Within the last few months, I’ve had a couple of self-love-related encounters that moved me to write this piece.
The first was a conversation with a former friend, and the second was a New York Times Magazine article titled, “How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture.”
At a stop light in the car with my friend, I completed a thought by saying “That’s one thing I like about myself.” An upside to being in therapy for so many years is that I have a keen sense of emotional intelligence. I love that about myself. But I digress.
The point is, when this friend reacted by rattling off a jarringly charged monologue (“This is why you and I are different–I would never just say that. I would never just say ‘That’s why I love me.’ That’s such a self-centered thing to say. I’d never say that,” and so on, and so forth) I recognized, almost immediately, that I’d triggered something in him. For a guy who lived by the rules of crippling repression, self-love was unspeakably–viscerally–offensive. No amount of it could be healthy.
Months later, I would read some prescriptivist vitriol in the form of a NYT Magazine article by Colson Whitehead. His thesis: The appropriation of black culture into popular culture has brought on a most-unfortunate trend of “braggadocio.” He writes:
“Classify your antagonists as haters […] and your flaws are absolved by their greater sin of envy. Obviously, the haters have other qualities apart from their hatred, but such thinking goes against the very nature of the hermetic tautophrase, which refuses intrusion into the bubble of its logic. The hated-upon must resist lines of inquiry, like ‘Haters are inclined to hate, but perhaps I have contributed to this situation somehow by frustrating that natural impulse in all human beings, that of empathy, however submerged that impulse is in this deadened, modern world.’ To do otherwise would be to acknowledge your own monstrosity.”
Thinly veiled racism aside, Whitehead’s piece ignores some fundamental logic. Firstly, that it is, in fact, very possible for someone to hate you without reason. If you’re in need of a painfully obvious, stomach-churning hypothetical here, just imagine a black person saying to a neo-nazi that perhaps they “have contributed to this situation somehow.” Irrational hatred is alive and well.
Not only that, but in the digital age, many of us have unprecedented, uninvited access to irrational hatred. If I ever need to be reminded that I have acne and cellulite up the wazoo (neither of which I’m particularly embarrassed about), I’d just post a thoroughly hash-tagged selfie on a publicly viewable Instagram account. And now that we’ve established that we’re often legitimately blameless when it comes to hate, there’s Whitehead’s second, even larger, error. He doesn’t acknowledge that not everyone who has ever referenced a “hater” is utterly deaf to any and all forms of criticism.
For me, the value of blocking out a vast majority of uninvited criticism isn’t that it allows me to believe I’m flawless; it’s that it allows me to have a healthy sense of self. By ignoring the words of people like that guy who told me I was an egomaniac at a red light, I allow myself the head space necessary for healthy, productive self-love – and self-improvement – in a world that sometimes actively, irrationally wants me to hate myself.
In short, my rules on self-love: You need it. You shouldn’t be ashamed of it. And, fair warning, this one takes lots of practice: Only give credence to the criticisms of people who love you, have a healthy sense of self-love for themselves, and have no reason to tear you down. In the words of my dear friend and self-love queen, Wil, “You have to be aware of who and what you are, and sometimes, that means taking criticism – but it also means being aware of your strengths, taking pride in them, and learning which criticism to take and which to ignore. You know yourself better than they do.”
And with that, I wish you the best of luck in your self-love journey, bitches.
Until Next Time,