I remember when I first found out about the term ‘self-love.’ I was eighteen.

It was my first year out of high school. I’d moved in with my boyfriend, and was desperately clutching to our toxic relationship. I’d turned down a spot at Law School. I swapped debating social security legislation for steaming silk dresses in a small formalwear store. I’d recently discovered liquid eyeliner. I spent my weeks counting down until Saturday night, when I could squeeze into a tight Supre tube skirt, and sneak into the one festering club my small town had to offer. 

I felt heavy. Heavy under the weight of unrealised dreams, unrelenting anxiety and an unhealthy relationship.

But in November, 2011 that was all going to change. A ‘self-love workshop’ popped up on my Facebook feed. It promised me an afternoon of empowerment and self-exploration exercises (I remembered thinking that sounded oddly sexual). And, for a discounted price of $49.99, I’d walk out with the ability to love myself. What a sweet deal. I signed up straight away. 

Immediately, I felt lighter. Self-love could be my scapegoat. My lack of self-love was the reason why my life was a bit shit. This workshop would change everything. 

The workshop was held in an old community hall. The odour of the previous evening’s Karate class hung in the air. Beyonce blasted from the speakers. I was surrounded by perfectly optimised women. Women I aspired to be more like. Their boyfriend jeans were the right balance of baggy and chic. Their hair was perfectly straightened (even the bit at the back of your head, which is impossible to reach without dislocating your shoulder in the process). They reeked of confidence and the sickly scent of Marc Jacobs perfume. 

A girl in a bright pink t-shirt hugged me at the door, and gave me a goodie bag. Inside was a candle that smelt like toilet spray, a gratitude journal and some sugary bliss balls. I couldn’t wait to scribble in my journal later - I’d have so much to be thankful for, after all. In a mere few hours, I’d love myself! What a time to be alive.

We kicked off the afternoon’s festivities with a partner exercise. To get to know our neighbour, we had to share a ‘raw and vulnerable’ fact about ourselves. I told the girl sitting next to me that I was scared of the Teletubbies. I mean, that shit is terrifying.

Next, we wrote a letter to our future self. I set future Blair some pretty reasonable goals:

  • Become a famous writer 
  • Lose 5kgs
  • Move to London
  • Make my boyfriend love me 

Nailed it.

Then, we all got into a circle, crossed our legs and held hands. I’ve always had super clammy palms, which I felt embarrassed of as I tentatively linked fingers with two complete strangers. Our fearless self-love leader talked us through a visualisation. My tummy picked this opportune moment to make a demented growling sound. I struggled to retain my focus. 

As we emerged from our weird trance, one by one each girl had to shout out their new found self-love superpower.

“I am brave!”
“I am beautiful!”

My turn. My mouth went dry. All words flooded from my brain. I mumbled:

“I am curious?” (the internal dialogue in my head followed this up with - “I am curious why the fuck I’m here, what the fuck self-love is, and how in the fucking fuck it’s helpful in any way shape or form.”)

My answer clearly did not impress the fearless self love leader. She encouraged me to think of another word, and to say it like “I really meant it.”

I ran through a number of other words starting with ‘c’ in my head (one of which I really wanted to say, but knew my mother would disapprove). I settled on the word ‘compassionate.’ That seemed to fit the self-love brief far better. The fearless self-love leader gave me an over-exaggerated nod of approval, and turned her attention to the next girl.

Self-love: it’s the ultimate catfish

Tell me this:

How many times have you been told to love yourself? Bonus points if you’ve been told to love yourself unconditionally, unapologetically, or unwaveringly.   

How many times have you scrolled through your gram, only to be inundated with carefully curated images of Karen from high school doing yoga poses, sipping a turmeric latte out of a mason jar and snapping #nofilter #imsovulnerableandshit selfies?

How many times have you assumed self-love is the silver bullet to fix all your problems? That when you finally love yourself, your anxiety will be cured, you’ll accept your body the way it is, and most importantly, someone will finally love you back?

Self-love is hard. Yet, we’re pressured everyday by gloating ‘gurus’ on Instagram and commercial corporations to simply ‘love ourselves,’ as if it’s as easy as Karen was in high school.

My on again, off again relationship with self-love 

Fun fact: I’ve been active in self love circles for over ten years. From guest blogs to conferences, you better believe I’m front and centre preaching empowerment and self-worth. 

Not so fun fact: I’ve got major imposter syndrome. Meditation makes me restless, I couldn’t think of anything worse than a yoga retreat and I’ve never stood in the mirror and practised my morning affirmations. 

Self-love has been my scapegoat for years. I’ve used my apparent lack of ‘it’ to validate why I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship throughout my early twenties. During university, I blamed my mental health struggles on my complete inability to follow the self-love textbook . When I graduated, I attributed my early career fumbles to my poor relationship with self-love. Because time and time again, society told me that if I didn’t unconditionally, unapologetically and unwaveringly love myself, I would always be a failure. 

The self-love narrative tells us we can either be a strong, empowered woman, or a fucking mess. And, you know what? I’m done with this false dichotomy. 

For too long, self-love has escaped scrutiny. We take this one-dimensional, ‘yass queen’ version of self-love at face value. We don’t question it. We don’t unpick it. We don’t ask: is this what loving myself looks like for me?

Self-love: the messy, imperfect version

I’ve been sold self-love, but it’s like the Christmas present you want to resell on TradeMe come Boxing Day - it’s nice, but not really my style. 

I don’t subscribe to the glossy, edited version of self-love that graces our Insta feeds. I’m not into the commercialised version of self-care that wellness companies like to shove down our throats (usually in the form of a dubious health pill). 

I don’t follow the self-love textbook. 

Instead, I’ll binge watch Love is Blind instead of reading my Brene Brown book. I’ll cook full-fat, full-sugar brownies instead of  ‘healthy scones’ that taste like sandpaper. And no matter how hard I try, my mind always meanders during mediation. 

I want to let people know that it’s okay if your journey to knowing, understanding and accepting yourself doesn’t look like going on Instagram Live and filming yourself dancing to Beyoncé. 

I want people to stop assuming that strong women never feel shame, embarrassment, or anything other than total self-love and acceptance.

I want people to stop using self-love as a simplified, watered down cure to serious mental health issues. 

Don’t get me wrong. I too, want to feel confident, whole, and all those other self loving buzzwords. I just want to do it on my terms. I shouldn't feel ashamed when I don’t fit the neat self-love mould. 

I’d rather forge my own path. Because to me, self-love is a lifelong process, not a product reserved for the privileged, the Insta Famous and the stereotypical ‘strong woman.’

Self-love doesn’t look like a LuluLemon wearing, celery juice drinking girl who writes a 1500 word “I’m about to get vulnerable with you guys” caption on Instagram. 

It looks like a human, doing the best with what they’ve got, and enduring the anxiety-inducing, mind-boggling, nonsensical journey that is life. 

So, I’ve decided to write a blog. 

Yes I know that blogs aren’t really en vogue anymore. But I’m too awkward for TikTok, and I ramble too much to make a good podcast. But words? Words are my jam. I want to use this blog as a platform to talk about matters of the ‘self’ - whether that’s loving your body, understanding your mind or just figuring out what self-love might mean to you. 

Now’s the time to mention that I’ll say the term ‘self-love’ a lot in my blogs. I suggest taking a shot every time I mention it. Makes for a fun drinking game.

Join me, as I embrace self-love with a healthy dose of realism and humour. I’ll be writing a new blog every fortnight (unless a new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes out, in which case, please don’t expect to hear from me for a month). 

We’ll tackle some icky topics, like social anxiety, and we’ll have a giggle about why turmeric lattes are A BAD TIME. Together, we’ll navigate the unrealistic terrain that is ‘self-care’, like meditation in a rainforest or baking gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free ‘treats.’ We’ll lower that seemingly unreachable self-love bar. We’ll laugh at our mistakes (take it from me, hot yoga for three hours will not end well for you) and most of all, we’ll reframe self-love in a way that is achievable, practicable and doesn’t leave us feeling less than. 

So, let’s do this thing. Let’s take on self love and shit. I won’t even charge you $49.99. 

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