I love women. And let’s face it, what’s not to love? A woman was responsible for discovering the double helix, a woman invented solar heating, a woman was the first computer programmer, a woman invented Kevlar (the material in bullet-proof vests), and yes, it was a woman who created the first chocolate chip cookie. Women wrote my favorite novels, directed my favorite movies, and have given me the right to vote. They fight every day so I can have control over my own body, income, and identity.
My personal life has also been shaped by women. My mother has instilled the greatest values I hold. “The body is beautiful,” she said. “Be kind to yourself,” she told me. My sister encouraged me to be the major goofball I am, taught me how to use a tampon, and emphasized the importance of forgiveness. My female friends are the smartest, funniest, most conscientious people I know. Despite the positive female environment I have experienced, I did not integrate these positive messages and grant myself the kindness I encouraged in others.
This year I learned to love myself. This is not to say that I wasn’t a confident person, or that I wasn’t proud of my accomplishments, but often there were times that I did not believe in my own hype. Selfishness was a characteristic I never wanted to see in myself. In reaction to the hyper-obsessed, selfie-submerged culture that defines my generation, I refused to waste one minute of my time telling myself I was the shit.
When I gave an amazing Model UN speech I said, “Oh I just worked on it for a long time.” If someone told me I was pretty I’d say, “I’m wearing makeup.” I got an A on an English project? It doesn’t matter because I’m terrible at math. Every accomplishment, every attribute was not innate. I did not believe in my core that I was an attractive, intelligent human being. These were mere illusions, characteristics I sometimes acquired through the help of other people. Although my mother’s words “Be kind to yourself” constantly twirled in my mind, it was another thing for those words to penetrate it.
This year I became my biggest fan. There was not a moment when I realized I was the bomb and should tell myself I was. My self-love was slowly acquired through a series of experiences, opportunities, and conversations. I took the initiative to pursue an internship, and I got it. I back squatted my own bodyweight and took a photo of myself flexing. I advocated for a job at school, and got it. I became closer with my girlfriends from home, and formed new bonds with women at Hamilton. I masturbated for the first time and rewarded myself by making (and eating) sourdough bread from scratch. I put my mental and emotional health first. I looked out for myself like I looked out for my friends. Being compassionate with myself made me better equipped to empathize with others.
I practice self-love every day. The aesthetic and academic demands on women in college are ludicrous. Being a woman in college today involves flawlessly pulling off a bundle of contradictions — the nurturer, the go-getter, the babe, and the brain. While juggling these stereotypes, the prevalence of social media requires women to also project a consistent image of emotional well-being. With the knowledge that no one can live up to these standards, I prefer to measure my accomplishments according to my own benchmarks.
Today, I stood in front of the mirror naked and said, “Damn,” out loud. If I fall on my face attempting to do crow pose during the yoga session I started attending after class, awesome. Concerning nutrition, I think we can all agree chocolate is sometimes the best answer. However, I prefer to early healthfully the majority of the time because I feel better that way. When I do indulge, it’s that much sweeter. I also deleted my Instagram account. I’d rather have people know me, rather than my projections.
Self-love is not just up to you. Unfortunately, there are institutional reasons why women feel like they cannot love themselves, and both men and women must work to change this. In order to do that, we must first start by encouraging and nourishing our own identities. It’s difficult to have privacy in college, but if you have the opportunity to go somewhere by yourself, reflect, and reboot I highly recommend it. I love myself, I love the women in my life. Now you must love you.