My Journey: A Self-Love Exploration
By Charlotte Goodger
The last five years have seen considerable growth in the self-care and self-love industries. The acceptance of your body and focus on mental and physical health have primarily been used as a marketing tool for the wellness industry. Instagram has been flooded with self-care accounts that seek to promote body positivity, fitness, looking and feeling good and improving your self-perception.
I am not looking to dismiss the body positivity movement on social media at all. Particularly on Instagram, it has done so much to bring body positivity into mainstream culture and make body issues a highly talked-about issue. There are plenty of accounts advocating for physical and mental health, a sustainable and green lifestyle, a healthy diet without pages of restrictions. I applaud these accounts, and I wish to see more of them. They focus on how to see yourself as beautiful and accepting your body, whatever it looks like. This is a great message in itself, but it overlooks all the other ways people might need help feeling good about themselves.
I’m going to look at how I spent some time last year working through loving myself in a more rounded sense, both inside and out. It’s not an easy process, and if it weren’t for lockdown, I probably wouldn’t have had the time for it. I managed to come to love my body and appearance, for the most part, although it took a lot of difficulties in my early teens to get to that point. But I still wasn’t massively happy. I felt I had little direction, and I was preoccupied with other people’s expectations.
The last year has been transformative for the world, but it has also been transformative for me. Being at home has forced me to face many issues that I didn’t realise still existed. One of the things I struggled with most was thinking about my future career path. In 2018, I made a last-minute change in Freshers’ Week that sent me down the creative Art path instead of a STEM one and, although they would deny it forever, my parents were disappointed. At the beginning of 2020, although it was a better time for the world, I was at a bit of a loss.
It took the cancellation of every internship scheme I applied to and facing summer at home without socialising (I have no siblings) to cause me to stumble into a marketing internship, which in turn led to a part-time marketing job. I took a largely unknown opportunity and discovered something crucial about what I wanted for my future career. I also discovered that choosing a degree course that I enjoyed had led me to something my mother feared I would never have – a ‘normal’ career path. Whatever that means. This newfound confidence in my future lifted a weight from my shoulders. I soon turned my attention to other areas of life that had always bothered me, but I could never quite tell why.
Makeup is a way of artistic expression for plenty of people – one of my closest friends wears intricate eyeshadow every day, even when she isn’t going out. But I always found it time-consuming and uncomfortable to wear. My skin is sensitive, so I was stuck in a circle of breakouts, covered by makeup which caused even more breakouts. I primarily wore makeup because the people close to me would tell me I looked ill without foundation and looked better with makeup. Again, because of lockdown, I stopped wearing makeup for months. I have only worn it twice since last March, and my skin is so much healthier. I look healthier and feel healthier.
My sceptics are still just that, but I find that I don’t care anymore. Having been so long without makeup, I have decided that I prefer how I look without it, and that is now enough. I began to focus on my own opinions and my own goals rather than those of others. It was this that led me to the final and most challenging part of this process.
During the first lockdown, the last thing I learned is to accept my somewhat niche interests and own them. When everyone started to find new and unique hobbies in lockdown and shared them on social media, I saw that people were no longer being mocked for having different interests, but instead were being supported by a huge online community.
Being allowed to shamelessly enjoy my interests was a novelty to me. Although it never really bothered me, I still remember being laughed at for attending quiz club aged eleven. Now, quizzes are all the rage. Being myself in all areas of life has made me more outgoing and livelier, and not having to sidestep things constantly means meeting new people is much less tiring.
I suppose my point in telling this story is to illustrate that learning to love yourself is not as straightforward and one-dimensional as you might think. Loving yourself means loving what you enjoy, what you are and aren’t good at, your job, hobbies, achievements, and romantic and platonic relationships, not just your body. I am not trying to take attention away from body positivity because it is so important, but other things are often easy to forget in the quest for loving how we look.
There are so many aspects of ourselves, and we’ve been conditioned to feel bad about anything from body size to the right career path or salary to the choice of partner (or choice of no partner). Learning to love and accept every aspect of yourself takes time, patience and support. Keep going with it. It’s a journey, not a task.