Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Unfortunately, while living in a white supremacist world, many of us learn to not like ourselves. In my particular corner of the world, ideal beauty standards include: lighter skin, thinner and/or toned and muscular bodies, straighter hair, smaller feet, perfect and put together outfits. We have got to look flawless and fashionable, and do what we can to get all the likes and comments on all the socials.
Many of us don't and can't live up to these standards, and we end up hating ourselves for it. Not being able to meet these standards can contribute to a lot of pain, isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness; we might engage in maladaptive behaviors to try to escape from all the pain.
Oftentimes, we may believe that because we don't live up to these standards, we deserve to be alone. We believe that no one could possibly love us. We don't believe and, thus, can't internalize the good things people say about us. We don't feel present and can't connect with others, as we're constantly wondering if people are seeing the horrible parts of us that we try hard to keep hidden everyday. We don't feel adequate or enough; we feel paralyzed and overwhelmed, and we may end up not feeling worthy enough to go after our dreams.
But alas, it's Valentine's Day. And on this day, my hope is that we practice all the self-love possible. It's incredibly difficult to practice loving ourselves after decades of beating ourselves up, and decades of internalizing the toxic messages that white supremacy spews at us. But, I do still hope that we can practice more self-love in our days.
Practicing self-love can look like a lot of things. But, here are some examples. We can start to notice when we're being unkind to ourselves, notice how this meanness makes us feel, and explore whether we can be kinder in that moment. So, while passing a mirror, we may 1) quickly look away and 2) think: "ugh. I hate my skin tone and big hips."
What could someone potentially practice when they observe this? Slowly go back to the mirror. Really be present with yourself. Take deep breaths. Notice the thoughts that pass by [e.g., I'm so ugly. I hate myself. What is the point?] and the feelings that come up [e.g., sadness, frustration, numbness, despair].
You could say: "you don't like your skin tone and big hips, huh?" Maybe the first step is practicing to not have any judgments on those factors. Your skin color is just skin color. There doesn't need to be any good or bad label to it. Others or society may not like aspects of you, but you absolutely don't need to swallow whole their messaging. Take their messaging and practice putting it in the trash, as often as you can.
Here's an idea! Literally do that. Write down all the horrible comments you've heard about your body, your personality, your skin color, etc. Sit with them for a bit. Take deep breaths as you reflect on how it feels to read and write them. Notice that they're just letters and colors, and that you don't have to apply meaning to the words. Rip up the papers. Throw them out. Burn them. Every time those horrible comments come up, write them down, see how you feel, and throw them out. A mantra could be: "I am choosing to not carry you with me anymore" or "this was said, but I don't need to identify with it" or "I am way more than these letters and words." Do this for a week. See if the thoughts that float around your mind shift and if uncomfortable feelings soften.
Another practice could be starting to notice what you do appreciate about your skin tone. For example, maybe it really pops when you wear bright colors. Other practices could involve: writing love letters to your body and to yourself in general, writing apology letters to yourself for the mean ways you've spoken to yourself, engaging in self-soothing -- drinking the teas that your body loves, dancing if your body loves to dance, smelling scents that you love, going out into nature and really being present with nature, thanking your body constantly for all that it does. Your body gets out of bed? Thank it. Your body is able to chew and swallow delicious meals? Thank it. Your body is able to see and feel awe while looking at the sunrise? Thank it. Whatever your body is able to do, be grateful for it.
Happy Valentine's Day :)
May you treat yourself so incredibly well today and everyday. May you treat your body and yourself with care, kindness, and compassion. May you show your body everyday how much you care for it and love it.
Interested in writing self-compassionate letters to yourself? Check out this exercise!
Curious about seven possible facets of self-love (e.g., social, occupational, physical, spiritual)!? Read on here.
Interested in showing your friends and family some love? Do a gratitude visit! You can also give yourself a gratitude visit! Think of a time where you said something to yourself or did something for yourself that made you feel happy, present, connected, safe, cherished, and loved. Write yourself a thank you letter. Read this letter as often as you can.
Interested in meditating a bit on how amazing your body is? Read this reflection from Sharon Salzberg's Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. Also! You should totally get the book!
Appreciating our Aliveness
"We get only one body in this life, the one we are each endowed with right this moment. Begin by giving yours the respect it deserves. Did you realize that every atom in it is 14.5 billion years old? ...You are literally stardust; so is everything around you.
The water in this body seems to flow into your mouth from a fountain or a glass, then out again through pores and orifices. But like all the waters of the earth, no one knows where it came from. And if you have gold fillings, your teeth carry a share of all the gold that exists in the universe, for the number of gold molecules is finite.
Your body is not just mineral and elemental. No, It's vividly alive, as anyone knows who's ever danced, had a sore throat, made love, or stubbed a toe.
Try to sense the skin around your body. Feel how alive it is! For this, you can thank a single-celled creature. All the baroque variety of life on earth is considered to come from a common tiny ancestor who appeared about 4 billion years ago (again, no one knows quite how). And still today, on a cellular level, basic functions like respiration look similar in plants and animals. So does our DNA--we humans share about half of our genetic information with plants. We truly aren't very far away from anything.
...But surely it is the brain that is our most fabulous body part. Scientists believe that the human brain ...is capable of making one hundred trillion neural connections. Lay all your neurons end to end, and they'll reach to the moon and back. Awake, asleep, or dreaming, your brain is active night and day, a magic lantern...
Body and brain are inseparable collaborators, producing the symphony that fully absorbs us. This is the wonder of life. How amazing that we can even be amazed."