Learning to love ourselves is an on-going process which takes a lot of questioning outside influences, reassassing our internal discourse and establishing respect for ourselves and understanding the power of saying no.
I guess a question we should first ask is – why don’t we love ourselves? If you have spent time with very young children I think we can all agree that the majority do not suffer the same self-doubt, don’t have the same negativity towards the way they look and don’t worry nearly as much about being judged. So what is it about our society which means that as we grow up and become young adults we love ourselves less, instead of more?
We start to worry what others think of us, people point out things which make us different and we start to resent those things, we see more images of a ‘perfect’ face, a ‘perfect’ body, a ‘perfect’ house, a ‘perfect’ life. What does society tell us about our own beauty and self-worth… Want that face? Get a nose job and botox! Want that body? Go to the gym and get a boob job! Want that house? Get a higher paying job! Want that life? It’s attainable, you’re just doing it wrong. We’re told that it’s all within our grasp and if we don’t have those things then it’s our fault, then we’re failing.
It’s an interesting concept which is very much promoted in the West which comes from the ideas of individualism, autonomy, self-affirmation. It is this idea that we all determine our own paths, our own lives, our own thoughts and that we are powerful enough to override our social and cultural pressures. We are constantly told we are capable of making better choices; that happiness itself is a choice. But we don’t fully understand and appreciate the overwhelming power of outside influences over our lives.
Never underestimate the power of advertising, of the media, of companies. They aren’t just making it up as they go along, they use the world’s leading psychological research to influence your decisions every single day. Do you know all about the world’s leading psychological research to be able to counteract the ways they are trying to manipulate you? Think about why all these things exist – so you decide to buy something, read something, watch something, do something, vote for someone. That’s not to say they are all bad; ideally we would buy the products and services that we genuinely need from the companies who care about their customers, not only their profits. We would vote for the political parties who offer a hopeful future not only for ourselves but also for others and for the planet. We would try to find trustworthy sources of information and not just pick up the cheapest (or free) newspaper because it’s easy and convenient but full of propaganda and negativity. But what does all this mean for our relationship with ourselves?
Especially for women but more and more so for men too; the more you doubt yourself, find things to criticise about yourself, are aware of your ‘imperfections’, feel inadequate – the more power they have over you. Everyone in sales knows the first rule is not to list all the great things about the product but to make the consumer feel like they not only want it, but even better – that they NEED it. Do you think companies will sell more or less makeup if people think they look ugly without it? Think of the magazine articles shaming celebs without make up.
Once we stop denying the powerful influence that companies and the media have over us and take practical steps to reduce it then we will become happier. It also makes us rebels – not just producing and consuming. Say NO to the newest lip product, say NO to the faster car, say NO to the people who don’t respect us and instead be grateful for what we have, what we can do and who we spend time with. Deciding our own worth based on the positive things we choose to do, the way we treat ourselves and others, the healthy bodies we nourish – now those are truly rebellious acts.
Here are some things I have done to limit the influence companies and the media have over my life:
I don’t read gossip, fashion or beauty magazines. Nope, none. I don’t miss them. I’m happier wearing less makeup now, I’ve stopped analysing every centimetre of myself and I think I still wear nice clothes.
If I see an advert for something I don’t like on Instagram, for example, botox or fur clothing I will either report the advert as ‘offensive’ or I will, at the very least, say that it isn’t of interest. That means that I will never see adverts from those types of companies again. Don’t underestimate your Instagram newsfeed; scrolling between two airbrushed photos of two beautiful YouTubers and you see an advert for lip-fillers… think that has no impact on your self-worth? Think again. I’m not overreacting, just think about this for a second – adverts for plastic surgery? Damn right that’s offensive – suggesting that I need to change anything about myself!
I don’t get my information from any one newspaper or TV channel. This is a huge one and so important. If you want truthful information the best people to ask are academics, so find sources which at least try to include experts in their field, people who have studied the subject and not just some news channel which brings on two random guests who have opposing opinions.
Unfollow people on social media who don’t inspire you, make you laugh, inform you, motivate you or something similar. Why do people have a flowing just because they are good looking?! If all they are promoting is more makeup, more clothes and more botox, maybe it’s time to unfollow. Even if they are ‘fitness’ influencers, if all they do is go to the gym and you’re someone who doesn’t really like the gym then unfollow them and go and follow someone who does something you do like – hiking, swimming, yoga, hip hop, basketball, ballroom dancing…
By choice, I only watch food videos which are mainly healthy (and plant-based). Why? Because we are human and the power of suggestion in a real thing. I don’t need to be watching adverts for fizzy drinks or programmes with cholesterol and sugar laden desserts. Why? Because it makes me hungry for the wrong types of things. On the other hand, if I watch a YouTube video about healthy lunch ideas then I’m much more likely to crave a lentil and sweet potato salad than a 3 tier sponge cake!
I try to mainly eat food which isn’t produced by a company, but by the earth. Guess why you hardly ever see adverts for mushrooms, carrots, strawberries, rice (no I don’t mean Uncle Ben’s)!? Produce which can’t be patented by companies doesn’t mean big profits in the same way as a tube of crisps or box of doughnuts. So we are bombarded by processed foods because that’s where the money is, but it’s not where the health is.
Spend more time away from screens, doing things which you enjoy and spending time with people you love. Simple and universally effective!