Until a few years ago, radical self-love was a foreign concept to me. Growing up in a culture in which women are secondary to everything and everyone else, I thought that self-love was selfish. How could I love myself more than my partner or my children? I’m sure many women can relate to that question.
We are taught, from the time we are little girls, that boys are first. I know that’s the message I was taught when I was growing up. The men of the family were always served first at the dinner table; women and children were always last. Children were never allowed to speak around adults, especially if you were a girl. Girls were raised to learn how to clean, cook, serve, and look pretty. We were raised to believe that learning to do these things was important because these skills would find you a husband. Many women of my generation were not taught that there is more to life than getting married and having children.
It wasn’t until I divorced that I began to chisel away at the lessons that I had learned growing up. At first, it was very difficult to get used to being on my own and doing things for myself. I didn’t even know what I actually liked or what I really believed in. I had allowed someone else to dictate my worth for so long that I had no idea how to even begin to love myself. So I filled that void not with finding myself, but with taking care of my children. I placed them first, above myself. That’s what a mother is supposed to do, right?
This was the cycle of my life — loving everyone and everything above myself. It wasn’t until I began to surround myself with very goal-oriented women that I began to make some changes. I so admired these women, and I wanted to love myself just as much as they loved themselves. I had to unlearn years and years of lessons that were engrained in my mind and heart. I had to work through the feelings of guilt every time I placed myself first. I struggled buying myself even the smallest thing. I struggled with making simple choices, like ordering food that I liked, because I didn’t even know what I liked. You might wonder how I could live my life not knowing, but that’s exactly how it was for me. I’m sure that’s how it is for many women who have been taught that everyone else comes first.
When I finally did start placing myself first, I was given the guilt trip from all directions. I was judged for buying things I wanted for myself rather than for my children. I had already raised my children, and they were grown adults living at home with me. I had to learn not only to be okay with buying myself things, but also to not care about what everyone else thought.
Not caring takes the longest to learn. Not only do you have to work through the things that you were taught as a child, but you also have to unlearn what society says about who you should be. I had to begin to love my body — every curve, every roll, every once of voluptuousness. I had to learn to love my hair in whatever form it took at that moment — short, long, curly, or falling out. I had to learn to love my own sense of style without falling into the latest trends. I had to learn to shut out the voices that tried to pull me in all directions — directions that were clearly not benefiting me.
When you begin to practice true radical self-love, many things begin to change — not only within yourself but also around you. Many will not agree with you. You will lose many “friends” along the way, and you will realize they really weren’t friends. You will be questioned, frowned upon, and called selfish and self-centered. To truly practice radical self-love, you have to develop what I like to call slippery skin. You just have to let things slide off your skin because, if you don’t, you will begin to feel guilty that you are placing yourself first. And everything you hear, you will end up taking personally.
I’m still learning every day to love myself first. There are still moments that I find myself feeling guilty, and there are still times I struggle. I’m learning that there is nothing wrong in loving myself, because through loving myself, I am happier. If I am happier, then everyone around me is happier. The irony is that, to love myself, I have to find myself — and to find myself, I have to love myself. I can’t do both if I am trying to please everyone else but me.
If you are in the place that I was, then begin today to practice radical self-love. It’s the best journey and the best relationship you will ever have. It’s also the most liberating feeling you can experience — to just be you and to love you.[Headline image: The photograph shows a person of color with long dark hair and dark eyes, sitting with a computer and smiling into the camera.]