A Guide to Loving Yourself (Even When It Feels Impossible)
As I approach my 22nd birthday, I’m finally learning how to love myself. This isn't a skill that we’re taught in school. We only pick up on how the adults around us talk about themselves, look at themselves, and take care of themselves. We grow up using these as examples of how we should care for the person we will become.
I was raised by two loving and supportive people who clearly cared for my siblings and me more than they cared for themselves. My parents worked jobs they hated, but they normalized it. This taught me to put others before myself; eventually my own mental health and happiness fell to the wayside.
As a child, I would pinch my belly and wish that as an adult I’d be as skinny as everyone on TV and on movie posters. In high school, I surrounded myself with as many people as possible. I called these people my friends. They didn’t have to be good to me. They just had to be around me. The same went for relationships. The presence of others made me feel liked.
I straightened my hair every day during my junior and senior years, and dabbed on lipstick. If I’d finally love who I was on the outside, then I’d love the person I was on the inside too…right?
No matter what I did, though, I felt like life was a game and I was losing. This didn’t change after high school graduation. I went to college, studied hard, then got a job. I dreaded going to work, but I put up with it because I needed the paycheck. Emotionally I was drained—but I never asked for help, because I didn’t want to pass on the burden.
I had a two-parent family. I had a dog. I had a few decent friends. I even had a thousand Instagram followers. I had everything my 19-year-old self thought mattered, so why didn’t I love myself like all those strangers claimed to love me? What was wrong with me to cause so much unhappiness?
After this lifelong struggle, I finally gained some self-acceptance. It started with another person. There’s a bit of magic in meeting someone who loves others unconditionally, because they love themselves, too. It's nice to know what laughing at yourself feels like. It's nice to know the warmth of accepting your own mistakes.
The relationship didn't last, but the self-love did. I started reading self-help books and dropping bad friends like dead weight. I started to appreciate the freckles under my bangs and beauty mark by my lip, taking the time to look in the mirror and compliment myself. I started meditating and dug deep into who I really was.
It’s a lot to learn to love the dusty corners of your soul, and maybe that’s why they don’t teach us self-love in school. It’s an ongoing process, but the secret to loving yourself is to understand yourself. We have to be honest with the person we are.
By Kristina Balboa, 21