The term self-love is constantly being tossed around among our generation. If there was a dictionary of millennial terms, self-love would be in there, right next to “selfie” and “amazeballs.”
But is self-love really such a positive thing? Yes and maybe no.
For the past few years, there has been a powerful emphasis on the art and practice of loving oneself. The short phrase of “self-love” seems to have come from a response to all the bullying, teasing and social pressure young individuals experience in middle school and beyond. And it’s beneficial — especially to young women who are vulnerable targets of society’s often unrealistic standards of beauty and “femininity.” Gender aside, coming to terms with who you are and feeling secure in your identity is pivotal when maturing into a ripe adult.
However, over time, the meaning and execution of “self-love” has changed. The lines between self-acceptance and being selfish have been blurred.
There is no doubt that everyone thinks our generation is the most selfish. And to an extent, I would agree, but I will refrain from dogging on my people too much. At the same time, though, I’m beginning to have an issue with how frequently “self-love” is thrown around — mostly with how often people hide behind the term and use it as an excuse to make selfish decisions that benefit no one but themselves.
What people are seemingly failing to understand is that it is pretty much impossible to wake up one day, look in the mirror and think, “I love myself. There’s nothing about me that I hate or dislike about thy holy temple. I’m the best person ever. Let’s go to school.”
From my perspective, it is a waste of time to try to love yourself at this point in our lives. We’re in college — we’re going to be angsty and we’re going to enjoy being mad and bitter for no apparent reason. We’re learning far too much about the world, people and ourselves to conclude that we “love” ourselves completely. I, for one, feel very unsettled in this time of my life, and frankly the idea of coming to terms and loving who I am sounds boring. I’m constantly changing — how can I deduce that I love myself at every stage of development when I won’t be a finished product in the foreseeable future?
There are many Lena Dunham quotes that resonate deeply with me, but one of them in particular has stuck out recently. From her book “Not That Kind of Girl,” Dunham describes her experience of early-20s angst in a way that many of us could relate to.
“I am twenty years old and I hate myself. My hair, my face, the curve of my stomach. The way my voice comes out wavering and my poems come out maudlin.”
In this statement, Lena recognizes the aspects about herself that don’t tickle her fancy. In fact, she straight up says that she hates herself. She perfectly encapsulates what many of us angsty young adults are feeling at this point in our lives, and says so unapologetically.
I have a theory that a little self-hate goes a long way.
Let me explain. At every stage of my college development, there has always been a part of me that I have disliked. I see it like a little knot in a long rope. As I keep getting older and experiencing more things, that said knot becomes undone. And then another one turns up. Eventually that one unknots itself too. This is called growing up and learning from your mistakes. And without coming to terms with your flaws — these little knots — about yourself, you’re never really going to “grow up.”
There’s a difference between self-love and self-acceptance. It’s important to treat yourself with respect and hold yourself with integrity. Accepting who you are and who you are going to become is a milestone in the young adult life.
But don’t let that suppress the importance of recognizing your flaws. Rather than overlooking our flaws in the name of self-love, let’s find a way to recognize the importance of noticing what we like and dislike about ourselves. No, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to constantly hate yourself. It simply means you are aware enough to realize you are not done learning and growing up.
Collegian columnist Zara DeGroot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @zar_degroot.