On Monday, I posted this photo on Instagram with the following caption:
“I’m sharing this photo now as an apology,” I said. “Because ALL bodies deserve to be presented in moments they enjoy…”
Here’s the thing about self-love: it’s not always as easy as it looks. For many folks, there’s a lot more to it than throwing on our sassy shoes and using the #SELFLOVE hashtag. This is especially true for folks with eating disorders and mental illness*. *I can only imagine how much more true it could be for marginalized folks whose identities are less often shown love by the world – but I’m not going to speak for anyone beyond myself.
I put effort into using positive, affirming language around people, bodies, food and fitness. I do not use words like “skinny” or “fat.” I will not talk about “earning food” or “working off those XX” when teaching a cycle class. I am careful not to put myself down in public. I want to help create a world that makes it easier for folks to live in peace with themselves. I work to create an atmosphere for self-love.
But it takes just that: work.
There is also more to self-love than body-love. Much of what I experienced when grappling with the decision to post that photo originally went beyond my relationship with my physical body. I was questioning my self-worth in a number of ways: I wondered if my clothing and accessories (aka my wealth) were good enough, I questioned my creativity and the technical aspects of the photo, I regretted that the pose did not look more masterful, I wished I had taken my hair down…
With one simple photo, I had turned a positive experience into an opportunity to gift myself resentment, regret and criticism. This is why the decision to post the photo later on was an apology. I, and everyone in the world who could benefit from more self-love, deserved an apology.
Caroline Kirk, author of "What is Spiritual Growth & Development?," has a popular quote that says “self love requires you to be honest about your current choices and thought patterns and undertake new practices that reflect self worth.”
I chose to revisit that photo and share it as a reminder of the affirming patterns I’ve been working on over the last year. I was apologizing to myself first and others after. I didn’t have to apologize to anyone. I didn’t owe that photo to anyone but myself because, even though I want to create an environment of self-love for all people, it’s important to remember that we all have boundaries.
Truly living and acting in self-love takes effort and work, and in our pursuit of that it is easy to forget the most important aspect of this whole movement:
This is you.
Self-love is about one person, you, and that person cannot be expected to be infallible. The most important act of self-love is to forgive, love and accept yourself even when you are struggling to see your self-worth. Care about yourself even when you don't want to care for yourself.
Because the you that is working late into the evenings and stressed for time is still worthy of love. The you that is having a particularly bad week, month or year with your mental health is still you. The you that wants to stay in bed all day and watch cartoons is still you.
It’s okay to feel like you’re being “bad” at self-love or like you're struggling to find reasons to feel good about anything for that matter. In those moments, try exercising one of the most basic concepts of self-love: forgiveness. Forgive yourself and accept where you’re at today. You don’t need to do anything more than that. You don’t owe anyone more than that.