February is the month of love thanks to Valentine’s day so here on Safe Space we wanted to take this theme and run with it but instead of the traditional love of another, we wanted to talk to you all about self-love. In this post you will see what self-love means to some of the team members, how hard it can be to love ourselves in a society that constantly points out your flaws and imperfections, and what actions we take when it comes to loving ourselves and putting our needs first.
Jess: I used to think that people who said that they loved themselves were lying. That’s such a sad statement to write, but it’s true. I was brought up in a society that encourages you to constantly want to change and tells you that you’re not good enough and if you dare to love yourself is quick to shut you down and tell you that you’re being big headed. As women we are taught to be humble and play down our achievements, that nobody likes a show off. Society constantly sends the message out to girls and women that loving yourself is not okay. So yes, growing up I found the idea of loving myself an impossible concept, so much so that I didn’t believe it when people told me that they felt that way about themselves and I find that incredibly sad.
This all changed for me last year when I started following women online who promoted self-love and body confidence whatever your shape or size. These women were bright, vibrant and from all walks of life. They all looked completely different but the one thing they had in common was that they radiated self-love and positive energy, not only for themselves, but for all women. I found their confidence beautiful and I realised that if they could love themselves then I could too. Something clicked for me and when I looked in the mirror I started to like what I saw. I’ve never felt so confident or sexy and yet nothing had changed except my own attitude towards my body. Other people noticed this change in me too and I started to receive so many compliments from the people around me.
Around the same time I also went into recovery for my mental illnesses and started doing things I never thought I would do. This gave me a huge surge of confidence in who I am as a person. It made me feel strong and capable and I gained a new level of self-respect that I’d never had before. This woman I was discovering was a badass and I liked her very much.
Over the past year I finally learned to love myself both inside and out, but like any relationship it’s not perfect. I still have days where I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see and there are still times where I doubt myself and think I’m not good enough but for the most part my attitude towards myself has completely changed. In learning to love myself I have also learned to take better care of myself, to be kind and to treat myself as I would a friend whether that is by giving myself a break when I’m not feeling well, knowing when to say no, or treating myself to a new lipstick. You’re the only person you’re with for your entire life and the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one of all. Loving yourself in a society that encourages you not to is a constant struggle but finding that inner love will give you an aura of confidence and self respect that you will carry with you for the rest of your life that no magazine or mean comment will ever be able to take away.
I have a seven inch scar down the middle of my abdomen. It’s red and an ostomy bag sits on the right-hand side.
Scars are the map to my past.
My scars are also the battle wounds of my previous fights. Yep, fights. I’ve been a long-term battle with my body since September 2011. My invisible illness of Crohn’s Disease meant that I secret fought my body both physically and mentally. Most of the mental acceptance of having this invisible and chronic illness has been come from others being unable to see what is wrong with me; they can’t see how ill I am, they can’t feel my pain my guts have given me, they can’t understand how much I wish this wasn’t my life.
I still fight my body but now I am winning not only the physical battle but the mental one. It has taken five years, two big surgeries and multiple wounds to realise that my disease doesn’t mean I love myself any less. If anything, I have grown to appreciate my body and how I see my body because despite having something physical for people to identify my illness with – my ostomy bag and midline scar – I have grown to accept myself; scars and all.
People would consider my flaw to be the fact that I poop out of my abdomen now but I see that as my quirk. It isn’t a normal thing but it is by no means a rare thing either. So many people have ostomies and no one knows because they are concealed under clothing. I show my ostomy when I choose too; it is my little secret. I am proud of my secret and you are privileged if you have seen my ostomy bag. Don’t mistake my secret as a dirty little secret, I am supremely proud of my ostomy because it has changed my life and without it I would be still living a life of chronic pain, or possibly not even be here. I celebrate the fact that medicine has come this far to give me this in order to live a life I am proud of. I love my ostomy; it gives my life purpose. It gives me hope. I keeps me out of hospital. Its taught me that my body is a wonderful thing, despite its differences. I’ve accepted that it might look different, it might operate differently but it is still worthy of love. And I love it, for all that it is, and all it will be.
Lily: Learning to love and accept myself has been a long process that is still ongoing. For a long time, particularly growing up, I hated the way I looked. I hated that I was gangly and tall and I didn’t feel feminine, I hated that my hair was neither curly nor straight but this weird in between frizzy mess. I hated my spots and my braces and my nose. Honestly, I could go on.
Thankfully, a lot of that has changed, but it’s taken a long time. I try to embrace my height as much as possible, but there are still days I find difficult (trust me, clothes shopping when you’re a 6ft woman is not a fun or easy experience). I’m learning to love and embrace my natural hair for what it is despite society telling me all of the different products I could use to make it straighter and prettier and ‘more normal’ (don’t even get me started).
Growing up I can’t necessarily remember hating my personality but I think like many people I didn’t particularly like myself either. I’ve always just spoken without thinking and things have come out wrong. I don’t like a lot of the things a lot of people my age enjoy like drinking and clubbing – which is perfectly wonderful and valid if you do like those things, it’s just not for me. There was a period of time about two years ago when I hated myself for not being like other people my age – for being introverted, for having anxiety, for preferring a night in with pizza and Disney movies to ‘the sesh’ as it’s not referred to.
Over the past two years I’ve come to really start to accept that part of myself, and that it’s okay if I want to do things a bit differently to the rest of my peers. I love my interests and that sometimes I care maybe a bit too much. I know now that I can be a good listener and that people feel comfortable coming to me for advice and comfort and I love that about myself. It’s definitely a process that’s still ongoing, but I think I’m getting there.
Only a few weeks back I wrote a post about how at the moment I am struggling to love my body. I keep looking in the mirror and not liking what I see. Cursing myself as my clothes feel tight and just do not seem to fit the way they used to. And of course, on top of that are all the connotations of what being bigger than people leads to and how it feels like I am taking up too much space - literally. However, today I wanted to talk a little bit about how despite not particularly loving my body right now, I do quite like myself. There are times, naturally when I hate my personality and I end up questioning everything I do and whether I am even a nice person or very good at what I do but more often than not, I love me.
This is something that has taken me a long time to do. For years I have struggled to love myself, did not feel that I was worthy of any love, let alone my own. But I have finally come to a place in my life where this has changed and I am so very happy about it because in my opinion, if you don’t love yourself then you will struggle a lot in life - as I did. I’m not entirely sure when or why I changed my mind about myself, but I did and I am glad for it. I love that I know who I am now. I love that I am stubborn, emotional and organised. I love that I am also messy, closed off and easy-going. Because these contradictions are what make me human. I love that I can be high as a kite just on air and that I can make people smile just by being me. I love my laugh and my weird quirks. These make me, me. Now I am not saying that loving myself is easy, there are times when I hate everything about me but it is my love of myself that keeps me alive and keeps me going and that is good enough for me. Plus, if I can’t love myself, who the hell else will?