Her long blonde hair and big smile caught my eye right from the moment we met. I felt her watching me but never paid that much attention. I knew she purposefully brushed against me, moved in close or touched my hand at any opportunity that presented. I also knew she was 10 years older than me, my coworker and she had a boyfriend.
Then it happened. I was putting away groceries in the basement fridge of the group home where we worked, when out of nowhere she pushed me up against the wall and kissed me. She then backed away and looked up at me with very flirtatious and mischievous eyes. I was immediately flooded with feelings of bliss, confusion and excitement. I felt… sexy, for the first time in my life. Sexy felt confident and certain. Something I rarely felt about myself or my sexuality up to that point.
Whatever word you choose to use to signify feelings of confidence and certainty, it comes down to self-love. I believe self-love is wearing clothes that make you feel your best. Self-love is doing things not because you should but because you want to. It’s being confident and independent and not apologizing for doing so. It’s about practicing positive self-talk instead of self-criticism. And, it’s about letting your true colors shine through even if others don’t ‘get you’.
Self-love is a learned behavior. Our family and those closest to us help or hinder our level of confidence, independence and self-esteem. The way we walk through the world is hugely dependent on that programming, and our actions are a direct representation of how we feel about ourselves. How attractive, intelligent, courageous, and self-assured we are stems from the amount of love we have for ourselves.
The most confusing and challenging years of my life were a result of my lack of self-love.
Back in high school I could never understand my female teenage crushes, my lack of interest in house parties and dating boys, and my constant sense of being very different from my friends. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized I was gay. I just knew I was different but didn’t know why. Back then, what stood out for me was that being queer was wrong, weird and not something I wanted to be; at least, not in my small town. As a teenager living in a rural southern Ontario community in the 1990’s, in a then-homophobic home, I was afraid of what others would think or do if I expressed what I really felt.
So I did the only things I could do, I suppressed. I hid. I conformed. I kept all my deepest darkest feelings and emotions under wraps until the day came when I could no longer live inauthenticity. It just felt wrong. It felt suffocating. It made me feel sick both figuratively and literally. It was not a good use of my energy nor did it lend itself to health or happiness.
The time it took for acceptance from my family and friends was a process that I had to let happen; even though it felt long and painful. Although the journey of living honestly and with pride has not been an easy one, the good has far outweighed the bad.
It was one of the most difficult times in my life but by making the decision to open-up I felt free and no longer felt suffocated. I stopped conforming to the box that others thought was right for me. I was finally free to wear the clothes I wanted, cut my hair short, play sports, weight train, and love women – all the while still being a great sister, daughter, and wife. Looking back on all my male relationships, aka “beard boyfriends”, I had broken up with, I really meant it when I told them “no really, it’s not you — it’s me!”
I not only found my sexy self that day in the basement, but I also let down my guard in an effort to embrace and love myself more. A journey that continues to this day.
I’ve learned, after many years of peeling away the layers of self-doubt and uncertainty, that finding your self-love has to come from the inside.
There are five ways I believe we can cultivate more self-love:
- Live and let live. Regardless of what other people think or say about you and your lifestyle, it’s on them, not you. There is nothing wrong with who you are or who you love. Your sexual orientation does not change the person you are or the person you are going to be. When you truly believe this at your core, it makes loving yourself that much easier.
- Love yourself first. As said by the famous Drag Queen RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” Practices and habits that encourage more self-love equate to a greater sense of love toward others. But, it all starts with you.
- Dress to express. If you choose clothes that make you feel good in your body and not because someone else told you to wear them, it allows you to hold the power. You are in charge of your body and what you put on it. Choose clothes that express your personality, comfort and style; without apology.
- Focus on the good. There are hundreds of great things about you that are special and unique only to you. They make you exactly who you are. When we focus on the good things about ourselves (around our bodies and minds), overall we feel more positive and happy.
- Act with compassion. We cannot change other peoples reactions to who we are or how we live our lives but we can change our REACTION. The more compassion you have for others, the deeper your sense of self-love will be.
Self-love is having high regard for yourself, your health and happiness. It’s taking care of your needs without sacrificing the needs of others. It’s no longer people pleasing, always saying ‘YES’ even when your gut tells you otherwise. It’s letting go of outside validation in an attempt to feel complete or loved.
The point of sharing my story openly is to encourage you to be your authentic self. Without honouring our true selves we end up unhappy, frustrated, depressed or constantly seeking validation and happiness from outside sources. The moment you take a look inside and embrace yourself for exactly who you are is the moment you become liberated. I tell you this from experience, over 20 years after coming out, I have more confidence, and more passion for life than I ever have before.
If you like this blog, I invite you to check out my book, Synergize Your Health – The 6 Elements for Greater Vitality and Joy. It touches on all 6 of my elements of health: rest, movement, connection, nutrition, mindfulness and SELF-LOVE using science, strategies and stories.
And, if you want to know how your element of Self-Love stacks up in comparison to the other elements of health, check out my quiz – ‘What’s your self-care synergy level?’ by going HERE: https://kristyware.com/whats-your-self-care-synergy-level/