Self-Love Is Not an Obligation, So Stop Preaching It “You just have to accept your body. You may not love it all the way, but you just have to be comfortable with it…,” reads a quote attributed to Rihanna.

With all due respect, Rihanna, fuck off. And to everyone else constantly sprouting thoughtless, meaningless “love your body, love yourself”  jargon without nuance, please do the same.

That’s everyone’s problem, right? That we just don’t love ourselves enough? No. The reality is that we don’t all have equal access to self-love, just like we don’t have equal access to anything—from food to education to fresh air.

What you look like, how you grew up and what resources you’re working with directly affect what you can reasonably be expected to do, including loving your appearance. A thin, light-skinned black woman with light eyes and enough money to keep the straight weaves flowing and the pores cleaned out cannot, in any way, understand how hard it is to “just be comfortable” with yourself when you’re fat, dark-skinned, pimply, visibly disabled, obviously gay or trans or a part of any of the other groups of people that we all actively oppress each day. If you’re some combination of more than one of those groups? Lord help you in any quest for mainstream affirmation of “loving yourself.”

Now, I am absolutely not suggesting that people who aren’t mainstream beautiful can’t love themselves and be happy. I’m not inviting everyone to a “woe is me, little dark/fat/nappy-headed/acne-riddled/etc” pity party. I fit into a lot of those categories and I don’t hate the way I look—some days I even love it.

What I’m saying is that this constant, flimsy, one-size-fits-all push for acceptance is thin. It’s weak. It’s annoying at best and insincere at worst. Instead of telling me to love my “flaws,” stop telling me they’re bad and undesirable in the first place. My fat? Tell me that stuff’s amazing, don’t tell me to love it out of one side of your mouth and then diss women who look like me out the other side.

The problem, dear people who are fond of motivational sayings, is not that people don’t have the mental will to access some elusive well of self-love. Instead, the real problem is that you, your mother and your cousin, too, spend all day, every day affirming that some people have every reason to love the way they look (i.e. Rihanna) and that other people have no business doing the same (i.e. people who look more like Gabourey Sidibe, whose looks all of you happily dissed when Kanye West rapped, “my bitch make your bitch look like Precious.”)

A $60 billion weight loss industry and a $170 billion cosmetics industry—not to mention the influence of magazines, television shows, films and music—valiantly combine to ensure we all hate every dimple, pimple, roll, stretch mark, wrinkle and pore.

I call it victim-blaming. How dare you, fat, dark-skinned woman with nappy hair, not love yourself the way some thin, white woman with straight hair is apparently able to? It’s no matter that your image, when it’s ever spotted in media or referenced in music, is maligned and deemed pungent on its face. It’s no matter that every encounter with mainstream culture tells you that you’re wrong and different. You are just not trying hard enough to accept yourself, damnit!

No, no, no.

The problem isn’t a lack of self-love. Or a lack of the will required to love yourself. We all need to acknowledge the power and privilege aspect of acceptance that’s at work every time each of us looks in the mirror, goes shopping for clothes or posts a selfie on Instagram. We all should, if we’re concerned with acceptance, work to make a world where all bodies and states of appearance are accepted, loved and regarded with respect.

That’s not the world we currently live in, though, and it’s not helping anyone to keep preaching self-love and self-respect and self-confidence and all kinds of stuff that actually has nothing to do with self, but everything to do with y’all.

For those of you all sure to protest that you’ve learned to love your non-traditionally attractive appearance, or to point to the token celebrities who are beautiful members of a maligned group (“Kelly Rowland!” “Queen Latifah!”), we’re not actually talking about one-off examples here.

We’re talking about how we are all indoctrinated into seeing some people as better, and for women that means more beautiful—thinner, possessing a certain body proportion, more reminiscent of white people’s skin color and hair texture, able-bodied, etc. Whether you individually believe this message almost doesn’t matter—there are too many out there that do and those people affect how you and your appearance navigate society.

Does anyone, theoretically, have the personal will and resolve to love the way they look, regardless of how they look? Absolutely. Just like everyone, theoretically, can become a millionaire, even though we all (should) know about the systemic barriers to financial success that start in childhood and continue throughout the public education system and criminal justice system that make it much more difficult for people of some groups to achieve the same goal as people of other groups.

If we understand this theory as it plays out in other aspects of our lives, why are we so hell-bent on discarding it and preaching self-love and self-acceptance anyway? We would do better working to eliminate the systemic barriers to self-love that are present for a lot of us, than constantly sprouting affirmations and meaningless jargon about self-acceptance.

And, if we’re being honest, the same ones of you preaching about loving yourself are the main ones doing everything in your power to uphold the current system of beauty capital. All of those “bitches/chicks/girls be like…” Instagram images that are essentially created to show one person’s beauty over another person’s apparent ugliness? All of those Facebook status updates about “getting right?” All of the times you’ve snuck a picture of a fat person or an old person or a person you thought was ugly and posted it somewhere for your friends to mock? Yeah, you. You’re part of the problem.

Stop telling me to love my flaws. Instead, try to stop constantly telling me they’re wrong from the onset.

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    I used to do self esteem workshops with wealthy Upper East Side highschool girls, and with brown and black immigrant trafficking survivors. Suprising (or unsurprisingly) this article would be perfect to use with both groups – as well as with my mostly brown “young professional” friends now. Props to the author and I really encourage Ms Teal to reach to groups like GEMS and Girls Rock with this article or a g-rated version- we all need to hear this.

  • Kara

    Very nicely put. I just happened to come across this article while using StumbleUpon, and all I can say is that whomever wrote this article should keep writing more.

    It is so refreshing to hear from the other 90% of society- the normal, average American citizen- the all natural woman who doesn’t have the bottomless income to throw away on personal trainers/chefs, plastic surgery/liposuction, or on a high-end wardrobe so large that a shirt/dress/pair of shoes is only worn once before tossed aside- and that consists entirely of this year’s latest and greatest designer clothing lines whose value is no doubt more than five times the value of my entire house.

    It is so easy to speak of self-love when you not only have the means and the connections it takes to achieve a perfectly sculpted body and image, but when you have the perfect motivation as well.

    Rhiannon (and every other celebrity) has no privacy. Her entire adult life is out on display for the public. Not only does society expect her to be perfect, but as soon as any imperfection is discovered, the media will make sure to expose that imperfection to all of America; and inevitably, the public thrives on those mistakes and we behave starving dogs fighting over a bloody slab of meat.

    I don’t know about you, but that would be motivation enough for me to do whatever it takes to as perfect as possible. And it would also make me want to represent myself as a powerful, confident woman who loves myself- whether that is the truth or not.

    I guess my point is that we should try to remember that our happiness, our ability to truly love ourselves, and our ability to feel confident, strong, and beautiful can come from within ourselves. It takes a lot of soul-searching, hard work, and even some disappointments- but to truly love ourselves, to truly be confident with who we are, we must find it within ourselves.

    I don’t know Rhiannon. But what I do know is that media sends the public a very CLEAR, CONSTANT, and TOXIC message that the key to happiness is through money, owning the best clothing/cars/houses/tvs/latest/greatest electronic device/etc…and that this is the message not only that we receive, but our CHILDREN receive EVERY SINGLE DAY.

    It is our RESPONSIBILITY to realize that the media does this for ONE REASON ONLY- and that reason is MONEY. As long as we continue to BELIEVE that we can’t be happy without these things, and as long as we continue to spend our HARD EARNED MONEY on things the media tells us will make us happy WE WILL NEVER LOVE OURSELVES, and WE WILL NEVER FIND TRUE HAPPINESS.

    This is what the media wants. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to wake up and realize that we are literally being played. The media, the advertising agencies, the giant corporations program us because our hard earned money funds their income. They make a living off of us, they have so much of our money that they wipe their asses with one hundred dollar bills and they LAUGH.

    We don’t know the real Rhiannon. We don’t know her daily habits, her flaws, her fears, her insecurities. The Rhiannon we are familiar with is an album, a voice, a pretty face on the TV or on the page of a magazine…..and lucky for Rhiannon- all we know of her is what she wants us to think we know. It is so easy SAY “I love myself”, but to actually mean it is something entirely different.

    I guarantee that there is someone out there who truly knows her, and that person could tell you that Rhiannon is just a person- no different than you and I- who has her own demons to fight, her own crosses to bear, and that her happiness is just as much a struggle as anyone else in this world.

    Thank you for writing that article…it was very inspiring and so rarely is it talked about. I would love to read more of your articles.

  • I think this is one of the best articles from my time on here. When I first read it, I didn’t get it. But now seeing examples in here and in real life, I know get it.