“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
– Oscar Wilde
“Easier said than done, amiright?”
The topic of self-love has been uncharacteristically hot in recent years, especially within queer culture. The increasing popularity of social media and seemingly unending urge to broadcast one’s life to the world has sparked a perpetual debate between generations regarding when it is okay to love yourself and how. When we were children, we were read and told countless fairy tales and fables about how horrible it was to be vain. And then we grew up and learned that many adults had been keeping a piece of furniture called a vanity in their bedchamber this whole time, which is a hell of a mixed signal, if you ask me.
Yet, at the same time, we’ve been taught through numerous lessons in our childhood that we ought to Be Yourself™ and not compare ourselves to others, but find contentment from within. Finally, it looks like some of us have actually cracked that code and are ready to spread the good word.
But now, the concept of loving oneself has become so popular that it is being forced on some of us like a blind date we never asked for in the first place.
Last week, comic genius of the internet and creator of “My Drunk Kitchen” Hannah Hart tweeted the following:
👏🏻 You 👏🏻 can’t 👏🏻 love 👏🏻 somebody 👏🏻 until 👏🏻 you 👏🏻 love 👏🏻 yourself. 👏🏻
— Hannah Hart (@harto) September 12, 2017
The tweet was greeted with a barrage of unsatisfied replies that I don’t think the author had anticipated when she posted it. I, however, was not particularly shocked. See, I’ve heard RuPaul say her infamous variation on this same sentence upwards of a hundred times on “Drag Race” throughout the last decade, and after a few years of persistent praise, fans and critics have been less impressed of late. I, myself, used to feel that twinge of inspiration every time RuPaul said it to her contestants (and viewers) at the end of each episode, but in the last couple years that inspiration statement has been significantly less infectious.
Complaints from the masses largely refer to the implication that those who are mentally ill…who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other conditions that make a person feel unloveable… are therefore incapable of loving another person, which thousands upon thousands of real-life examples will prove is indisputably incorrect. I can’t claim to have been diagnosed with such a condition (yet), but the stories and symptoms resonate with me all the way from my childhood until now, and I firmly stand behind their messages.
I am absolutely not writing this to attack Hannah, because I think she’s the fuckin’ bomb (and here’s a photo of the time I met her in at Housing Works in New York back in 2011 to prove it.) I’m also not necessarily defending her, either. It was a moment of poor taste… especially considering her fan base… but I ultimately believe that it was meant to come from a positive place. But it’s a topic that is close to me right now, and therefore a well-timed device:
I rarely felt pleased with myself as a kid. Even when I did something I was proud of, the feeling never lasted long. In my pre-teen years, it finally became plausible to me the someone might find me physically desirable, but whenever I became comfortable with this, and a little bit excited, a friend would point out my vanity and I would instinctively feel ashamed.
It wasn’t until my third year of college when a close friend called me cocky for the first time. I was overwhelmed with shame upon hearing this, initially, because it was presented to me as if I had done something wrong. But when a former partner heard this news, he was ready to throw me a goddamn party, because he never believed that I loved myself as much as I should and he was proud of me for making such progress.
Flash forward to now, where my self-esteem is at all-time low. Every now and then I get an entire day when I feel good about the person I am, but it hasn’t lasted longer than that in…years, probably. And it’s always one thing at a time. Looks. Brains. Talent. I’ll feel good about one or two of them at a time, but I’m perpetually displeased with the complete package that is me. I’ve apparently developed a subconscious defense mechanism of seeming confident more often than not, but it is, for the most part, a lie, and I really should be getter more acting jobs for it.
It’s interesting, because the only time I was this low was when I was in a relationship that was very short-term, but very emotionally abusive. I was made to feel stupid and invaluable for the longest four months of my life by someone who supposedly cared about me. I’ve had much healthier and more rewarding relationships since then…well, one… but the aforementioned feelings still haunt me despite not having spoken to that person in an unmeasurable amount of time.
Now, I haven’t been in a romantic relationship in close to 7 years. My life has been turned on it’s head more times than I can count. I have a very loving and affectionate community. I have no apparent source for being so down on myself. I just…am. I recognize that it is bullshit, but it is not a thing that is easily rectified. Contrary to popular belief, it is not so simple as flipping a switch.
I acknowledge both Hannah and RuPaul in their intended messages, because I think it is beyond important to encourage people to love themselves when so few do. But we need more than to be told “just do it”. We need stories. We need representation. We need help to understand the reasons we are lovable, when they so clearly escape those who should know them the best. If it isn’t clear to us why we are lovable, how can we expect it to be clear to anyone else?
To quote a popular meme (whose origin is quite literally untraceable at this point):
Can I get an amen?