By Erika Taylor
How we see ourselves and how we feel about what we see are key factors in our ability to manage our own health, thrive in our closest relationships, and ultimately show up for our community in ways that hold space for growth and healing.
Civil rights activist Audre Lorde famously wrote decades ago, as she battled not only cancer but a healthcare system that had no esteem for her body or anything she stood for, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is an act of self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Whitewashed, commercialized, self-care packaged in scented candles and throw pillows would have us believe that self-love might be purchased. But the kind of self-care born of truly knowing what we need to feed our power must be earned. Love is, at its root, a verb. Just like any other action, self-love is a skill we can practice. So let’s do it! Step one, Grab something to write with and to write on.
I’ll wait … Got them? Okay. When I say, “go,” write down as many things you love about yourself as you can in one minute. Don’t overthink this; no editing! If you have trouble, start with your thumbs. Surely those are worth your esteem. Ready? GO!
Insert the verse of the “Jeopardy” theme song here twice over. And if you are on a roll after that, keep going! How many things are on your list? Depending on the kind of day you’re having, you may have one or you may have 50.
If you are like me, many of the things on your list may seem like traits rather than things for which you deserve credit.
For example, “dogs” ended up on my list this time. It made me giggle, but I find it endearing when other people love animals so why wouldn’t I include that in the list of things I appreciate about myself? If you didn’t get to at least 10 things, try again.
Before you start, close your eyes and picture a person (real or fictional, other than yourself) who you love, respect, cherish or admire doing something that figures into the way you feel about them. Often, we are drawn to love people who embody traits we value.
Giving ourselves credit for recognizing those has merit. Love knowing what you aspire to! I wrote “my thighs” on my list this time. Not because they would win a figure competition, but because someday they will take me snowboarding again and I need them to know I appreciate that.
I call that aspirational self-love, and it belongs on our lists. If after a few attempts and widening your definition of what belongs on it doesn’t yield at least 10 things, call a friend and ask them what they would say.
If you can’t think of anyone to call, call me! I guarantee we can build a list together. Step two, choose a few things from your list that have helped you build your life, and circle those. Then, draw a heart around words that stand out, repeat or make you smile in spite of yourself.
Add more to your list here if you feel inspired to do so. These are the themes you will carry into the next step.
Step three, Picture yourself doing or being something that makes the world a better place, that makes you feel good. Refer to your list if you need to. Now write. Preferably in the third person. Include the words that stood out to you on your list and back them up with the ways in which those things have benefitted you.
“Dearest Erika, When you make me a healthy lunch I feel both the nutrients in the food and your love coursing through my veins. This fills me with power to make it through my day.”
You may be tempted to skip this part. Fight that urge. Regardless of how much you end up writing, make it a real love letter. On beautiful paper, with your favorite pen. Sign in a way that reminds you, you meant it. Even if it ends up just being ode to your thumbs.
Practicing this noticing of things we love is a concrete way to catch ourselves doing and being things we want to encourage. If we can catch it in ourselves, we will see more of it in the world around us. And in my opinion, looking for good beats the alternative every time.
“I found god in myself / and I loved her / I loved her fiercely,” by Ntozake Shange.
“To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients, care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication,” by Bell Hooks.
“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,” by James Baldwin. “Kindness eases change. Love quiets fear,” by Octavia Butler.
Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit facebook.com/erika.taylor.303 or email erika@ tayloredfitness.com.