This week I leave behind my early-twenties and usher in the mids.
Being 24 was recently referred to as the start of the blissful phase between having none of your shit together and desperately having to panic about it. Me? I am welcoming this new number and its well known connotations of a Prosecco-drinking serial dater who knows exactly what she wants and is going out to get it. This ‘milestone’, coupled with The London Ladybird’s shout-out, has encouraged me to reflect on the struggles faced by twenty-somethings; namely, self- love. First Dates shows us falling in love, The Notebook shows us heartache and T-Pain often shares stories of his hot sex life… but what about the love we forget to talk about? The love for ourselves. A love, which arguably, by ignoring, we belittle to something insignificant. Here’s my attempt to discuss this forgotten love and question if we should even be looking for love elsewhere before we have this base nailed.
Like many of my friends, my morning ritual often involves the squeezing of every fat deposit, blemish and spot I can find on my body. Standing in the shower, I criticise my inability to achieve an Instagram-worthy ‘thigh gap’ (seriously, does anyone know a non-celebrity with one of these?) and my failure to follow the meal plans of ‘Clean Eating Alice’, whose protein allowance would break both my bank balance and my patience. Like many of my friends, I wake up giving myself a mental pounding. And it doesn’t end there. I slate my wardrobe and how I am not yet nailing the balance between ‘older than a sixth former’ and ‘on fleek fashion’, my constant lack of domestic skill and the fact that I still can’t shake off my student overdraft- something that is constantly held up as my new year’s resolution. I have no shame in admitting to these things because, after many nights shared over White Zinfandel and a packet of Walker’s Sensations, I have come to realise… I am not alone.
So, why is self-criticism so easy to achieve in your twenties? Looking back, this was not something felt in my teens- hell no! The bodycon was too short, the foundation too dark and the bras too big- and yes, many of these things probably still hold true- but jeez, do I care about it more now! What gives? To be honest, I am not sure. But let’s throw some ideas out there.
If you escape your twenties without getting your heart stamped on, you’re doing pretty well. The mascara-ruined pillows, endless facebook stalks and drunken texts leave lots of wondering how we can be better than what we are. After consoling housemates and being consoled myself, I have come to realise that break ups and – to put it bluntly – being dumped, may start with a ‘it’s his loss’ attitude, often ending with us swearing an oath of what we will do differently the next time we are lucky in love. I am privileged enough to live with two beautiful, inspiring friends and despite the fact their ex-beaus were incredibly lucky to have them, they both contently listed their misdemeanors when things turned sour. It is as if break ups serve to propagate a feeling of self-criticism, a feeling we contently indulge in once the singing to Aretha Franklin is over.
‘Stale love’ I feel here, is just as toxic as that love lost. I am grateful to have experienced a first love that probably loved me more than any guy will love me ever again. It was a love however, that ultimately, fizzled. We were each other’s G&Ts – often satisfying and highly dependable – but a drink that didn’t really excite you as much as a cocktail with a great big whopping sparkler. Despite these nagging thoughts, we both stuck to our trusted beverages for far too long- a feeling I have since found shared in many other friends’ relationships. So why don’t we go after that flaming bloody Sambuca? Perhaps self love has something to do with it? My guess here is that it is our tendency to ‘under-sell’ ourselves as it were, that prompts to us to ‘settle’ with the mediocre. The problem remains though, that if we don’t appreciate our own value… how do we know when we are being short changed?
Self-love is difficult. I can’t say I have nailed it and I can’t pin down why. But perhaps, before I contemplate my next love affair, I should concentrate first on the one with myself. Let’s face it, it is pretty hard to strip off and feel like Scarlet Johansson if all you’ve done when shaving your legs is slag yourself off. This Valentine’s Day is where I am starting. No, this doesn’t mean writing myself a note in red lipstick. It means trying to accept that my wardrobe isn’t that of a Vogue stylist, nor is my body that of a page 3 model… but that doesn’t warrant a lifetime of criticism.
I guess my mum was right when she said that we can’t expect love until we have learnt to love ourselves first.
By Katherine Marie
English Teacher and Blogger