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The Necessity of Radical Self (Tough) Love

All those happy, fluffy feelings are great, but that's not what makes me feel like my best self at the end of the day.

In nearly every corner of the internet, people are falling in love with loving themselves.

Google trends shows a steady climb of searches for “self-love” and even MTV has a YouTube series with Laci Green, called “Braless,” dedicated to helping girls feel comfortable with themselves. The good feelings are everywhere.

One of the first people to make a big splash on this topic was a New Zealander with a very memorable name. In 2012, Gala Darling presented at an independent TEDx talk about her Radical Self Love movement. In her talk, she said “young girls are more afraid of being fat than they are of getting cancer, nuclear war, of losing both their parents.”

It seems crazy, but I completely believe that’s the truth. Darling also says that women with low self-esteem are more likely to stay in abusive relationships, will likely make less money over their lifetimes, and are less likely to start their own businesses.

Darling started Radical Self Love movement in 2010. Her suggestions to her followers include: making a self-love bible (basically an uber-positive mood board in book form), writing down all the compliments you receive, and coming up with our own visions for what beauty or success look like. She even has a Radical Self Love Manifesto that details everything her movement stands for.

Darling’s vision of self-love is very close to how I see the entire self-love movement. It’s all (literally) pink, rainbows, sparkles, hearts, and bows. “Fluffy” is one word that comes to mind.

Nothing is wrong with any of that, and I absolutely love to inject that type of self-acceptance into my life from time to time. It feels good to have some virtual safe places that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, especially since I often have issues with depression and anxiety. It’s hard to say anything negative about something so positive.

All those happy, fluffy feelings are great, but that’s not what makes me feel like my best self at the end of the day. I can read all the self-love material that’s out there, but what will really make me happy when I lay my head on my pillow at night is something that could be called “self tough love.”

I’m a bit of a self-improvement addict. I love looking for ways that I can get better in the areas of my life that mean the most to me. What’s most important to me isn’t necessarily what’s important to everyone, but there are a few things that I force myself to work on whether I like it (at the time) or not.

The ultimate expression of self love, for me, is to strive towards intelligence. I spent many years feeling like I wasn’t good enough to truly be considered “smart” and I felt limited to what people told me I was good at (writing, writing, and more writing). It wasn’t until college when I realized that, if I push myself, I can excel at anything.

Most of the time, it’s not fun. I don’t particularly enjoy forcing myself to solve problems that seem impossible. I don’t like taking on so many challenges that I feel like I’m being pulled in a hundred directions at once. But when it’s all done, I feel fulfilled and strong. Most importantly, I’m proud of myself.

Another way I get to the heart of my self love is by resisting temptations. A lot of the self love out there (I’m looking at you, Tumblr), focuses on things like indulging in Netflix marathons and eating all the pizza your heart desires. Taking breaks from your regimented schedule is crucial to mental and physical health, in my opinion, but it would be harmful for me to enjoy that kind of freedom on the regular.

If I bought into that notion too much, I’d spend way too much time just doing things I want to do rather than the things I need to do to reach my goals. Yes, I absolutely want to keep up with every new fall show and go out to eat several times per week. I could totally do all that under the guise of self care, but where would that get me in the end?

For me, real self care is going after everything I want at full steam.

I also work on self love by trying to be better to the people in my life. One of my biggest bones to pick with the self-love movement is the thread of selfishness that runs through it. A dash of selfishness is necessary sometimes, but anecdotally, I’ve seen a people take this too far by being unnecessarily rude to others. In some cases, I see self-love turn into an ugly, conceited sense of self-importance.

I practice self-love by trying to be a good wife to my husband and a good friend to my friends. I have some natural critical tendencies (maybe everyone does?) and it leads to judgement and sometimes hurt feelings.

Instead of saying whatever comes to mind, sometimes I have to remind myself to shut the hell up. Unless they ask, it’s rarely my place to comment on someone else’s choices. It’s still under the self-love umbrella, in my view, because it means there is less negativity in my life.

Everyone’s journey towards self-acceptance is complex, sometimes turbulent, and different from the next person’s. This just happens to be the type of self-love that fits me best.

My personal take on the self-love movement is that it’s our generation’s way of fighting back against the pressure to compete with each other for the highest grades, best jobs, and most enrapturing social media profiles. It’s our way of taking a step back and saying, “Hey, I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty alright.”

I absolutely support that, but I also support a different type of self-love that says, “You know what? I know I can be better.”

Discussion: What’s your take on self-love? How do you practice self-care and self-love while still being productive?


About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.