I’ve been mulling over some things recently, and I decided to put my thoughts into this blog post here. After all, that’s why I started blogging.
The thoughts that have been running through my head were inspired by some reviews I’ve seen of Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited. You might know that this was one of my favorite books of last year. Don’t get me wrong, if you didn’t like this book, that’s fine. I’m not coming after you saying that it’s wrong to dislike this book. One of the reasons people disliked this book, is that they thought the main character, Molly, only started to think of herself as beautiful when she fell in love and was in a relationship – the love-fixed-me trope.
In case you don’t know, Molly is fat. She’s always been self-conscious about her weight and appearance. She has never truly thought of herself as beautiful and desirable. The Upside of Unrequited is part of her journey towards body positivity and self-love. And yes, that journey includes finding love.
First of all, I’ll say that I do agree: falling in love is not the final answer. It does not magically make everything go away. It doesn’t erase mental illness or insecurities. Anxiety does not disappear when you fall in love with someone. Self-deprecating thoughts won’t disappear entirely. And to portray relationships like that in books can be very harming.
It can make people think that someone else is in charge of their (mental) health. Maybe it can make them too dependent on someone, or think that they should be ‘fixed’.
But I am going to be honest with you. I think writing off stories because the character falls in love with someone else while learning to love themselves is harmful and wrong too.
In the society we live in, loving yourself is not easy. Especially for fat people. Being fat has become equal to being ugly, and finding your body type in mainstream media has become Mission Impossible. Today’s beauty standards are focused on tall, skinny/slim, elegant (and white) women, while men apparently can’t be handsome without being ripped.
When you don’t fit that standard of beauty, you automatically feel less. Less beautiful. Less desirable. Less wanted. Less secure. But more self-conscious. Rationally, you might know that just because you don’t look like Blake Lively, doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful.
But rationally knowing it is not the same as feeling it. It’s not the same as feeling beautiful. As taking pride in your appearance. Learning to love yourself is a long journey.
Writing off stories in which people learn to love themselves while falling in love with someone else sends a signal that you can’t be loved by someone until you love yourself. And that is utter and complete bullshit.
Your journey is not any less meaningful because you had a partner by your side, who loves you and tells you you are beautiful or handsome. Sometimes, your self-confidence can be so shattered and non-existent that it takes hearing it from someone else to start that spark of self-love.
Is it a journey someone else can take for you? No.
Is it necessarily a journey you have to take on your own? No.
The idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else, or before someone else can love you, is just as damaging as the idea that love fixes everything. Someone can see how wonderful and beautiful you are long before you can see it yourself.
So allow yourself to love. Love yourself, and love others. They are not mutually exclusive, and should not be dependent on each other. One is not a prerequisite for the other.
We are tougher on ourselves than we are on others. With a loved one, we learn to accept their flaws and little quirks, while we struggle with doing the same for ourselves. Being in a healthy relationship might help you shift mindset and see yourself the way you see your partner.
I’m not saying that you need to love someone else before you can love yourself. I’m saying that you don’t need to be alone to start your journey, nor do you need someone else. This depends entirely on you.
Lastly, who can truly say they have mastered self-love? Who doesn’t still have self-deprecating thoughts about themselves once in a while? Loving yourself is a journey, one I think we will always be on. So why can we not love someone else while being on that journey? Then most of us would have to be alone forever.
If you truly don’t think of yourself as beautiful, desirable or worthy, you need a catalyst to start a change in mindset. Some people can be their own catalyst. Others might be lucky to fall in love, and have someone else’s love be that catalyst. Sometimes, it could be a body-positive article or Instagram post you’ve seen, that kickstarts your journey.
We need to acknowledge every catalyst, and stop speaking in such absolutes.
As for novels, here’s my advice:
- Write stories on people’s journey towards self-love
- Write stories on people who don’t fall in love with others, but with themselves
- Write stories on people who fall in love with another while learning to love themselves.
- Write stories on healthy and uplifting relationships
- Write stories on healthy and uplifting friendships
- Write all the stories.
What do you think? Do you think you should love yourself before you can love someone else, or someone else can love you?