I have to declare something loudly: loving oneself is not the same as being a narcissist.
We’ve gotten so used to being expected to either be fully self-loathing or considered arrogantly boasting (especially women), that we seem to forget one of the most simple truths of the self, and of life: sometimes self-love is just love.
I didn’t always love myself. Actually, for most of my life I haven’t felt at home within my body, much less in love with it.
But this post isn’t about eating disorders (although I’ve written extensively about my past with one) or how to love ourselves (I’ve written a lot about that too). Instead, this is a simple out-loud, fierce acknowledgment to the world that it’s okay to love ourselves.
It’s okay to give ourselves permission to love ourselves.
It’s not selfish, or shallow or narcissistic to love—it’s love, plain and easy.
To be fair, love takes work—I’ve learned this in my over 20-year-long relationship with my husband—that love, frankly, can be work.
Sometimes love is easy—like it should be.
Sometimes love is glasses of wine on the front porch at sunset or holding hands on a country-road drive. Sometimes, though, it’s dealing with student loans and differing opinions and essential human flaws.
I am filled with flaws. (One of the first things that I had to do in order to love myself was to own up to these flaws, because we can’t begin to either accept or transform something without first acknowledging it.)
I am perfectly flawed.
It’s often said that love is finding a perfectly imperfect match; that love is accepting someone in full, exactly as he or she is, standing in front of us with beating red heart—and self-love is this, too.
Self-love is honoring who we already are, who we wish we could be and, also, sometimes it’s winging it—just like it is in romantic love.
Sometimes you wing it.
I wake up, I look in the mirror and, often, the eyes looking back at me are tired.
I don’t just see my face in the mirror—I see a reflection of my inner-self because I know her, I live with her, and I know that she’s stayed up late with the baby a few too many nights.
I know that her husband had to go to work early a few days in a row. (This is precisely why there is the potential for body dysmorphia, and why so many eating disorders have underlying mental and emotional suffering as triggers.)
But self-love, I’ve learned (and re-learn regularly) is equal parts not taking what I observe in the mirror as the most important aspect of myself and honoring what I see in the mirror, too.
I was putting concealer on underneath my eyes yesterday morning.
My daughter loves to pretend that she’s doing my morning routines along with me—things like the oil I put on my hair, she pretends to pat on her head, or she pretends to apply moisturizer on her face.
I told her bluntly that when mommy doesn’t get enough sleep, that she easily gets bruises underneath her eyes and that I cover them up because it makes me feel better.
Why do I cover them up?
It’s a minor thing, really, but it is a part of my daily rituals, as of late.
I’ve discovered that I conceal them so that the first thing people see—so that the first thing I see—is not my lack of sleep, but the bouncy step in my eyes, or the smile on my face.
Many days I’m sure covering up under-eye circles does not conceal my fatigue.
I’m sure it’s still made obvious by the way that I have to stiffly control the volume of my voice when I feel frustrated with my daughter, or even in the slight curl of my shoulders.
Yet part of my self-care-filled morning involves this particular routine.
It also involves moving my body, eating foods I like that make me feel good, drinking a cup of coffee made exactly as I enjoy it; breastfeeding; cuddling children; running children from here to there.
And much like our lives are a collection of the way that we spend the hours of our days, our self-love is equally a cumulative, sum-total of how much (or how little) we accept who we are—where we are right now and, yes, things like what we look like.
It’s also a product of what we choose to focus on.
Do I occasionally wish I had springy, curly hair like my daughter? Sometimes, but not really. I love her hair, but I’ve learned to accept who I am, and I hope that, one day, my own self-acceptance helps her with her own.
Because looking in the mirror, smiling at my reflection, noting that, yep, I’ve got a couple of dark circles under my eyes this morning, but—oh my goodness—what a pretty shade of blue-green my eyes are! It isn’t narcissism—it’s love.
Let’s not go overboard flaunting our exteriors or over-estimating how wonderfully we perform some activities, but let’s also not forget that it’s okay to appreciate who we are and our capabilities and strengths—as much as it’s okay to recognize our potential weaknesses.
The opposite of love is not hate.
The opposite of love is indifference.
It’s cold. It’s unfeeling.
I celebrate 21 years of dating my husband this weekend.
I can, most assuredly, offer that love is wonderful—if not always easy—and that it has periods of waning and waxing, and moments where we must demand change, as well as opportunities to relax into the way things already are.
I do this with myself.
This is love.
And the reason why it’s a basic human craving to seek out love is because, while it does, from time to time, take labor and patience and maturity—it ultimately feels good.
It feels good to be in love.
And maybe this is exactly why we as a society can sometimes be uncomfortable with someone who practices self-love—because we are more uncomfortable with the idea of enjoyment than anything else.
So let me offer one last thought: It’s okay to enjoy ourselves.
It’s okay to enjoy life.
And one of the best things about self-love is that we need no one’s permission—or acceptance, or patience, or care—besides our own.
More from jennifer on Elephant:
Author: Jennifer S. White
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Sean McGrath/Flickr