One of the more frustrating things about being a woman is the balancing act of self-confidence and self-love. (Of course, people of all genders can face it, but it would be disingenuous not to point out that bold, commanding confidence has always been considered a positive in men.) When you’re a woman, though, no one wants you to be the woman who is constantly self-deprecating, making offhanded comments on the various ways in which she doesn’t measure up to the standards society sets for her. But at the same time, only a certain amount of confidence is truly permitted, after which you’re going to be swiftly labeled “conceited” or “a stuck-up bitch” and dismissed. And when the things in which a woman is allowed to be overtly confident in are relatively narrow (intelligence, for example, may be okay, but physical beauty is generally frowned upon), it can feel like one is constantly walking a tightrope of enforced modesty and restraint.
While our childhoods were often filled with platitudes about loving yourself and feeling good in your own skin, adolescence proved to be a startling opposite. You were ugly, and awkward, and none of the people you wanted wanted you. Of course, this experience isn’t universal, but it’s fair to say that most of us grew up with relatively mixed messages about the importance of feeling beautiful and worth loving. While things like masturbation were likely shunned, embracing the things you are competent at and should possibly pursue in life were encouraged. It was always important to pick out certain things to love, but perhaps not love yourself as a whole.
And so when, as adults, we’re faced with this rock-and-a-hard place problem of having to determine to which degree it is acceptable to take pride in who we are, it’s easy to draw a list of things that are okay to love. You don’t want to focus too much on your appearance — and besides, society is constantly telling you that it isn’t good enough anyway. You should be going after the things you want and using the skills you are confident you possess in doing so. You might make people laugh, but you should never go so far as to call yourself “funny.” These are all various metrics we use to limit our egos and temper our self-love, metrics which are meaningless when we truly consider what it means to love someone. When you love someone, do you love them based on a small list of acceptable qualities that it is okay to embrace? Of course not, you love them for who they are, and have no shame in making them understand it.
But as women, we are told from every angle that there are things about us we could be improving, almost always to someone else’s benefit. We should be taller, thinner, have larger breasts, have smaller waists. We should be having more sex, but not too much. We should be smiling when a man passes us on the street, but not so polite that he may mistake it as some sort of invitation. We must learn to be quiet but not be a frigid bitch. And all of this advice is for our own good, we’re told, because it is teaching us the person we don’t automatically know we should be. From the covers of women’s magazines to the mouth of the man who didn’t respect us in our relationship, there is always a better version of ourselves out there to attain.
So when, in the face of all of this, we say that we are going to love ourselves in every way and work on being more forgiving of our flaws actively, we are going against a very distinct grain. We are refusing to couch our self-love in modesty, and are being as kind to ourselves as we would be to another person we had fallen in love with. We touch ourselves, admire ourselves, and encourage ourselves with just as much conviction as we would with someone else. We write about ourselves in positive ways. We take pictures of ourselves that we enjoy sharing and admiring. And though this will likely be dismissed as being “stuck-up” or “an attention whore,” it is imperative to continue doing it.
Because the world simply needs women who are more confident. It needs women who are not browbeaten into submission by a society who does not and will never fully love them for who they are. It needs women telling other women that to love herself and to find herself utterly beautiful has nothing to do with selfishness, only happiness. If there is one person in this world every woman should be loving unconditionally, it is herself. Because when she does not love herself first and foremost, she begins to put her worth and her beauty in the hands of what a man, or a magazine, or a more popular girl might dole out. She becomes dependent approval that will never fully come, and waits for someone to save her who never could. We live with millions of women every day who are self-conscious and feel ugly until someone comes along and says “no you’re not.” But it is essential for her to b reminding herself of this every day, and truly believe it.
Loving yourself is not conceited. It is as much about self-care and fulfillment as taking a long bath, or treating yourself to a purchase you have earned with your own hard work. It is simply a moment of happiness you bring to yourself, confidence you draw from within by whichever means you deem necessary. Imagine a world in which each little girl believed in herself wholly and knew that she was more beautiful and worthy than anyone could ever prove to her. Imagine if she felt that she could accomplish whatever she wanted, and didn’t need to wait for someone to give the green light. Imagine if she could see herself as a titan of industry, or a screen star, or a sought-after surgeon, and go for it no matter how many people might not approve. Imagine the lines at the unemployment office of Prince Charmings who no longer need to save a girl by telling her she is deserving, because her answer would have universally become, “Don’t worry, I know that already.”