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Passionate musings on yoga, writing, creativity, and self-love 

“Love Yourself” - The Elephant in the Room

leslie stjohn

 

In my last post “How to Write a (Great) Love Letter,” I gave you nine tips for a juicy, thoughtful, persuasive letter that would leave your lover wanting more of you. And then tip 10: A New Opportunity: Write a love letter to yourself. This one requires you to also do the first tip: “Take the Risk. Be Brave.” So I’m going to do just that. In this post, you’ll find my self-love letter, but before you read it, let’s make friends with the purple elephant in the room.  

“Love yourself” has become one of those buzz phrases so frequently hashtagged, pinned, and spoken over cocktails that it’s lost its potency. I love coffee. I love sunsets. I love you and you and you. I love those shoes! We fling “love” like pennies. It’s easy. But does the word mean anything anymore? I hope so. “Love yourself” implies self care; it’s an act of love to care for oneself. In that sense, sure, I love myself. I bathe regularly. I eat nourishing food, I exercise 5-7 times a week, I even floss often (after eating popcorn); basically, I parent myself. That’s being an adult. But is that self-love?

I spent my upbringing in a middle class southern Christian household trying to earn the favor of my family, especially my father. It’s not that my parents weren’t loving--they were--, but they were mostly tired, having already raised three girls, and often stressed about money. I could get lost in the shuffle. I learned to achieve my way to the attention and love I craved.

Good grades? Check. Straight A’s (minus that AP Calculus class). Good morals? Check. I was president of the Christian Club at my high school and danced with my gay friends at pep rallies. Good looks? Maybe. I sure worked hard to be thin, even earned an eating disorder from it. Good work ethic? You bet. With my learner’s permit and “hardship” license, I drove myself to ice skating sessions six days a week, competing regularly until I was seventeen. One lesson I internalized from all these efforts is that I must perform in order to receive love. This messaging didn’t do much for my own self love. In fact, the more I performed, seeking love and approval from outside of myself, the more I felt a deep hollowing within me.

I’ve done a lot of work to flip that script. I am not that seventeen year old girl anymore, but she’s still present with me. More than mere self-care, learning to love myself is openly
liking myself. Initially, that felt foreign to me. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I spent episodes of my life hating myself, years  mildly tolerating myself, so why not now deeply invest in liking and truly loving myself? Well, that’s what I did. I started small. My arms are alright. I guess my nose is cute. Then I looked closer. It’s cool how I strive to see and cultivate beauty…, and I really do like my ability to connect with people. My words. My yoga practice. My faded tattoos. My story, especially the parts where I loved people, made things, and didn’t give up after painful losses... Then it started to become easier to listen to that self-loving voice more so than the critic’s familiar script; although, they both have residence in me.  Self-love is accepting all of who you are, appreciating your unique iteration in the world, and choosing active compassion.  

Like learning to do a handstand or play the cello, loving yourself does not come easily or quickly--it’s a practice. “Great,” you might say, “eat the entire bunch of celery, jog three miles, then go to bed by ten...boring.”  Yea, I agree. That’s why the self-love letter is so great. Not only are you doing the work of accepting, appreciating, and choosing, but you’re creating an artistic artifact of a time and place in your life. Imagine reading it years from now.

You’re packing to move, going through storage deciding what to keep and what to donate. Under the antiquated box of CDs, you find a pile of journals. Tucked inside the red one is a letter on thick, cream-colored paper. You open it...



Dear Leslie,


It was after an ice skating session. The coaches had all gone home, but you stayed to practice longer. You didn’t know I was watching from the top bleachers, but I saw how you powered through your legs, opened your arms, and flung wide your passionate, purple heart--jumping and spinning, gracefully weaving in and out of the other skaters. That’s your own beauty--it’s physical, powerful, elegant, and has this inside-out quality that makes others feel blessed to be in your presence, sharing your energy.

You were young then; maybe sixteen, still full of doubts and insecurities, but when you thought no one was looking, you trusted yourself and expressed so freely with your body and your words.  

Once, I read your journal. I’m sorry. I know, bad etiquette, but I’m not sorry because I felt moved by your poems. More than once, you brought tears to my eyes and made me want to show more love to the ones I love.

The story about your eye; the break-ups with Jason, Jesus, the one with the moon-blue eyes you loved who couldn’t love you; even how you restructured your life from your home on Nipomo St. with its vintage arches, tall windows, beautifully beat-up hardwood floors to the new small studio--a pretty jewelry box--and most of your furniture in storage, still living in SLO with a fine job, a good man who shows his love every morning he brings you coffee in bed, a creative life, and many areas where you’re still growing...it all moves me. It helps. I don’t know how exactly, but your words help. Please, for the love of all that is holy, real, and beautiful, keep writing. Keep using your words--your embodiment--to inspire others.

And if someone isn’t interested in what you’re offering, that’s okay. Shrug it off. Stay true to your sankalpa because others--like me, your family, some friends, people online, those you’ve yet to meet--they will receive what you’re offering. And it will help. You will inspire.

I wasn’t sure if I’d share this, but I must. You are a rare beauty.

I mean it. Let’s be honest: you have a prosthetic eye. According to traditional beauty or contemporary media-driven standards, you fail. But since when have you been in any way conventional? Cheerleaders, Cosmo, Hollywood--these have never been your metrics.

Someone original who dresses in her own style, speaks her own language, carries herself with confidence and warmth, whose idiosyncrasies tell her story--that chicken pox scar above her eye; that single dimple; her unruly, romantic hair; a body lean and agile, soft and sensual; a heart always risking sentimentality to get at true sentiment--this is your kind of beauty. Leslie, you are this rare beauty.

Your body is svelte and always in motion. Your face, inviting. Your smile, uplifting. Your nose, adorable as your sister’s. Your eyes...unique pieces of art. You embody shakti. You swirl in the energy of Parvati and Aphrodite. Your body is a dance of desire. How you accept it, live in it, create with it inspires others. It gives them permission--the courage, really--to win back their bodies. Leslie, for what it’s worth, you’re hot. Own it; then, let it go.

What I’m trying to say is, you’re marvelous. And I love you.

I love you they way you love white Christmas lights, dark chocolate, movies where the two old guys talk about the afterlife at the pyramids in Egypt. I love you more than you love coffee, more than you love antique books with thoughtful inscriptions, more than two dancers improvising a love story with bare bodies. I love you more than I thought I was capable. I need you to know, I’m committed to you.

Sign me up. Pin me down. Keep drawing me in. I’m yours, and I want you to be mine from this letter forward. I choose you as you are now and as the woman you are becoming. I align myself with you.

Darling, you made me see the moon with new eyes. One night in new Mexico, the sky was a swath of stars, and I couldn’t pick one to wish upon, so I covered one eye (right), and wished upon the moon to meet the woman of my waking dreams...the woman I’d always be proud to walk into a room with; who I could learn from, travel and explore, laugh and play, deepen and grow with. I wished to meet the woman I would always want to be with--not just on weekends when she’s all sparkle and fifty-dollar words, but also on lazy Sundays and brush-our-teeth, pack-a-lunch, quick-kiss-as-we’re-leaving-the-house Tuesdays. All my days. I saw the moon and wished for yoga--to yoke myself and still feel this freedom in my heart. That night in the desert, the moon never looked so full; its divots and shadow pronounced yet beautiful. Like you. Perfectly imperfect. So when I met you and got to know the real you--your words, history, body, heart--, I felt you’d flown me to the moon. And I knew.

Leslie, you are the love of my life.

I couple my heart to yours. Will you let me love and support you, cherish and celebrate you, hold you up and accountable, catch you when you fall and carry you until you can stand on your own and dance again? Will you let me be your lover, advocate, friend?  You help me see beauty. You bring depth to my experience; may I bring buoyancy to yours. I want nothing more than to fall asleep and wake with you--in love with me--for the rest of our numbered heartbeats.

May I be born each day into the soft curves and opening of your body.

I am ardently, deeply, completely yours,


Me

 

Interested in writing your own self-love letter, but not sure how to get started? Or, maybe you just feel slightly embarrassed because,, after all, you’re not hearts and flowers. Next week, I will share PART 2 of the “Self-Love Letter” blog; I’ll tell you about how others responded to this opportunity at a recent Prose and Poses retreat at Sagrada. I’ll include their reflections, excerpts from letters, and the most important step in writing a self-love letter. Don’t miss it.

Until then, start small. Do a few proverbial (or actual) push-ups by writing a few specific aspects of yourself you like. Start with something accessible, say your hair or that badass tattoo under your rib; then focus more on qualities--gifts, talents, parts of your personality. See how strengthening this self-loving voice changes the way you carry yourself.

Let me know how it’s going by leaving a comment or sharing something on social. @proseandposes

If you have a self-love warrior friend who might enjoy this post, share it!

Thanks for reading my letter.

Love and Light,

Leslie