#RadicalSelfLove

A couple years ago, I came across Gala Darling by selecting her video – Radical Self Love –  from the list of TED Talks that needed translation. In it, she opens with a heartbreaking statistic.

Only 4% of women would call themselves beautiful.

After finishing the translation, I got curious about this feminine, powerful, fierce woman and did some digging into her website, which is filled with travel, fashion, self-love tips and exercises, astrology, witchiness, and pretty much every other thing I find myself in love with and drawn to. She’s bright, she’s honest, she’s thoughtful, and the group of people who collect around her are equally positive and interesting.

In following her, I’ve tried some of her challenges, ranging from new moon/new year/new everything rituals to her Instagram challenges, like the #RadicalSelfLoveJanuary one I’ve been participating in for the past two weeks. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about so actively participating in my online presence, since I’ve always seen it as something separate, not reflective of me. Which, let’s admit, is a total lie I tell myself to make me feel special and cool, even though participating in online communities is just as cool as doing so offline.

Another cold beach day to start the year. I'll take it 😎

A post shared by Erica (@ericavarlese) on

A somewhat personal, private goal I’ve had for the past few months is to share more selfies. Weird and random, right? It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I attended Theorizing the Web back in 2014 and saw this fantastic talk about how selfies can be an act of rebellion in a culture that tells us, so often, how we’re supposed to look and what beautiful is.

Much like Gala Darling, I struggled with some serious body image issues as a teenager and, subsequently, there are very few pictures of me at that time. It’s amazing, the transformation I had from being a young girl who didn’t think much about her appearance to the deep seated anger and adversarial relationship I had with my body as a teenager. I remember so often looking in the mirror and hating everything I saw.

Around the same time, I carefully calculated what I could eat, how often I needed to exercise, and how much weight I wanted to lose. In the throes of disordered eating, I withdrew into myself, away from friends, family, and the things I loved. It was as if the nourishment I denied myself was causing the rest of my life to wither away as well.

Which makes sense. Because if you don’t believe you deserve care, especially from yourself, it’s impossible to devote effort to anything else in the entire world.

While, fortunately, my relationship with my body and appearance has changed considerably over the past decade, there are still ingrained mental habits that I catch myself on. When those thoughts float into my mind, I try to hold them and change the words around, make them more positive, turn them into the kind of kind, sincere words I would say to a friend.

Because being friends with yourself is kind of critical.

I love this use of selfies as a self-motivator and esteem boost by Esmé Wang, who also rocks.

So I’m trying to hide from the camera less. And I’ve noticed that the pictures of myself I like the most are the ones where I look happy. So scrolling back through my feed and seeing my face, this documentation of my self in various places, times, and so on, makes me smile because it’s not only capturing a moment, but it’s capturing me in a moment. Documenting me in my life.

In addition to pushing me to hide behind the camera less (especially after a one-a-day photo challenge last year), Gala Darling’s #RadicalSelfLoveJanuary has me seeing things in a more positive light, embracing the weird things I’m into, and pushing myself to be, ironically, more authentic online. Maybe the reason selfies and the like feel so scary is because there is a vulnerability to sharing not just visually interesting pictures of street art and landscapes online, but my likes and interests, a more diverse spread of things I truly care about, as well.

If being brave is my theme for 2016, then working on radical self acceptance is just another small step in that direction. Possibly even one selfie at a time.

Author: Erica V.

Always seriously joking and rambunctiously soft-spoken.

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