Most of the time, “self-love” and “self-care” are sold in a way that just further perpetuates the need for women to be constantly desirable and palatable. Treat yourself! Buy this face mask! Pamper this! Pamper that! Shave your legs! Moisturize them! We’re not trying to sell you anything – this is about you! It’s self-care! I don’t know about you, but years of internalizing the messages about how women’s bodies should look and the rigorous standards they’re held to made me feel as though my body didn’t belong to me – this cannot be eradicated by a stranger placing hot stones on my back. This kind of “self-love” takes me right back to square one – valuing myself based on the desirability of my face and body. While making myself up and feeling cute does bring me joy, it’s only a temporary fix. It’s instant short-term validation. It’s a distraction.
I haven’t learnt to love myself through a spa treatment, body wax or facial. Oh no. In fact, the journey started when, at 14, I lay in the middle of the busy park that all the girls from my school frequented, and tried my hardest not to give a shit what any of them thought of me. I told myself That if I could lie there and listen to one song, without caring what anyone thought, I could do literally anything. This was a big moment. My biggest fear was being judged by others and I needed to conquer it. I was in an emotionally abusive co-dependent friendship with a girl who later isolated me from our entire friendship group aft er hearing rumours about my eating disorder. I had a lot of social anxiety. I feared looking like “a loner”. I feared having to discover who I was, outside of serving someone else’s needs – because the truth was I had no idea. But because I’d been exiled from their friendship group, I was left with no choice but to find out. So, lying in that park alone scared me, but it also unshackled me from living a life restricted by other people’s perceptions. It’s not their bullying that “made me the person I am today”, but my own resilience that enabled me to adapt. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, and entered the world of living. I had a taste of what my life could look like if I truly denounced the need to be liked. If I hadn’t made the decision to lie in that park, I wouldn’t be writing this book today, because I wouldn’t have found the courage to unapologetically voice my opinions. The ability to do so was born in that moment. Full stop.
Think about something you wish you could do. What is it that’s stopping you from pursuing it? Do you hate the thought of being alone in public, or is it the perception you imagine other people have about you being alone? It sure was the latter for me. The idea of being out on my own? Bliss. The idea of people seeing me out on my own? Hell. I revelled in my alone time, but I was afraid of being judged by others for being on my own.
It’s the same principle with my body hair. I’d been shaving it religiously for years, only to realize that the sight of it wasn’t making me feel uncomfortable, it was the thought of making others feel uncomfortable if they saw it. My fear of others’ opinions on the hair that grows naturally out of my body (just as men’s hair, which society deems socially acceptable, does) made me take a razor blade to my armpit and leg hair every single week. Making these autonomous decisions is tricky because it means breaking life-long habits. It can be further complicated by your identity intersections in society, and by your class privilege, ability privilege, sexuality privilege, race privilege, cisgender privilege, etc. Our lives as women are already so restricted in terms of what we can and can’t do because of the safety measures we’re forced to take – living our lives constantly vigilant and compromising our comfort for our safety in public – so why should we self-impose further limitations around what we can and can’t do?
The truth is that no one is ever looking at you and thinking “what the hell are they doing on their own?”. Most of the time the things we are insecure about aren’t about our dislike towards them, but what we think others will think when they see us. But no one actually cares because they are wrapped up in their own dialogue. If you’ve never done it before, promise me you will take yourself on a date. Don’t take your laptop, don’t use your phone, go completely and entirely alone with no other purpose than to simply eat, drink and watch the world go by. Life is far too short to be waiting around for someone to ask you. You are the love of your own life, so act accordingly and take your damn self out.
THIS IS AN EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FROM FLORENCE GIVEN’S WOMEN DON’T OWE YOU PRETTY