Why I Feel Ambivalent Towards “Love Yourself”

no_one_mourns_the_wicked_by_kittykatpaws-d6xpvas

Taken from: http://www.deviantart.com/art/No-One-Mourns-the-Wicked-419431348

[Description: Two figures, one with green skin and black hair, and the other with pale skin that is almost blue with platinum blonde hair touch foreheads with their eyes closed and hands intertwined. Between their hands is a light. The caption under them says, “No One Mourns the Wicked”. This is all on a black background with the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner.]

I’ve always been a fat child. I was born with a physical disability and inherited a couple genetic mutations from my father in the form of “deformed” fingernails. I was in a car accident as a small child which left a visible scar above my right eye. My body was operated on as an infant non-consensually in order to, “correct” my physical disability (it didn’t work and left behind tons of trauma).

I didn’t have a very good start to life. Coupled with having my parents divorce when I was very young and being supported financially only by my immigrant Chinese mother who dealt with a racist and sexist employment system and her parents who spoke little English, I didn’t have much going for me in life.

I didn’t have very many friends, few of them were good. Kids were more likely to want to gawk at my scarred, disabled body or poke fun of my fatness or tell me to act more like a boy than want to bond with me over Power Rangers or dinosaurs or Beast Wars. It wasn’t until I got into therapy at the age of 15 (for finally snapping apart and having a teacher who recognized the signs) that I was able to slowly piece together my own life. I’ve had to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and sometimes, I fail.

Why do I start this article with my personal sob story? I wanted to demonstrate how oppression functions from a young age. I wanted to show where I come from and how this impacts my relationship with my body now.

It’s really great that some folks can love themselves, it’s always something to work on. When all else fails, you have yourself. My issue is the focus placed upon self love as the only issue when talking about body image and body politics. I feel lost when people tell me to, “love myself before I learn to love someone else”. I argue that oppression and neoliberalism play a major part in how we conceptualize ourselves, our worth, and our traumas.

In the song, “Defying Gravity” from the musical, Wicked,(lyrics) the protagonist, Elphaba is a green-skinned girl who reviled by all from birth for her unusual skin colour. She catches the Headmistress’ attention when she accidentally cast magic trying to protect her sister. The Headmistress teaches Elphaba how to hone her magic so she can maybe be of use to the Wizard of Oz, the ruler of the land.

Elphaba can be read as a stand in for whatever oppression you want to talk about. She only garners limited decent, humane treatment, when she’s discovered to have a skill that could prove useful to the nation state. A tenuous form of acceptance at best.

She discovers that the Wizard of Oz was behind all the oppression that was going on and confronts him. This isn’t met well so she rebels leaving behind everything she’s ever known.

 

Learning to accept yourself against all odds is incredibly difficult. Not everyone has the kind of character to leave their current lives behind and become a literal fugitive being hunted down by all law and lay enforcers. No one should be expected to become someone being hunted down. Elphaba had nothing to lose because she had no one willing to stand beside her.

She is also super-human with an astronomical level of resilience and defiance in her character. Like Laverne Cox, Oprah, and Stephen Hawkings, Elphaba is a success story where someone who is marginalized but has skills that are useful in some way to the (colonizing, racist, sexist, ableist, etc.) nation state. Otherwise, these individuals would all be still in the eyes of the nation state, not deserving of basic human dignity.

It’d be amazing if we were all Elphabas, we’d take over the world. But that’s not the case. We’re human (mostly) and not all of us have something that the nation state wants or the ability to defy every aggression thrown at us. This constant idealizing of the impossible, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative  is damaging. It erases our real, lived experiences of violence, of pain, and of trauma. Everyone, including Laverne Cox, Oprah, and Stephen Hawkings, carry scars that need healing. Resilience is an important trait, but we shouldn’t have to depend on it as our only means of survival.

There are days when I feel pretty okay about my body and who I am. I have a lot going for me in my life right now. I’m articulate enough to garner praise about this blog/other things I do, I have stable, safe, affordable (if I were employed lol) housing, and I have a lot of people who care for me and need me to care for them too.

But there are also days when I feel like the gum stuck to someone’s shoe but doesn’t care enough to remove. I feel unwanted, useless, a waste of human space and why don’t I just go off myself already and save the world the hassle? And this isn’t just about being fat. How I feel about my body has everything to do with having white men comment on my exotic eyes. It has everything to do with having a voice that doesn’t sound female in my ear. It’s how I can’t always afford rent on my own because I’ve always been seen as too disabled to work. It’s hearing all these (white, thin, femme) cis women dating trans men in my life and feeling like there must be something wrong with me.

It’s too much. Even though I have so many people who care for me, that I’ve survived being trafficked, years of abuse, all kinds of medical trauma, and facing all kinds of discrimination in every single institution, it’s not enough. I don’t have enough energy to fight with the ghosts of every single aggression (micro or macro).

It’s really hard to love yourself when the world itself wish that you’d die.

I need help. I can’t achieve my life goals on my own. (A relationship that compliments me and is my partner in all things and enough income to survive and do what I want).

I can’t defy gravity when there are a trillion tons in weights holding me down.

I need people to seriously work on and address their internalized oppressions. Preferably without me having to do all the work. My divine spark has been clawed at and mangled and many parts of it outright stolen from me.

I need people there to affirm that I’m worth something. I heard once that it takes 9 good things to cancel out one bad thing. I have many scars to heal and new ones keep on appearing faster than I can heal them.

I need to hear that there’s nothing wrong with me. Especially the way I move through the world. I need people that affirm and celebrate my personality quirks.

I need to feel sexy and wanted by others. And not just in the, “I really like your makeup! You look so fierce!” kind of way. I feel anguish when I see so many bi/pansexual guys (cis and trans) date white, skinny, cis femme queer women and not me. I feel wretched, like the kid not just picked last, but shoved between both teams because neither side wants them.

I need to be touched and feel like someone cherished, someone human. I’m so touch starved that I claw up my arms just to feel something.

I need people there to help keep back the stinging rays of white light that sear my pale, Chinese skin so I might actually have the time and space to heal. I need people to fight on my behalf.

And I need people who need me to do the same for them. Because our lives and oppressions link together.

Instead of, “love yourself” I think it’s more useful to, “love the weird/abject“. To love is to bring them close to you. To be vulnerable to. To be a part of you.  To find the value in the things you are taught to think of as worthless and bring it closer to you is transformative. And there is value in the ugly, the outcast. Not just, “useful to the nation state”, but as friends, lovers, people who you work with, make community with.

Teaching to love yourself is not enough. Social services that teach you the skills to tell your story to (privileged, paid) professionals that offer you $50 for your expertise is not enough. Intentional work to love the ugly, the abject and change attitudes and systems needs to happen. This means a lot of hard growing and learning. But I still naively dream of a world where we all depend on one another, we have what we need to survive and flourish, and we’ve worked through our hurt.

 

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2 thoughts on “Why I Feel Ambivalent Towards “Love Yourself””

  1. I have a different take from yours, but mine is also different. I was an outcast too, but I could never belong to a group. I can’t be a part of the LGBT or the Oppressed Race or the Oppressed Gender. I had no sense of belonging.

    Basically, I was that weird kid people wanted to beat up. I did not suffer things as harsh as a car crash or a physical disability (shitty eyes aren’t that bad). I had this privilege, but I didn’t have a group to be a part of, even in the internet.

    So the whole self-love thing sounds stupid to me. Loving myself won’t help me. It won’t change my situation. I need to improve myself. I need to work on my skills. I need to think of what I consider desirable and become it.

    We shouldn’t love ourselves but find ways of improving ourselves. Looking for help is, yes, one way to improve yourself and make the world better.

    Like

  2. I am so sorry. Not a pat on the head, pity party sorry, but a true, deep from the soul feeling of sorrow for your story. I am most definitely following your blog, because I am so interested to know who you are, and I find your writing beautiful. Thank you so much for opening up, and hopefully in the process you will help others, and yourself. You have many good points, I think that we need to learn to love ourselves as we learn to love others. If self love first, and only then love for others was true… there are so many people, myself included, who wouldn’t ever have any sort of relationship with others.
    Again, thank you, truly, for writing this. I hope you have a beautiful day sunshine.

    Like

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