You may think to call me selfish, but when I first thought of what element of sex positivity I wanted to highlight on Valentine’s Day, I immediately thought of myself—or more specifically, how I love myself. Both in and outside the context of sex positivity, the subject of self-love usually incites chuckles about masturbation. While masturbation may (for some) be a small component to expressing it, self-love itself is a much more transformative, important space for reclamation, affirmation, agency, and power for people within many positions and identities.
Given the complexities of this process, I invited Professor SooJin Pate to offer her vision of self-love as it has deeply influenced my own, which I will share after this, her essay contribution. Thank you for your time and careful words, SooJin, this week and always.
When most people think about love, it is usually a feeling that flows outward towards some person or some thing: “I love chocolate,” or “I love my mom.”
This is not the kind of love I think of when I think about the radical possibilities of love. In a society that socializes women (especially Third World women and women of color) to put the needs and desires of everyone else ahead of their own, this kind of love that flows outward can leave those most in need of loving consideration in the dust. Literally. Women of color feminists like Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, and June Jordan point out how the various racist, heterosexist, capitalist, and patriarchal forces that organize our society wreak havoc on the minds, bodies, and souls of women of color and Third World women. Indeed, racism and heterosexism kills. It not only kills dreams, but it also kills bodies.
But there is a salve, an elixir to the poison of the –isms that target our bodies and souls. That healing medicine is self-love. Love, redefined as self-love, has the power to manifest dreams, to heal broken spirits, to rejuvenate fatigued bodies. And when self-love is expressed through self-care, miracles can happen.
Living in a society that constantly marginalizes you, invalidates your experiences and emotions, and fosters insecurity, it becomes an uphill battle to love yourself. Based on the messages that we receive from all corners of society (from politics to economics, from media to schools), we are taught to hate ourselves. To affirm, value, and validate yourself—to love yourself—amidst this daily onslaught of disparaging messages is not only political but also radical. It is radical because you’re not supposed to survive. It is radical because you’re not supposed to exceed the boundaries and limitations that society has set for you. It is radical because you’re not supposed to see self-love and self-care as worthwhile practices.
But when you prioritize your needs, your feelings, and your desires ahead of others, that is precisely what happens: you find yourself worthy and deserving of care. The goodness that you pour to others becomes rerouted inward to your own self. Love turned inward heals the scrapes and wounds you’ve accumulated through daily living. Love turned inward weaves a cocoon of protection, where you can recharge, rejuvenate, and restore. Love turned inward conjures a reservoir where you can tap into your own power and manifest the highest expression of yourself.
And so, on this Valentine’s Day, I invite you to reconsider love as self-love. Think about all the ways in which you support, value, and give of your time to others. How would your life be different if you turned that energy onto yourself? Make yourself the target of love today and every day. And witness the transformative, healing, and magical power of self-love.
SooJin Pate, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor in American Studies