Learning to love myself didn’t come easy. It was not a lesson I was taught, or something I can remember ever observing growing up — it was an art in which I was uninitiated. I started appreciating myself as I grew into adulthood and began to shed my teenage insecurities. I began with the features that were hardest to accept: my broad nose, for instance, and how it spread across my face when I smiled. How it was the first thing I saw when I looked in the mirror. It was the same nose my mother had, and her mother. I found I could not go on resenting something that had so beautifully been passed down to me.
The idea of what it means to love yourself is a nebulous concept, wrapped up in larger conversations about self-acceptance and how we come to cope with a society that profits off of our own self-hatred. Given how high our societal standards rise, it is almost inevitable to feel like you’re lacking in some capacity or another.
Self-love, to me, comes as holding my own hand–accepting who I am and where I’m at, and walking towards where I want to be.
The process is individualized and rigorous, and what we find works for others may not always work for ourselves. To gain better insights, I asked around the USF community: what does self-love mean to you?
On UC 4, I reached out to faces both familiar and unfamiliar to talk about self-love. Sitting in the SLE student box, I met with fourth-year business management major, Eddie Chun Fat, and third-year accounting and finance major, Carl Dano. The two expressed that finding healthy, interpersonal relationships motivated their journeys to self-love. “I finally found the group that showed me what I’m worth. I surrounded myself in an environment that helped me grow… I met really good friends and they helped me through all of it.” Dano said.
Chun Fat said he had a similar experience. “For the longest time, I was looking for the answer [to self-love] internally and I couldn’t really find it,” he said. “Through life circumstances, I met a lot of really good people, and for the first time I realized that love can sometimes come from external things as well, [like] other people.”
The influence other people have on our self-worth cannot be underestimated. In 2019, the American Psychological Association examined over two decades worth of research on the connection between social relationships and self-esteem. They found that “positive social relationships, social support and social acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem in people over time across ages 4 to 76.” In nearly every step of the way, our relationships reflect and impact how we talk to ourselves, how much grace we allot ourselves, and the love that we extend to ourselves.
This social support typically begins in the home, and is a major factor in our internal developments. At the Intercultural Centers, I chatted with friends Nyah Miah, a second-year psychology major, and Maya Perez, a second-year performing arts and social justice major. The two gave illuminating perspectives on the influence their families had on their inner dialogues.
Miah said, “Something my father would always tell me would be, ‘You have the capability to make the right decision,’ or ‘You have it within you to grow in how much compassion you have for other people, and how much empathy you have for other people.’” Miah continued, “Growing up and knowing I am capable … is one thing that definitely gives me some sort of self-esteem, and some sort of pride in myself.”
Sometimes, self-love doesn’t begin at home. Maya Perez, a second-year performing arts and social justice major, said, “Self-love is a really hard thing for me because, growing up, it’s not really something that was there.
“I think that when I started to say, ‘You know what, I don’t like being around family members that do not treat me right,’… and I started lessening my interaction with them, I noticed an increase in my love for myself, that I felt a lot more caring and full as a human being because I was actually starting to take my own feelings into consideration and actually doing something with them.”
Maybe no one can know and love us quite like we can ourselves but, unfortunately, we tend to be our greatest critics, if not bullies. No one remembers that time we confidently said the wrong thing in a room full of people, or that time we tripped going up the stairs, more than we do. In the same way, though, no one is there to witness how we’ve begun to talk to ourselves differently, how we’ve started to smile back at strangers, or begun to hold the door open for the next person — the little ways we’ve matured — more than we are. We’ve been passengers on this ride for so long, don’t we owe it to ourselves to love ourselves at our greatest capacities?
Self-love is a myriad of things, but namely it is a process and a commitment to the betterment of yourself. Knowing exactly who you are should not be burdensome — take pride in knowing who you’ve grown to be. As Valentine’s Day comes and goes, and we are enveloped in a sea of candy hearts and cupid’s bows, I hope the USF community continues to give love to themselves.