21st century dating, in short, can be brutal. With a rise in the cowardly trend of ‘ghosting’ and dating apps giving us more options than ever before, dating can have an impact on how we view ourselves.
Self-love is a term we hear on an almost daily basis yet it’s one of the first things we can abandon when dating.
Emma June from West Virginia passionately promotes self-love on her Instagram page. Emma June, 24, took the time to chat to me about how we can practise self-love more often, the impact dating has had on our ability to practise it and how to love ourselves when trying to get to know someone else.
What does self-love mean to you?
For me, there can’t be self-love without knowledge. You have to know yourself in order to accept and love yourself. I spend a lot of time with the idea of physical self-love, which is the love and acceptance of your body, and it’s all about knowing what feels good, what feels right and what feels comfortable for you.
That’s a concept that doesn’t just have to work with the physical element of self-love, though. It’s the same way for learning to love your uniqueness and inner beauty as well: know your strengths, your passions, what makes you happy, and, on the other hand, your boundaries and what makes you uncomfortable. If you’re making an effort to learn about and know yourself, then that’s the first step to self-love, in my opinion!
Have you always practised self-love? If not, what led to you realising self-love was important?
I think for me, and for a lot of people, it’s tough to practice self-love when you’re younger because of how many outside influences there are. You’re just kind of floating around, trying a bunch of different stuff and seeing if it sticks. I started really understanding the value of “know thyself, love thyself” when I started college. I was fascinated with the idea of body love and body confidence because growing up, I was never confident in my body. In high school, which objectively is a vulnerable time for confidence, I tried to appear confident and like I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I wore crazy stuff to distract people from the fact that I was incredibly insecure.
When I got to college, that shifted, and I was a content contributor for SundayMorningView - an online self-love, women’s empowerment magazine. That not only helped me to realize that self-love needed to be more about the physical body, but knowing and loving who you are as a person, too. Your voice. Your talents. Your passions. It’s all related, and it took me a while to learn that!
What do you think are the most common signs that people aren't practising self-love (or enough of it)?
The biggest thing I can say here is that for someone struggling with self-love, there will usually also be a noticeable lack of self-awareness.
What I mean is, someone who doesn’t fully understand or absorb their strengths and what they struggle with. There’s a culture in the self-love community that peaks its head up now and then that encourages the idea that everyone is infallible or without flaw. I think this is harmful because then you can go through your day-to-day life assuming that everything you do is wonderful and great and that if something isn’t quite right, it’s someone else’s fault. It leads to lack of accountability and a level of self-centeredness that can be extremely damaging to relationships.
All of this is to say that for me, when I come across someone who doesn’t understand or is not aware of their own strengths or challenges in their communication style - conflict resolution style, romantic relationships, interpersonal relationships, etc - it shows me that maybe they haven’t spent that time with themselves that is so needed to understand why they are who they are. And there can’t be true self-love without that knowledge and understanding.
Do you think modern dating can affect how we view ourselves and therefore how we feel about ourselves?
I think dating is kind of an interesting element here, because at base level, in the dating sphere, we all want to be wanted. We all want to be desired. The flip side of that is that not everyone is going to want or desire us (physically, emotionally, or otherwise), the same way we aren't going to want everyone that’s out there.
And the NOT being wanted can, for sure, take a toll on how we view ourselves. If you’re a gal who can go out to a bar every weekend and snog a different guy easily and with zero stress, you’re probably going to have a different view of yourself than the girl who goes out to the bar every weekend, looking to find a guy, and not having any success. It’s just basic dating math, right?
I know for me, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, both physically and personality-wise. I’m taller than most people, including most guys (I’m 6’3”, or 190 cm), and a lot of guys are not super into a girl being taller than them. I’ve been called manly COUNTLESS times when I’ve been out trying to meet people and it definitely can affect the way I view myself. I know myself and I know my reality: I AM tall, I AM taller than most of the guys and lots of times, guys DON’T find that appealing. The reality doesn’t make me less of a beautiful person, inside or out. I can’t affect how other people see me; I can only affect how I feel about myself.
Are there any common mistakes people make when dating that you feel can affect how much they love themselves?
I think any time someone is trying to change who they are as a person to try to “fit” with their partner more is a mistake. And I don’t mean like compromising on little things. I think compromising on little things is necessary because the two people who are dating are two different people. There’s always going to be a little gap SOMEWHERE that needs bridging, which is fine (unless, of course, the same person is the one sacrificing more each time. Then that’s not okay).
I think also ignoring red flags that your intuition notices is a huge mistake. I was dating a guy who every so often would say things that made me feel bad about myself. Like, I wore heels once and he said something like, “Okay, that’s enough of that. I don’t need you towering over me.” And I, like an idiot, took them off and it didn’t feel nice. But I brushed it off as “not a big deal” and I didn’t bring it up with him.
Any time your intuition sees a red flag, you should listen to it. If you’re dating someone and something they do or say makes you feel ashamed of who you are (or how you look) or like LESS than who you are, then you don’t need to date them anymore. Knowing your boundaries and what you can’t accept and refuse to tolerate while dating is all part of the “know thyself, love thyself” practice.
What would be your best advice for practising self-love and dating?
I would say to know your boundaries and don’t be afraid to voice when you feel like those boundaries have been crossed. That conversation doesn’t necessarily need to be inflammatory or relationship-ending (depending on the boundary, but, again, your call), but can be informative. Sometimes we have to teach the other person in a relationship, the same way we have to also be open to learning. Speak up about your boundaries and about when something doesn’t feel right. You should be just as important to yourself as the other person is to you when you’re dating. Listen to yourself and trust yourself.
You mentioned that people not necessarily liking things about you doesn't make you any less of a person. How do you maintain that level of self-acceptance if you feel rejected for those things?
It’s hard to maintain that self-acceptance if you’re struggling in your dating life, but I’ve tried to reframe my mind when it comes to dating to not think of it as “rejection.” Try to think of it as an incompatibility or a lack of fit.
For example, say you order a pair of tennis shoes online. They arrive at your house and you pull them out of the box. They look great! You try them on and lace them up. They feel fine! Then, you stand up and start walking around your living room to get a sense of how it feels to walk in them. You start to feel that the tip of your toe is kind of smushed up against the front of the shoe. The side of the shoe is rubbing on the side of your foot, and it doesn’t feel good. Maybe the shoes don’t fit as well as you hoped they would.
You wouldn’t blame the shoe for not fitting you, right? And you wouldn’t blame yourself for the shoe not fitting you, so what do you do?
You just wrap the shoes up and send them back and keep looking for a pair that fits.
I try to see dating kind of like that. If something isn’t really working or I’m having a hard time clicking with people, I really try not to think about it like “I’m doing this wrong” or “there’s something wrong with me.” Instead, I try to think of it like, “I don’t fit with this person,” and I keep looking. It’s never about YOU when you’re in that situation. Everyone is looking for people they fit with and some people will realize they won’t fit with you, the same way you realize it for others.
When you like someone it can be hard to enforce boundaries, especially if you have low self-esteem. Is this an issue you've faced before and if so, how did you overcome this?
Enforcing boundaries has always been difficult for me, and I think many women struggle with it. Personally, I think society likes to encourage women to be accommodating at all times, and always present others with the path of least resistance. That’s why, as a woman, enforcing boundaries can sometimes feel like a huge hurdle or challenge.
My advice would be to try to incorporate this boundary enforcement in every aspect of your life, not just in your romantic endeavors. Do it at work. Do it in a family setting. Do it when communicating with your friends. Do it with strangers on the subway or the sidewalk.
The more you do it, the less foreign it will feel when you present it to your romantic partner.
Is there anyone that has inspired you to accept and love yourself more that you would recommend people follow or look into?
Right now, my self-acceptance journey has brought me to this place where I’m trying to practice self-love in the physical aspect. I’ve found that following Instagram accounts of people who look more like me and are practicing self-love are the best for me to follow, because it feels kind of like a community. (I’ve included some of their tags below)
And I’d also like to just add here that social media can be dangerous and really draining for our mental health, but it can also be a beautiful place to facilitate a kind of community. By cultivating your feed and cutting out pages and people who make you feel bad about yourself, you’re only surrounding yourself with positivity. And that is a wonderful feeling!
Some Instagram pages I recommend for self-love content:
@noordinarynoire (Achieng Agutu)
@drcolleenreichmann (Dr. Colleen Reichmann)
@thenutritiontea (Shana Minei Spence, MS, RDN, CDN)
@isabelladavis (Bella Davis)
@joannajkenny (Joanna Kenny)
Follow Emma June on Instagram for more self-love talk, advice and general positive vibes.