In order to love yourself well, that love must permeate every aspect of your life. There are many forces in the world that either subtly or overtly encourage the denial or destruction of self—or that foster self-dissatisfaction. One must be vigilant. Loving yourself is important, but it isn’t always easy. It can be a struggle when so much of our culture is entrenched in materialism and perfectionism (whatever that means) and antagonistic towards or apprehensive of those who are considered different.
We live in a capitalist society. Someone is always trying to sell us something. If I’m not careful, the seemingly simple act of being a consumer can stand at odds against my commitment to loving myself well. I can’t afford to be passive. I can’t risk remaining vulnerable to the potentially abusive or unhealthy messages swirling around in the media. It takes energy to maintain my ability to love myself well and maintain my self confidence—to not be peer pressured into self-destructive thought patterns. Here are seven ways that I’ve found it helpful to avoid being a mindless consumer while embracing radical self-love.
1: Pay attention to the message behind the message. Does the success of an advertisement rely on your being dissatisfied with yourself or your appearance? Whether it’s a cosmetic company, gym, diet program, or pill, is the message behind the message a call to overly critical self-scrutiny? It’s okay to admit your shortcomings, weaknesses, or flaws. It’s okay to want to improve and have goals for the future. But it’s not okay to be given the impression that the love you have for yourself should be conditional. Even as you pursue change, you should still love yourself as you are right now—today. Don’t let any ad undermine your ability to love yourself. If you can’t love yourself as you already are, there’s not a product in the world that can make up for that.
2: Remember that ads are often (subtly) dishonest. Is a young woman the spokesperson for an anti-aging cream? Has the ad been airbrushed to present an idealized image? Don’t fall for illusions. Trying to pursue a façade will only leave you feeling dissatisfied or, worse, like a failure. Remember that ads are rarely a depiction of unadulterated reality. And models are not a representative sample of humanity. How often do you see someone in an ad that looks like you? If you’re a person of color, older, heavier, poor, disabled, or in any way outside of what is considered mainstream, you’ve probably not felt well represented in or properly addressed by advertisements. In most advertisements, bodies are presented as flawless and age is represented by youth. These are just some of the ways that ads are subtly dishonest. It’s important to remember that ads aren’t real so that you don’t compare yourself to an unattainable or unhealthy ideal. Don’t make an illusion your goal or source of motivation.
3: Trust your instincts. Don’t be a herd animal. If “everyone” is saying a product is the next best thing, but it doesn’t seem right for you, don’t be peer-pressured into buying or using it. You’re the best expert on you. No one knows your body better than you do. No one knows what you’re capable of better than you do. What might be right for someone else might not be right for you. An apple a day is good advice unless you have a serious allergy to apples. Running five miles a day is great exercise unless you have bad knees. Don’t let anyone (especially any company trying to sell you something) convince you that they know what’s in your best interest if it goes against your gut instincts. That’s not to say you should avoid challenges. If you’re healthy enough to run, the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not good for you. However, berating yourself because you have to stop and walk or forcing yourself to run because you think it’s the “right” way to exercise when you’d be happier dancing, swimming, or going for a bike ride isn’t self loving. So don’t buy something just to be on trend if you don’t really want it. And don’t buy into a craze if it feels wrong for you. Trust your instincts.
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4: Know yourself. You can’t trust what you do not know, so in order to trust your instincts, you must become an expert on yourself. This means going deep. This means getting beneath the superficial and the temporary. Getting past the superficial means looking at the full width and depth of your emotions. Quite often our feelings are multi-layered. For example, when someone cuts you off on the highway, you are probably very aware of your anger. But behind that anger might be fear—fear that they put your safety in danger. Going beyond the temporary means not chasing the quick thrill of a purchase or decision, especially if it may lead to guilt down the road. Don’t chase after fast fixes. Get to know yourself well enough to learn what will bring you lasting happiness and joy. Pay attention to your responses. What do you find life-giving, and what do you find life-draining? What builds you up? What breaks you down? Once you can answer these questions, you’ll be in a much better position to choose wisely.
5: Slow down and take a break from distractions. Even if you’re a very social person who loves constant company, it is healthy to slow down and spend time alone. Silence is a great teacher. The more time you spend with just your own thoughts, the better you will come to know yourself. It may not be easy for you at first, especially if you’re not an introvert and are used to having noise around you. However, there are certain parts of yourself that you will only have access to in silence and solitude. It is in these periods of alone time that you can really explore your inner self—your feelings, dreams, and motivations. Ask yourself questions. Journal. Look for patterns in your life. Do you have a habit of making impulse purchases when you feel hurt, lonely, or sad? Do you find yourself buying gifts for others in an attempt to purchase their love or friendship? When you slow down and spend time alone, you create an opportunity to really examine yourself. This is much harder to do when you’re busy, rushing, or otherwise occupied mentally.
6: Don’t try to buy things that can’t be purchased. A lot of products give the impression that if you use them you’ll be happier, prettier, thinner, cooler, or a whole host of other things. The truth is, you’ll just be the same you with that thing. So if what you’re trying to buy is love or joy or any other intangible thing, beware. Those things aren’t for sale. You can purchase convenience, but that’s not the same thing as contentment. You can pamper yourself, but that’s not the same thing as being happy. And you can buy something that will turn heads and get you attention, but that’s not love or friendship.
Make sure you’re clear about what it is you’re really trying to buy. Are you buying a new dress because you like it and you like the way you feel in it, or are you just trying to avoid feeling sad or bored by buying something new? Do you really want a new car, or are you just trying to impress someone? There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, just be sure you’re aware of all the reasons beneath your desire to have something. It’s easy to buy things mindlessly just like it’s easy to snack mindlessly in front of the television. And just as it’s a good idea to know what you’re putting in your body, it’s also a good idea to fully understand why you’re buying things.
7: Don’t be casual about debt. Unfortunately, sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and, just to survive, we need to go into debt. A job loss or illness can very quickly make debt an unavoidable reality. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a choice, don’t enter debt casually. Do your best to live within your means. Make sure you’re separating wants from necessities. You need food, shelter, and clothing. However, you don’t need to eat at the hottest new restaurant, live in a penthouse, or wear designer labels. Don’t buy something just because a friend or favorite celebrity has it—especially if you can’t afford it.
Being casual about debt is not congruent with loving yourself well, because debt has a nasty way of piling up faster than you expect and quickly becoming an overwhelming burden. Why choose the weight of financial stress? There are so many challenges in life that we can’t avoid, that we should do our best to stay away from those we can. Again, debt isn’t always unavoidable. And sometimes it’s a worthwhile investment (e.g., buying a home or paying for college or graduate school). The debt I’m talking about avoiding is debt for luxuries. It is the mindless consumer that buys things he or she doesn’t need with money he or she doesn’t have. Stuff isn’t love and won’t make you feel loved. Stuff isn’t success. So don’t bring the burden of debt into your life because you’re trying to buy love or happiness—or live like the rich and famous.
These are just some of the ways I attempt to do a better job of loving myself well as a consumer. And I’m just getting started. I believe the next step is to become more loving towards the world by paying attention to which companies and causes I’m supporting with my money. Am I contributing to a company whose ad campaign is misogynistic or culturally insensitive? Am I unwittingly supporting inhumane working conditions? It can feel overwhelming, so I suggest starting small.
Start with yourself. Before your next purchase, investigate your motives. Don’t be a mindless consumer. Think before your shop.