Stop Confusing Selfies with Self-Love

by Altheria Gaston

We’ve all seen them. We might even be them. Women who constantly post selfies on social media. Not only do they incessantly take selfies, they create selfie collages with multiple photos taken at different angles, in various poses, and with numerous facial expressions. I call it the selfie craze!

A recent study of men revealed a correlation between posting selfies and narcissism and psychopathy. Although no women were included in this study, I have to wonder if the same is true for us. Do our obsessive taking, editing, and posting of selfies reveal a self-obsession born of insecurity?

I have a friend on social media who captions her selfies and selfie collages with, “I love me some me!” I can’t help but silently ask myself, “Really?” Does self-love manifest itself in the form of manic selfie postings? Or is she secretly seeking validation from a thousand of her closest friends? Is she measuring her worth by the number of “likes” her selfies get?

As women, we are often admonished to love ourselves, but we are not told what self-love looks and feels like. We claim to love others when we aren’t even sure if we love ourselves. While some of us grow up in emotionally healthy homes with parents who instilled the importance of self-love, many of us did not. As a result, we find ourselves as young adult and middle-aged women posting selfies on social media as an expression of “self-love” when genuine love for self may be lacking.

So, where does a Black woman begin in her journey? How does she start to love herself?

I like the approach of womanist Layli Maparyan in The Womanist Idea as a starting point. Maparyan believes that we have an Inner Light, a Higher Self, Soul, a God Within. This Innate Divinity connects us to every other living being in the cosmos. Neo-soul singer India.Arie echoes this sentiment in her song, “I am Light.” In the chorus, she says:
I am divinity defined
I am the God on the inside
I am a star, a piece of it all
I am light.
Recognition of this Light can be the birthplace of self-love. Interestingly, this approach to self-love is not connected to physicality—to looks, to size, to ability, to age, or to race. It is not dependent upon external achievements—career, income, neighborhood, or awards.

Your existence = your value.

Once we truly come to this awareness of the divine within, we can begin practices that reflect this amazement and appreciation.

The Buddha said the following about self-love: “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

So how do I give myself the love and affection I deserve?

  1. I take care of my body by exercising, eating nutritiously, and getting regular check-ups with my healthcare professionals. As one who has always struggled with my weight, I’ve come to realize that the way I treat my body is directly related to the love or lack thereof I possess for myself. I have to constantly remind myself that I am worthy of being healthy, fit, and strong and that I am at my best when my body is well. I love myself enough to honor my body.
  2. I attend to my emotional wellbeing through counseling, yoga, positive affirmations, and meditation. As an outwardly successful professional woman, it took me years to admit that I needed therapy. Once I began treatment, I regretted waiting so long. I love myself enough to attend to my emotional wellbeing.
  3. I align my actions with my desires. I don’t sit by passively waiting on life to happen to me. I articulate what I want and take deliberate steps to achieve my goals. I love myself enough to pursue my goals.
  4. I surround myself with people who support and inspire me. If I have “haters,” I don’t know about them because my focus is on the people who share in my happiness, who care about my wellbeing, and who encourage me to shine bright like a diamond! I love myself enough to be selective about who gets a front-row seat in my life.
  5. I forgive myself. Through therapy, I have come to realize that I can be extremely critical of myself. When I think about the names I used to call myself, I cringe. I’ve learned to show myself grace when I make mistakes, to leave the past behind me, and to give myself the credit that I deserve. I love myself enough to let it go.
We all need love. Marianne Williamson believes, “We need love in order to live happily, as much as we need oxygen in order to live at all.” And while the love of others is vital, even more important is the love of self. Self-love is not self-consuming or self-absorbing. I'm not trying to suggest that anyone who takes selfies is seeking external validation. I can appreciate the variety of selfie journeys on social media—from ones that chronicle hair changes to ones that document weight loss. Selfies can be an expression of self-love. Self-love is self-care. Self-love is a never-ending journey to honor the divine within.

How do you practice self-love?

Photo: Shutterstock

Altheria Gaston is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at Texas Christian University. She’s working on a dissertation studying the experiences of low-income African-American women.

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