For as long as I can remember, I have always been fat. For me, self-love could never be a matter of “you’re not fat” or “it’s all in your head” because through my daily interactions with other people, I’m often reminded that others see me as fat even when they mean well and especially when they don’t. As such, I had no choice but to confront fatness itself and accept myself as I was. However, loving my body was much easier said than done, because fatphobia is so ingrained in society that unconscious bias is accepted as reasonable and almost never challenged.
When I was a young teenager, I sunk many hours into scrolling through Tumblr and my Instagram explore page (that exclusively consisted of reposts from Tumblr) in order to find some sort of inspiration to love myself. While I waded through a flood of posts, I saw countless variations of “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” At the time, I didn’t think critically about these statements. They promoted self-love, which I recognized as a good thing even if I didn’t really know what that was supposed to mean to me personally. Yet reading these quotes never left me feeling inspired to solve my internal problems. At the time, they all sounded as if they were trying harder to sound deep than to actually be insightful. None of them helped me reflect on my approach to self-love, or even define what self-love is. I was drowning in this ocean of insecurity, and all these vague quotes were like defective liferafts. Now that I’m revisiting these quotes, I’m honestly glad that I didn’t really pay attention to them before, because I think they’re not only unproductive but wrong. I know many people who do not love themselves but have developed healthy relationships; is their love invalid? If I have only ever given “fake” love, then what is “real” love? How can I love myself when I’ve apparently been doing it wrong for my whole life? The sentiment behind this quote may be pure, but its language is unproductive at best and harmful at worst.
Several years later, I watched Lizzo’s NPR Tinydesk concert from 2019, and at the end of her performance she said, “If you can love me, you can love yourselves too.” Her wording sounded so similar to the numerous self-love statements I’ve read before, but she inverts it. Her rhetoric doesn’t imply that an insecure person is devoid or incapable of love; love, rather, is just hiding inside of ourselves. She’s telling us that precisely because we have so much love for others, we have the capacity to extend that love to ourselves.
When I first saw Lizzo and started listening to her music, I greatly admired her because I was so insecure. Even though I didn’t discover her Tinydesk concert until rather recently, I think I coincidentally followed her advice anyway. Compared to other self-love affirmations, I think Lizzo’s quote is the most productive and actionable. By identifying the things I love about other people, I could develop the same qualities for myself. Lizzo is gorgeous, and I realized that if I could see her for her beauty, I could see myself as beautiful too.
I’ve realized that self-love is not merely the absence of sadness, but rather an endless pursuit of fully actualized potential. While I may love myself on a physical level, I’m realizing that I could be working to improve my confidence in other areas of my life. However, I strive to improve, not because I hate my current self, but rather because I love myself and want to see myself achieve my full potential. I know that even if I’m not perfect, I am still worthy of love.
MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org