Love thyself: The greatest love of all

Self-love is the power to acknowledge that you come first; it’s only then that you can truly be compassionate about others around you

By Simran Sodhi

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Published: Fri 24 Dec 2021, 9:44 PM

Self-love, or that rather conscious feeling of knowing one’s existence, matters. It is quite a fad these days to see people talk of self-love and that can mean different things to different people.

Some prefer the spa route where the oil massage feels like heaven and you emerge reinvigorated. Some feel watching a good movie, that takes you away from the stress and strain of modern-day life, does the trick. For some like me, a new pair of shoes is a self-love mantra.

But whatever it may be, there is no denying the fact that today as we discuss mental health issues more openly — and with less stigmatisation — society is slowly accepting that it is only if one is in a happy space can that happiness be extended to others.

There is, of course, that in-built guilt trip which comes with self-love. Taking time out to chill can mean, for some, time away from kids and a partner, and that raises many guilt-laden questions. It also plays in our inner value systems where we question if this is selfish and if this self-love time could perhaps be spent doing something more productive.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma, as is the case with most things in life. It’s like biting into a slice of chocolate cake and later wondering if one could have resisted that.

Avigail Spira, an Israeli diplomat and mum of two, who lives in Jerusalem, feels that, “Anything that allows you to be happy and fills you with strength and positivity is self-love in my book. For me, there are so many ways to pamper myself to choose from: books, food, yoga, travel... but, ultimately, my biggest recharger is swimming. Not professionally or athletically, just bathing and floating in the sea or even a pool, relaxing, breathing and soaking up sunshine”, adding that as a mother of two, something as simple as sleep or even just a nap would go a long way towards some self-love!

Whether our practice of self-love could be interpreted as selfish by some, she has an interesting take.

“I like to think about self-love like oxygen masks on a plane: love yourself before you can love others around you. As long as you aren’t loving yourself at the expense of loving others, or more than loving your loved ones, there’s no reason to feel guilty or selfish. It’s a lot harder to give and receive love if you have none for yourself.”

Self-love and wellness

It’s quite common for critics to dismiss self-love as a fine form of narcissism and many have questioned as to where and how you draw the fine line between the two.

“Narcissus drowned in the reflection of his own perfection, but none of us mortals are truly perfect. I think true self-love is acknowledging our imperfections, seeing the good, bad and the ugly and applying a little bit of forgiveness to ourselves. Narcissistic obsession with being the best, most perfect version of ourselves isn’t self-love in my eyes,” Spira says.

She strongly believes that when we love and accept our own selves, it is easier to then share that positivity with others. “I recently gave birth to my second child, a daughter this time, and it really made me think about how I can be the best mother and role model to my children. Ultimately, I want them to grow up knowing they are worthy of love and have a right to love themselves as they are and be happy. So now, I need to make sure to practise what I preach not only to model it for them but also for myself.”

Feeding into this debate about how we all need to pursue what makes us happy and better human beings is, of course, the market. There is a huge wellness market out there today, with focus on clothes, food, travel etc. “I think it’s healthy that we are speaking about our mental and emotional wellbeing so openly these days, and everyone has their own way of taking care of themselves and finding happiness. Obviously, we need to beware of scams and true self-love can’t simply be bought or bottled up for us, but trying and finding the wellness tools which work for each one of us is part of the process. You might choose a combination of the above, find the answer in your loved ones or look inward to find it in yourself. There’s no one formula, and perhaps we need to collectively let go of judgment so each and every one of us can find their own path to some much-needed self-love,” points out Spira on the different manners in which the self-love concept is marketed around us.

According to a recent study conducted by McKinsey, “We estimate the global wellness market at more than $1.5 trillion, with annual growth of 5 to 10 per cent. A rise in both consumer interest and purchasing power presents tremendous opportunities for companies, particularly as spending on personal wellness rebounds after stagnating or even declining during the Covid-19 crisis.”

Interestingly, this study pointed out that consumers view wellness across six dimensions: better health, better fitness, better nutrition, better appearance, better sleep and better mindfulness. All in all, the emphasis seems to be on not just looking better but also feeling better.

The idea of self-love isn’t just limited to the female gender, despite the stereotype. Men also seem to increasingly accept the positivity which comes out of channelling this emotion. In 2015, Sam Smith while accepting his award for best pop vocal album at the Grammys said that it wasn’t until he starting loving himself and his body that he was able to make great music. The website quoted him as saying, “Before I made this record, I was doing everything to try and get my music heard. I tried to lose weight, and I was making awful music. It was only until I started to be myself that the music started to flow and people started to listen. If that’s not a good reason to start being body positive, I don’t know what is.”

To heal is an act of self-love

For Sanaa AK, a Canadian expat who today calls UAE her home and a mother of three young boys, “Self-love, for me, is the act of taking care of oneself both physically and mentally. It means to put forth effort to really understanding what your body needs to reach its maximum physical potential and mental wellness. Your mental health relies on your physical health and vice versa. One is not complete without the other. This all takes time. So, in essence, giving yourself the time to educate yourself, to realise your dreams, desires and needs, to slow down, to reflect, to heal is the act of self-love.”

Sanaa feels that it is not at all selfish to love and take care of oneself. “No, it’s not selfish at all. It’s actually necessary. It is very difficult to nurture your career, relationships and loved ones when you yourself are not feeling nurtured. And it’s no one else’s responsibility to do that other than your own. As a mother, I feel immense guilt when I take time for myself as that means time away from my children, husband and home. But I remind myself what I’m like when I go too long without caring for myself. They get the much more energised and calmer version of me rather than the burnt out, stressed and distracted unloved version of me.”

She feels that the lines of distinction between self-love and narcissism are quite clear. “I think there is a very clear line between narcissism and self-love. Narcissistic love is excessive to the point of devaluing those around you, with a need to receive the validation of others — while self-love depends solely on the validation of one’s self and with the intention to enrich the lives and relationships around you.”

Sanaa is quite clear that till the time we value our own selves, it is not possible to value others in our lives. “I think self-love starts with believing in your own value first and that sets the mark on how others value you. When you understand and experience value, it’s much easier to reciprocate, but it helps to start with you first.”

She views the market options available today as an upbeat trend and points out that, “I love that there is an endless amount of resources to educate ourselves and experiment with in order to really find what works for us. We don’t all have cookie cutter needs and the diversity of options helps normalise and encourage the act of self-love.”

And while one is on the topic of self-love and self-care, how can we not mention Goop? In 2008, Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow started this wellness company. What began as a weekly newsletter today is a hugely successful business venture where a range of stuff — from beauty products and clothes to supplements to coffee — is sold to cater to our feeling more valued and taken care of better. Goop is today estimated to be worth over US$ 250 million dollars.

Goop has often also been criticised by many for some of its ideas and products which seem to lack scientific backing. But Paltrow has always maintained the importance of self-love in one’s life. In an interview to People magazine, she said, “For me, as I go through the ageing process and really start it, I realise it’s less about, ‘Oh, I have this wrinkle, am I going to fix it or not?’ and more, ‘Do I feel vibrant?’ I am focusing more on the fundamentals of wellness, like meditation, hydration, nutrient-dense foods and not having tons of alcohol, which I had way too much of during the pandemic! I would never want to go back to my 20s, or even my 30s for that matter. I know myself, I like myself and I am so grateful for the wisdom that comes with age.”

It’s important to say: ‘I love me’

For Amandeep Sapra, a dentist who lives in India, self-love equates to giving oneself that much needed pampering once in a while. “Self-love for me is about pampering myself with a massage at least once in two weeks and wearing good footwear.” He admits candidly that he is definitely a candidate that promotes self-love in today’s world.

“It’s not selfish to indulge in self-love. We need to give doses of self-love to ourselves also to remind ourselves how much we love and value our own selves too. It’s a reminder that ‘I love me’, and if you are clear in your head about it, then other people can’t make you feel guilty. Sometimes, others try to drive that guilt into you — especially if they themselves don’t appreciate themselves or if they don’t ‘get’ the idea of self-love.”

He adds that the difference between self-love and narcissism is quite clear. “When you indulge in self-love, you give yourself an experience which makes you a happier, calmer and a better person. Narcissism can be a negative emotion where you are just thinking of yourself all the time. For me, my pet is my family but I have realised that if I am more relaxed after, say, a massage then I am in a better mood to take care and love my pet also more. I guess you are able to give more of yourself when you love your own self first.”

Sapra has a practical view about the market options today when it comes to spas and shopping malls and various other temptations out there to indulge in more of self-love. He feels the wellness market is here to stay and people are likely to stay glued to their phones, whether it is the mother or the child. But everyone needs a vent and that is where self-love steps in, especially in our modern-day lives that are both crazy and lonesome at times.

At the end of the day, we all feel the need to be valued. Appreciation by a partner, family and friends is what makes one put up their feet in the evening and say it was a day well spent. But that process doesn’t start till we acknowledge our own worth — in relationships and as individuals. It is a great feeling to give and to share but it has to come from a happy space and that starts with being able to look at oneself in the mirror and say I like what I see and I deserve my spa sessions and new shoes.

Simran Sodhi is an author and journalist based in New Delhi, India

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