In response to a friend's blog entry, I wrote:
"I'm really glad to hear you've reached a degree of acceptance and love of yourself. I suppose it could be argued that the truly fulfilling sense of love comes from connection with deity and feeling that purest of all loves. But there's something to be said for finding it in yourself, as well."
I continued to write more but decided to post only the short version as a comment on his blog and use his entry as a catalyst for some related thoughts of my own. I think he's found a healthy self-acceptance, but I hear others adopting what I consider to be less helpful attitudes that are, in the long-run, probably self-destructive. I shall now expound. *big breath in*
I've always thought society's version of "love yourself" was actually misguided and often laughable in its shallow insignificance. I cringe when I hear people say, "I'm perfect just the way I am," or, "I'm beautiful just as I am and don't need to lose a pound." I cringe because the people I've heard saying those things on TV and elsewhere most often have lazy or abrasive personalities (which could be improved by considering adjusting habits or communication in consideration of other people), or put all kinds of terrible food in their body and don't exercise and then curse society for making them feel less than beautiful.
I am not calling these people fugly or crappy. It's just that it takes no particular degree of personal character to pretend you're perfect and insist everyone should love you and everything about you just as you are. Poppycock, I say to that. You're as imperfect as the next person, and there are things about you that are hard to love, and you're as responsible as anyone for putting some effort into improving some things about yourself. Face up to that fact, change what you can, and let go of what you can't. The stuff you can't change is not a reasonable measure for anyone to hold you up to anyway.
Neither am I saying society's standards of physical beauty are fair. They're not. They stem from a void of the idolization of airbrushed, hollow shells. So I fully respect efforts (such as Dove's campaign) to break down the unreasonable expectations paraded by pushers of soulless images.
It seems, to me, hugely healthier to be able to say, "I'm lovable just as I am, even though I have my shortcomings," or "I'm beautiful when I'm kind, loving, and I try to be a good friend and bring out the best in people around me, leaving every place better than I found it. My countenance can outshine any physical imperfections." I realize that sounds comically corny to say, but seriously, folks, a tight butt and perfect skin can not make up for an ugly personality. Not even close. Not for anyone whose opinion matters.
Anyone can be attracted to a tight body and a pretty face. It takes character to see through that to the personal qualities which actually make a person rather than mask them. Anyone can buy the right skin care products, get the right haircut, get plastic surgery, and spend money on perfectly-fitted clothing. Anyone. It only takes money and know-how, and not a bit of character. It may take time. But it requires no selflessness. We get so hung up on things anyone can do. But it takes true strength to put aside your own desire when you recognize someone else's need. It takes character to even notice the need. But maybe I'm digressing into another topic that's been annoying me lately: the nauseatingly singular focus on people with physical beauty, connections, and other self-serving reasons to be attracted or drawn to people. I'm sure I do it, too, and I disgust myself a bit when I catch myself doing it. But that's another discussion for another time.
Along the vein of focusing on strictly physical self-image, I'd say a healthy attitude is, "My body may not be society's ideal (which changes over time and cultures and individual preference), but I do my best to take care of this gift I've been given and use my body wisely. I could eat better, I could be more fit. If I expended all my energy on 'looking good', I could probably be hotter by today's Western standards, but though my body doesn't look like an Abercrombie model, I should do my best to take care of my health, and even if I'm never society's ideal, that doesn't matter in comparison to my overall health and effort. My genetics may only let me get so close to the ideal, but I can choose to be as healthy as I know how. Meanwhile, there's a lot more to me than whether Abercrombie would want to recruit me."
To me, recognizing my imperfections as imperfections and accepting my abnormalities (whether or not they are "imperfections") without duping myself into believing they're "normal" or insisting others adopt them as such is part of the process of truly accepting and loving myself as I am without denying myself the motivation to strive for improvement where improvement is possible or necessary. With that perspective, there may also be some things, normal or not, which I may believe to be outside of my control, of which I can let go and make the best. I don't even have to love everything I do and say, just like I don't love everything my dearest friends and family do or say, but why should I withhold acceptance of myself more than I withhold it from them? Unless, of course, I really am that judgemental and cold.