In honor of Valentine’s Day, I figured the best topic to talk about in this column was love. I almost went the sappy route and talked about how much I love my boyfriend, or my friends or all the other amazing people in my life, but then my mind wandered into all the different types of love I’ve experienced. I’ve known love that stings, love that lingers, love that convinced me less is more, love that changed me fundamentally and so many more kinds that I’ll spare you the poetry. After all this cupid-esque contemplation, I realized the most important form of love, and the one I want to focus on here, is self-love.
I recognize that perhaps I went the even sappier route, where I talk about how a face mask and a bubble bath helped cure my depression, but that’s not the case. I want to share with you that I’ve learned love must come from within in order to come out properly; otherwise it’s like squeezing an empty tube of toothpaste. It’s messy and sad and nothing good comes from it. Self-love, for me, is a daily task. It’s constant reminders that I am beautiful, that I am worth it and I matter. It’s staring in the mirror hating myself but refusing to say a single bad thing out loud. It’s a constant correction in the rhetoric I use to talk about myself, which in turn will one day help my thoughts turn more positive. Self-love, sometimes, improves via warm bubble baths and cucumbers on my eyes, but it’s so much more. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say I truly love myself yet, because it often feels like an uphill battle I’ve barely started climbing.
My first step towards trying to love myself was admitting that I hate myself. This takes a lot out of you, but you can’t fix a problem you refuse to recognize. I’ve spent a majority of my life feeling guilty, unwanted and unlovable. I grew up thinking I shouldn’t be loved, and that no one had a reason to love me, which led to a very confusing childhood, a string of awkward, traumatic relationships throughout my pubescent years and a dire need for attention in my adulthood. Because of this, love never felt right to me, and outward expressions of it were few and far between (like I said, messy). I’d formed such an uncomfortable sense of what love should be and how I should explore it, that it left a misshapen stain on my brain.
Self-love started fairly recently for me. The next step after my big recognition, was letting myself do things I enjoyed. I had to stop feeling guilty for being myself and pursuing my interests so I decided, around a year ago, to enroll in a creative writing class. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I live and breathe poetry, and I had to release my inhibitions and go for it. I took the class and poured my heart out onto paper, which was easy enough since I’ve kept journals and diaries forever. But then, I had to read my poems out loud to a room full of strangers (a terror I didn’t anticipate), and the strangers told me it was good. People read my work and enjoyed it. I followed my heart, I became vulnerable and I reaped the rewards. Self-love points began rising.
Next, I started writing and reading all the poetry I could. I got high off the feeling of acceptance and critique. I wanted to learn and grow and expand a craft— my craft. I performed open mics, posted poems on Instagram and attended readings. I opened my heart and filled it with poetry.
Next, I wanted to challenge myself to do something out of my comfort zone. My move— I joined Alpha Psi Ecdysia (APE), the burlesque troupe on campus. I’ve always loved dancing, but I’d been shot down from nearly everyone who had seen me dance before and that killed my pursuit of it a long time ago. I left dancing behind closed doors in privacy and isolation. But then last semester, I pushed myself to take a chance and that chance changed my life.
I have struggled with loving my body intensely throughout my life. I never felt beautiful, skinny or good enough, and burlesque forced me into a different perspective. APE contains some of the most loving, supportive and accepting people I’ve ever met, and they have pushed me to push myself. I get to explore my body and how it moves. I let myself enjoy how I look and I feel elated when people cheer for just the sight of my shoulder. I feel sexy and confident and strong for the first time in my life. I take ownership of every last piece of this captivating body and I embrace all of her. I can look in the mirror and feel proud to go to bed with myself every night.
I got really into crystal healing and astrology, which I entirely blame New Paltz for. I let myself feel things deeply. I stay vulnerable even when I’m scared to get hurt. I tell myself “I love you.” I try hard at the things I want to do even if it’s stressful or time-consuming. I got back into theatre— a decade old passion of mine. I try my best to follow my heart wherever she wants to go. I work on loving myself every day by surrounding myself with people who appreciate and inspire me. I hold people accountable, including myself. Self-love is hard work, and I f*ck it up all the time, no doubt, but I work on forgiveness. I continue to try when it hurts and I move forward. I like to think that one day I’ll be a full tube of toothpaste, ready to brush the world with all the love I have— bursting at the seams.