I remember looking at myself in the mirror, trying to strike the right pose. The one which would hide the extra bits spilling out of the top of my jeans. Which would make my boobs smaller. My legs skinnier. My stomach seem flat. I remember looking in the mirror, closely at my face. Cursing my skin for being too dark (I was mocked in primary school by some kids; for looking like a gypsy. Apparently kids believed that was insult; now I take it as a compliment). I hated the fact that my hormones and my mediterranean roots resulted in stubborn facial hair, hips and flabby arms. The one thing I loved were my eyelashes – extra long and coveted by many of my friends. I proudly talked about never needing mascara. But even this was bittersweet. I would look at my eyes and think they should be green or blue or grey – anything to make me special.
I remember the statement I made back then; I must have been a 13-14 year old girl. I looked at myself in the mirror and said: Well, if you can’t be beautiful, at least you should be skinny. A threat, disguised as a promise to myself. The only way to love me, was to change me.
I never got “skinny”, thankfully. I tried to lose weight by ridiculous means (clingfilm around my belly while watching TV…!), eating diet products and punishing myself for enjoying food. I was jealous of my friends for being thin and eating what they wanted. I was desperately trying to find my identity, by looking for others to define me. I wanted to be the pretty one, or the skinny one, or the cute one. At school, I felt like I was no one.
It’s a harsh time, high school. We are not really taught how to manage our highs and lows, how to navigate this confusing time. My self esteem was pretty low, but I was lucky enough to make a handful of good friends, an incredible family and by relying on my likeability as a person, I made it through. I became the nice one.
Fast forward by about 15 years, I find myself being a yoga teacher and a life coach. Part of what I do essentially puts me on the spotlight as a health and wellness expert. How ironic. I caught myself this morning in class, while teaching a pose upside down my top dropped, exposing my belly. Still my sorest point. One of the girls in the first row happened to be looking at me at that moment and my mind immediately decided she judged me for being too fat. “How can you be a yoga teacher if you’re this shape?” It was a split second, but the thought was powerful. I laughed at myself. I’m still that 14 year old girl.
If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, if you’ve done any self development work, you will have come across the term Self Love. What is that, really? A concept so foreign to me until very recently, now it’s being hashtagged all over the place.
What does Self Love mean?
Here’s what it means to me:
Self love is a feeling of belonging. Of being comfortable living in your own skin. It’s not about putting up with every crap your mind tells you and attributing it to being kind to yourself. It’s about valuing yourself. It’s about commitment and desire to know who you are and spending time identifying your needs and your challenges. It’s taking responsibility not only for your health and wellbeing, but for your energy, your creativity, your passions, your actions. Self Love is responsibility towards your soul. It’s showing up because you know you deserve to be taken care of. Nurturing the parts of you that need love and unpicking the parts that feel raw and tangled up. Self love is an experiment, a journey, a sacred contract.
In action, self love is choosing to have a quiet evening at home, in preparation for a big day. It is acknowledging that giving too much drains me and making time for replenishing my energy. Saying no to certain engagements and a big YES to others. It’s putting money in a self love pot. Compartmentalising my time so that I invest in all parts of me. It’s about knowing things will fluctuate. It’s about setting goals and refining them as I shift and change. It’s acknowledging my tendency to resist routine and lovingly nudging me to get back on it.
It’s returning to my meditation practice, no matter how often I slip.
It’s not eating the whole tub of ice cream. Or if I do, not to beat myself up about it. It’s looking at myself in the mirror and flooding my face with positively charged thoughts.
In action, Self love is a daily practice. It is a choice you have to make constantly in bringing yourself back to a place of self acceptance and compassion, rather than punishment and shame. Self love is choosing to do the hard work, while also letting go.
I still catch myself looking in the mirror and wishing I was thinner and I didn’t have to wax my face every 4 weeks. Sharing this with you, makes me feel lightheaded and exposed. Yet I know these thoughts are losing their power over time; not because I’m fighting them, but because I am directing my energy on bringing love and acceptance into who I am. Quirks, scars and facial hair included.