romantic, monogamous love between two cisgender, heterosexual, white individuals. Sometimes, companies switch it up by throwing in people of different backgrounds and sexualities, but even then, it’s very homogenous. It’s rarely a Latino man and Middle Eastern man who head the family of picture-perfect children in a pushing-the-limits JC Penny’s ad.

We stick to what we know, and what we know best is Photoshop, stereotypes of minorities, and monogamy.

Where does self-love factor into the modern landscape of capitalism? A quick Google search will reveal the “Real Beauty” ads from Dove and an anti-Victoria’s Secret ad from plus-size lingerie line, Lane Bryant. However, for every think-piece on 30 Ways to Love Yourself This Year, there are two criticizing the new-age era of selfies and sharing your opinions on the Internet.

My self-love looks like standing in front of the mirror and actively trying not to hate myself. Looking at the extra hairs growing in under my eyebrows that need to be plucked and not getting out the tweezers.

Definitions on self-love vary as well. Some say it’s essentially a code-word for narcissism and egotism, while others acknowledge that it has become a more desirable trait in recent years because of the feminist movement and awareness around mental health issues.

Is self-love considered selfish and conceited in neurotypical individuals? That’s to say that, for people with brains that do not experience mental illness or neurological divergence of any kind, loving oneself is a flaw. For those who do deal with mental health issues, self-love is necessary for managing symptoms and often found on treatment plans, alongside phrases like “self-care.”

It’s not wrong to say that self-love looks different for people with mental illness. As someone with depression, anxiety, a past with substance abuse, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a “treat yo-self” day not only includes a pint of dairy-free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and binge-watching reality TV, but a therapy session and setting time aside for journaling or a 12-step meeting.

My self-love looks like standing in front of the mirror and actively trying not to hate myself. Looking at the extra hairs growing in under my eyebrows that need to be plucked and not getting out the tweezers. Not putting on makeup for a few days, then rocking a dark red lip and lots of highlighter the next. Taking selfies with and without makeup – and having the freedom to post any, all, or none of them. Going to the gym and listening to empowering music the whole way through. Working out to be healthier, not to lose weight.

My self-love means creating a category in my budget and time in my schedule for bi-weekly therapy. Fighting back against the voice in my head that says “you’re better now, aren’t you?” and “that’s money that could go towards buying a house, traveling, your future, etc.” Reminding myself that, no matter where I am in my life, I deserve the opportunity to sit on a couch and process my feelings in a safe space. To work through the issues that affect my ability to have healthy relationships with people and lead a productive life.

I deserve to feel mentally pampered for an hour, to walk out feeling restored and rested. And for the weeks that I have gone twice, I forgive myself for spending more money than I should have but accept that my body and mind needed it.

It is rare that I look at my bank statement for the month and think, wow, I really should have cut back on the self-care activities this month. I trust that I spent my money in appropriate ways and, if it really is in excess, then I will cut back for the next few months (see: buying two Christmas presents for every friend and family member in town for the excuse it gave me to shop till I drop—multiple times). It made me happy at the time, and that happiness is what got me through that day, so I don’t regret it.

My self-love means trusting myself and the signs that my body gives me. Last July, I was experiencing a radiating pain in my abdomen and trusted my gut enough to tell my family to meet me at the ER. I fought the urge to feel guilty about dragging them out of bed and making them wait till 4 AM with me because I knew something was wrong. It turned out to be appendicitis, and if I hadn’t advocated for myself, my appendix might have burst.

 Photo by Jules Wilson

Photo by Jules Wilson

As long as they are not for mind-altering substance, trust your cravings. If my body craves music, I will drive around for an extra ten minutes on the way home, exploring the neighborhoods of East Nashville and dreaming about the house I’ll buy one day. My commute is shorter now, so I can allow myself some space to wander physically and mentally. I’ll let my mind escape from the petty day-to-day activities of 2018 and imagine a life where I walk my kids down the street to the nearby record store.

In this daydream, I teach them that they can buy one record a month because music is a gift that will never stop giving to them. I instill in them a sense of wanting to invest in their happiness both present and future. Of finding peace in lying on the carpet and listening to a record, only getting up to flip it back over. Or maybe they’ll like reading books while the record player hums softly. It doesn’t matter, but what does is that they understand the importance of finding simple things that bring them joy and dedicating time to them. Dedicating time to themselves and their growth.

For every minute we spend developing our character, the stronger our ability to recognize ourselves in the mirror will become. I think the thing that I forget a lot is that it’s never too late to discover yourself, to remember what brought you joy as a child and start incorporating that back into your life.

Home videos depict a five-year-old me declaring that I will study literature in college, and while I did maintain enough dedication to graduate with an English degree last year, I lost my enthusiasm for the craft of spending a whole evening reading a book. Now when I come home from work, I feel the need to fill my hours with editing photographs, building my brand, and perfecting social media posts. My self-love shrinks away from those summers I spent writing all day and night long to treating myself to an hour of Netflix before bed.

A huge part of self-love should be about embracing your core self and doing everything in your power to bring it out. Challenging yourself to log out of Netflix and go to the park with just a notebook and pen. Remembering what it felt like to want to capture every awe-inspiring detail of your day in a moleskin so that you could incorporate it into your next story. Spending hours in coffee shops studying the walks of strangers so you could have a vast library of identities to create for your characters. Reading endlessly so that you could learn from the greats and be inspired to create more of your own work.

One of my favorite memories is spending a slow, rainy weekend in Paris mostly by myself, indulging in the sights and scenes in a way that only I could. While my classmates from a study abroad program dived into a day that started at 8 am – as in, being in line for the Louvre at 8 am – I spent an hour reading a zine in Shakespeare and Company’s reading room that features a glorious view of Notre Dame, then another walking alongside the River Seine, and another two in a zoo I stumbled upon in the Jardin des Plantes. Initially, I’d thought the price of eight euros was too steep and walked away, but upon reflection, I realized that I would probably never get the chance again to go to a zoo in France.

So, I wandered into a scene from Madeline, strolling through a zoo that was filled with animals I’d never seen before. The little girl in me ran out in a fit of giggles after attempting to go into the reptile house but deciding that that day was not the day to face her fear of snakes. She also oo-ed at emus and spent as long as she wanted at the monkey house. It was a day to defy the tourist expectations of myself and to listen to the six-year-old who dressed up as Madeline for Halloween, who longed to go on adventures in the cities of her literary idols.

Let’s consider why we spend so much time building up a brand and image for a person we aren’t. Why don’t we use that time instead to sit with ourselves and acknowledge the parts that we haven’t seen in a while? Perhaps then, I’d be happier and more inspired. I’d want to write more blogs for the website I spent so much time planning out but never filling in. I’d want to go to more concerts and consume the art of others, rushing to the nearest café afterwards so I can write poetry on napkins.

When was the last time I felt inspired? Inspired enough to get past the blinking vertical line in an empty Microsoft Word document and write more than 300 words?

 Photo by Jules Wilson

Photo by Jules Wilson

This essay on modern love is one of many attempts the week after Valentine’s Day to self-love by reconnecting with myself. I want to dare myself to post just as many selfies on #WCW as I do pictures of my boyfriend on #MCM. I want to log out of Facebook for a week and not check back in until I’ve finished the book I bought for myself the last time I went on a self-love trip into a bookstore. Or the time before that, or the time before that.

I want to put as much energy into loving myself as I do into others. I want to be as consumed with the idea of writing weekly blog posts as I am with researching apartments for my boyfriend and I to move into. I want to look so happy when I walk down the street that people wonder if I’m going to meet someone, but I know that I’m going to window-shop and drink coffee all by my damn self. That I’m going to spend the time to arrange a custom bouquet of flowers and then display it on my own kitchen counter.

Self-love is something that I am capable of every day, but I don’t always water my own flowers. Maintenance is necessary for preservation. I know that I have succeeded at consistent self-love before and others have been able to bear witness to it. I’ve seen the smiles and laughs that others emit when they see me leaving a party with a hand full of balloons because I stopped the host popping them and offered to take the leftovers home. I’ve had relatives ask me if I’ve lost weight when, in reality, I had gained some.

The transformation they were observing was one of me growing into myself, my womanhood, and my strength. Daring to dress in a way that doesn’t hide my body and state my opinions even when unsolicited.

Self-love is the gift I wish I could have given my teenage self. I wish that I didn’t have a favorite polo and skirt that I liked because they hid my stomach and butt the best. I wish that I had known that the opinions you have of yourself are so much more important than the ones others have of you, because self-love is a type of love that no one else can take away.

- Jules Wilson

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Jules Wilson spends a lot of time attempting to "adult," writing poetry as journal entries, obsessing over pop culture, and claiming to be a "true local" because she's lived in Nashville for thirteen years. She's a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University with a BA in English and currently works in the mental health field. Her writing is influenced by issues of feminism and social justice, as well as indie music, fantasy novels, celebrity memoirs, and her surroundings. She runs a sexual assault advocacy blog called "Thrive" that is always open for submissions and a lifestyle blog called "The Jules of Life" that focuses on food, fashion, and forward thinking. You can also find her art on Facebook

Cover photo by Jules Wilson