a journal entry by suha
Over the summer, my sister and I came across some home movies from when we were little. The anticipation to see the snippets from our childhood that our parents were excited to record so many years ago was quickly replaced by dread and anxiety as I watched my younger self age on tape. I knew before the first video started playing that I wasn’t going to want to see the little me, and I suddenly felt forced to confront a version of myself that would have loved to meet me. A version of myself that I deliberately did not preserve. A version of myself who I spent so much time trying not to disappoint, while purging myself of her to the best of my ability.
This is a difficult essay to write. As I’m writing this, I don’t know if it will have a satisfying conclusion and I’m not sure that I won’t change my mind about it in the future. What I do know is that over the summer, this idea of ‘self love’ and acceptance that I had built myself had suddenly come crashing down when I was made to face a younger me that had no idea how much she could one day hate herself. I realised that my confidence in my own skin had so largely stemmed from the fact that I no longer relate to younger-me’s insecurities. It wasn’t that I had grown and accepted myself, it was that I grew up and learned how to change to a version of myself that didn’t have to.
This got me thinking about the concept of self-love as a whole. Is it accepting yourself as you are, or making changes in your life to rid yourself of the aspects of it that you don’t like? Both options seem equally unattainable. Self love can’t possibly be the act of denying space for improvement. We all have flaws, and that’s a necessary part of the human experience, but maybe being aware of them is too. Changing things in your life that you are able to exert control over is a rational and encouraged practice, so why wouldn’t you ‘improve’ yourself until you achieve the most ideal you that you can be? But then again, at what point do you stop rejecting things about yourself under the guise of self-improvement and allow yourself to experience contentment in who you are? How do we measure the extent to which we meet our standards for our idealised selves, let alone achieve them?
My younger self is me too, afterall. Does the confidence and ‘self-love’ that I awarded for myself still count if there’s a version of myself whose perceived flaws I can’t forgive her for? It feels like it doesn’t.
I realised that it wasn’t that I loved myself, it was that my insecurities had shapeshifted from being things I could point out, to being abstract layers that I could pretend not to understand and so avoid the painstaking task of peeling them back and examining their aftermath. I guess I always thought of insecurities as things that others could see. Those are the easiest to change because you’re never not aware of them, and are often actively hiding them. Once we learn our way out of those, preaching these ideas about self-love seems fairly simple. It’s only after we decide to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves that we learn what we’re truly afraid of, who we’ve been trying to be and why any of that matters to us.
The point of self-love therefore becomes to stop reducing ourselves to a stack of qualities (if that even is a universal experience). We are not defined by our weaknesses, and possibly not by our strengths either. Maybe we’re not actually defined by anything, and this entire quest of trying to sort our qualities into piles of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ traits is a completely fruitless spiral. In this moment, self-love to me is to stop scrutinising myself. To stop analysing every thought and action and characteristic to determine a mental note of a likability score. Self love can mean that there are ‘flaws’ I’m working on right now - and the way we define the idea of flaws is extremely important here - while still knowing that I’m deserving of my own love.
I can’t help but feel disappointed in the way I keep mentally treating the younger me. She really wanted to be me, and yet I can’t seem to accept her. I’ve been trying to think of my younger self not simply as a past version of myself, but an actual little girl whose heart would break if she knew what I’d one day think of her. It feels strange to articulate this but I’m experiencing a need to humanise myself. To remind myself that I’m an actual real person. That I can take myself seriously.That being gentle with myself and my mistakes can coexist with wanting more. As long as our actions and our mindset are aligning with overarching goals or set of values (and it’s alright if those change as we grow), younger-me and I are probably okay. Right?
I don't think there’s anything wrong with changing ourselves for the better, as long as that process isn’t motivated by hatred for our existing self. We can accept ourselves for who we are right now, and still want to be better. We can pursue a healthier lifestyle without hating our reflection. We can pursue intellectual goals without putting ourselves down. We can recognize areas where we could be stronger without thinking of ourselves as weak. You don’t have to settle for a version of yourself that you could improve upon, but you deserve to be loved and accepted before, during and after your journey of self care and improvement. Here in the future, we can soften the present, and look at our pasts with kindness.