My six-year-old sometimes says to me, “Mummy I love you very much, but I love myself more because you’ve got to love yourself before you can love others.”
Loving yourself is important of course, and yet so many of us – women in particular – beat ourselves up for not being good enough, not successful enough, not slim enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough and so on. I do this too.
And no wonder we don’t feel good about ourselves when the beauty and fashion industry continue to sell us an impossibly high beauty standard that very few women manage to live up to.
So, do I love myself?
I thought the answer by now – after years of therapy and personal development – would be an obvious yes, but sadly I discovered that while I do have a lot of love for the child and teenager I once was, I find it harder to love the 40-something version of me.
Because, unconsciously, I’ve made self-love contingent upon external factors such as how disciplined and productive I am, my weight and dress size, the clothes I wear and how others perceive me.
But I’ve got it all wrong. For what I’ve realised is that the love needs to come first, and it’s got to be 100% unconditional; the rest will follow.
For example, I’ve been telling myself for months that I should lose a bit of weight, having piled on a few kilos in the aftermath of an illness some time ago. If only I would lose those extra kilos, I reason, I would feel so much better about myself, and I’d be a happier person.
Why then have I not been successful in shifting that extra weight? I believe it is because I made self-love conditional upon changing something about myself.
If instead, I were to extend unconditional love and acceptance to myself and my body, I’d naturally be inclined to take better care of myself.
I used to think that my body had let me down, especially after I was diagnosed with acute pulmonary embolism a couple of years ago, having already overcome a series of minor strokes and undergone heart surgery.
But the truth is that my body has been my loyal servant and companion, and it is I who let it down by treating it like the enemy.
My kids love to rest their heads on my stomach because “it’s so soft, smooth and squidgy” as they say.
Ok, so I haven’t got anything remotely resembling a flat tummy, and my waistline isn’t what it used to be. But this wonderfully resilient body of mine has given birth to two healthy daughters, and it has withstood some serious trauma in its lifetime.
So what’s not to love?