Valentine’s Day is finally over. I wondered, today, if I went to Walmart to get groceries, if I’d catch them tearing down the Valentine’s Day aisles. I wondered if I’d see the hot pink heart-festooned displays covered over with bright yellow discount stickers, relegated to the discount aisles just like postseason Christmas decorations and chocolate Easter eggs. The season of love is over—at least for retailers.
America is still in love with love, however, even outside of Valentine’s Day. Despite political polarization and anxieties about disease, we still swoon for romance. And we’re not alone. In 2018, Quartz reported that two-thirds of Netflix’s user base globally were watching romantic content. But what about self-love? That’s booming, too. Emma Watson blew up the internet when she talked about the joys of being self-partnered. Now that the commercial pink haze of Valentine’s Day has passed, perhaps it’s even more important to double down on loving oneself.
Self-love doesn’t have to be materialistic or revolve around a purchase. It can often seem that way, especially when even triumphantly joyful cultural artifacts like the “Queer Eye” Netflix series (that inarguably celebrates self-love) can often seem to revolve, in great deal, around new clothes, new belongings and a new look. Or when Instagram ads bombard you with “Treat yourself!” and “Love yourself!” as a means of coaxing you to buy the latest product.
In philosophy, I think self-love is truly about self-acceptance, but in practice it’s about self-care and pleasure. Lisa Schulze, the education and training manager at The Women’s Fund of Omaha and an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator, said: “Self-love means different things to different people. As it should. Broadly, it can be finding the time, space and energy to explore what restores and rejuvenates you. Self-love is giving yourself grace, as an imperfect person on an imperfect journey. It can mean reconnecting to what brings you pleasure whether it be nature, being in conversations, in community, in all the ways – intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually.”
For Bri Full, a senior majoring in Public Health and the past president at the Midlands Sexual Health Student Union, self-love is about “taking control of your happiness and the decisions that you make.” Self-love “can take form in many different ways” Full said. Whether it’s “fueling your body with nutritious food, scheduling that mental health appointment you’ve been avoiding, or even just doing your homework,” Full said. “A lot of the time we don’t have control over certain aspects in our lives, but it’s important to act on the things we do have control over, even if it’s hard to do.”
There are discussions to be had about privilege, classism and the economic realities of who can access luxury or afford time to treat oneself. However, as much as it’s important to discuss those issues, we also have to free ourselves from the guilt or shame of self-care and self-love, especially when it comes to pleasure. Kenna Barnes, a graduate student and research coordinator at the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative explained: “As a society we have been so conditioned to be in pain, it’s romanticized and glorified. You’re seen as hardworking and successful when you put yourself through pain to get ahead of others. Pleasure and self-care have really been policed, which is a product of a capitalist society. People at the top can easily access surface pleasure and surface care and have made it really difficult for marginalized folks to feel joy. Happy people are difficult to control. But finding internal pleasure takes time and energy, and it takes trying new things and adventuring your mind and body. It’s absolutely a radical act to find true pleasure and engage in self-care.”
And as much as it’s socially acceptable to treat oneself to a bath bomb, chocolates (cheers to the discounted post-Valentine’s box), a glass of wine or simply a night in with a good book and cup of tea, it’s still deeply stigmatized to talk about self-love, and even more so as it relates to sexual pleasure.
“Stigmatization of pleasure of any kind 100% exists in our society. We’re taught from a very young age that it’s bad to explore ourselves sexually,” Full said.
When it comes to pleasure, she said, “it’s essential to know your body, what you like and what you hate, before sharing it with someone else.”
Self-love is a learning process, just like all things in life. I’m in a happy relationship but have learned very quickly that romantic love doesn’t absolve the need to learn more about and accept myself.
Schulze said: “Awakening into our authentic sexual selves is challenging as we live in a culture that does not support access to honest and complete information about our bodies, intimacy and pleasure. We have few sexual scripts to lean on and often must unlearn shame and negative information we have been given about sexual identity and exploration. There is great diversity in what brings us joy and sexual pleasure and that should be celebrated. What’s truly special about self-love, or masturbation in this case, is that no one has to be dependent upon a partner for their sexual pleasure. And hopefully, it’s also with someone you love deeply. Or can begin to love more, cause you deserve it.”