Yesterday, I watched a clip whereby women gave advice to other women. Across all ages, the recurring motif was:
1) reduce the monitor: don’t believe you’re inferior, don’t worry about taking up space in the world, don’t let anyone devalue you or intimidate you out of what you know is right, don’t let anyone treat yourself like you’re unequal, don’t be afraid to be every facet of yourself
2) self- love: take good care of yourself, embrace independence, listen to yourself, do you, be shameless, love yourself, don’t worry about being every facet of yourself, get to know yourself, accept yourself, be confident, be your own happiness, you don’t need the validation of someone else, learn how to become your own best friend, get to know yourself and accept yourself, only do what makes you happy
3) just be yourself/individual: be yourself, respect yourself, true to yourself, be proud of yourself, be authentic, keep onto your heart and hold it dear, follow your dreams, be confident, accept yourself, do what makes you happy
All of these pieces of advice come under the overarching principle of self-worth. The idea of self-worth has been distorted over the last few, well millenia (especially for women). Our parents and grandparents told us that self-worth meant abstemious; abstaining from worldly pleasures and dressing moderately. Self-worth was evoked to restrain women and even abate the force of feminism. This deployment of the term irritates me and for a long time, I refused to take the idea seriously.
Until I observed a societal phenomenon which overwhelmingly impacts individual happiness.
A modern idea of self-love
Honestly, this topic is colossal enough to explore across an entire book but I will try to give bitesize yet summarised tokens of information. Central to this idea is that one should act, speak, think for oneself and without the pressure of societal conformity. Societal pressures can be psychologically and socially restraining and are usually created to serve a capitalistic function, hence by choosing our own values to live by, one is taking ownership and accountability. Decisions should be taken with the aim of improving oneself and within the framework of realistic goals. Self-love should mean more than purchasing a face mask or scented candle. To practice self-love is to fiercely oppose the patriarchal and capitalist framework which tells us we won’t ever be enough.
feelings: this is acknowledgement that your feelings are valid and worth time and effort. This also means you will not give time to those that disempower and devalue your existence
body: your body is more than a sexual object, it’s your own, and only you can give permission over it, dress yourself for yourself and not for the gaze of others.
identity: don’t let anyone else define yourself, don’t simply conform to the societal ideas of what you should and should not be doing, spend your time how you want to rather than how you should you think, write about what you want in lieu of what sounds smart
As individuals we are restrained by societal expectations albeit in gendered norms or racial norms. I felt the brunt of both growing up as many of my peers have. As men or women we are expected to conform into our gendered roles of either strong or beautiful. If you have an ethnic identity which is not white, you have further norms that you are expected to conform to, ascribed by people internal and external to your culture.
The unhappiness and never-gratified lacuna stems from the disconnect from your real self vs the person you’re pretending to be. For example, the trope of cool girl has been one that many young girls conform. By monitoring our self-image to fit the unrealistic, uncomplex and invented identity, we 1) degrade the real authentic self and likely to feel unhappy from the lack of expression of one’s true self 2) inherently restrain ourselves and our identity 3) encourage a narcissistic interpretation of the world 4) inevitably create future dilemmas whereby the single identity cannot resolve.
For example, if we continue with the cool girl trope, girls are restraining themselves to 1) remaining detached and standoffish while in reality all of us are clingy and needy 2) cool girls may not take up knitting or other stereotypically uncool things but can give us happiness 3) ensuring there is a strict conformity to the cool identity means you spend less time paying attention to others 4) the cool girl identity doesn’t give you a stance on important issues like your values, politics or philosophy
Similarly we can take the Western masculine ideal whereby men are expected to never cry, show feelings or emotion, or to be interested in traditionally feminine activities. Men are expected to be virile, aggressive, competitive and detached. This may make some men feel disoriented and insecure when 1) pretending they lack feelings 2) acting aggressive if they’re not 3) obsessed with convincing other men they’re “real” men 4) masculinity gives incomplete political or philosophical values which can’t be applied to a community.
Arguably, masculinity differs between countries; in some cultures using an umbrella is considered non-masculine, in others, men are expected to wear make-up to mythise their flawlessness. Nonetheless, the point stands, that not all men would be able to subscribe to their cultural specific masculine identity.
Policing ourselves and others becomes a psychologically dangerous game. Allowing plurality and diversity in identity will diminish insecurity in our society.
The diversification of identity
Humans are by nature complex and intricately formed. There’s no way we can 100% match the preconceived societal expectations projected onto us. For example, women that are beautiful are societally considered to be one-dimensional, and those that are not conventionally attracted, are considered quirky. In reality, these aren’t realistic expectations of people and you shouldn’t feel a pressure to confirm to them.
Never letting anyone else define you, is the epitome of self-worth. It’s taking ownership of yourself and treating yourself with the proper care and attention that’s required. This modern idea of self-worth will reduce the psychological dissonance between accepting yourself as you truly are rather than acting like another person. It will also liberate your free time for productive ruminations rather than paying fastidious attention to societal expectations.