A lot of people find it alarming when people give themselves a compliment without immediately following it by assuring everyone they’re joking. “No, I know I’m not that attractive” or “It’s not talent, it’s luck!” When I stopped adding those amendments to praise I gave myself, I noticed that alarm — in strangers, friends, family and myself.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland
Illustration by Megan Mulholland

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I started loving myself one day because I stopped giving myself any other option. Because I was exhausted from the relentless, daily routine of picking out my flaws or mistakes and hating myself for them. Because living in a world that finds silent yet powerful ways to encourage me to dislike myself feels almost as bad as giving in. And I was done.

Or at the very least, I made the decision to try and stop. Unlearning the toxic lens through which I have learned to see myself is no easy task. Loving yourself is all but impossible when you are constantly reminded — by not only pop culture, but by your own brain — that you have fat thighs and are oversensitive to boot. Utterly spent by the process of tearing myself down, I tentatively set off on the first leg of my journey: trying to love my body.

I started following all of the “body positive” blogs I could find, I spent hours in front of my bedroom mirror trying to convince myself that what I saw staring back at me, annoyed and exposed, was beautiful. And some days, I really believed it. I saw my dimpled thighs, I saw my long nose, and I felt pretty despite them. But usually, I found myself repeating empty words at my reflection: “you are beautiful, you are beautiful, you are beautiful.” Frustrated with the double standards before me — like a Dove commercial telling me to love my body moments before it reminds me that I still need to buy special soap to prevent that nasty dry skin — I wondered if I’d ever stop needing to convince myself to like how I looked. And truthfully, sometimes I still do.

But of all the different kinds of approaches to self-love out there, the one that was the hardest and meant the most to me was the simple idea that our bodies are our hard-working vehicles; the interface with which we experience the world, the mechanism that operates nonstop, all with the sole purpose of keeping us alive. Most importantly, we only get this one. When I think of it that way, it almost feels criminal not to be in constant awe of my powerful legs, crooked ears and organs inside my stomach.

One of the best side effects of loving yourself is that the criticism you are trained to project onto others diminishes as well. Especially for women, body image is learned as an incredibly competitive notion. Many of us are conditioned to hate those we perceive as prettier than ourselves, and to feel superior to those that are not. But learning to love your own stretch marks and arm hair means that you slowly release yourself from being critical of “flaws” in others. Freeing myself from thoughts like “she shouldn’t be wearing that” is almost as relieving as finally being able to wear outfits I like without constantly worrying about what’s “flattering for my body type.”

Loving my personality is a bit trickier. I never really hated who I was, just certain parts – the stubborn, angry side, the unreliable procrastinator, the emotional wreck. I place incredible importance on maintaining perfection in areas where I’ve received praise throughout my life. When I fail to do so, I feel unworthy of love from others or myself. Being applauded for good grades and artistic ability growing up gave me great confidence, but only as long as I didn’t meet failure. I have turned my skills into who I am, and often my worth as a person centers around them. It’s crucial that I remember my worth is not diminished because of a low test score or a failed drawing. Flaws or failures can always use work, but it is my human characteristics — compassion, a love for justice, empathy — that make me inherently valuable. I’m the one driving this vehicle, after all.

For so long, I had forgotten that liking myself was even an option. I never realized that falling in love with myself, however tumultuous the relationship, could feel so fantastic. However intolerable arrogance might be, self-love isn’t arrogance. Accepting compliments from myself and others without frantically denying them is one of the best things I’ve learned to do. I’d much rather take selfies and feel like the person I’ve grown into is an artwork in progress than constantly berate myself for the flaws that make me who I am.

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