Romantic love is framed as the cultural gold standard, deserving of a series of parties and kitchen appliances and conferring status on the married and partnered, especially on Valentine’s Day. Loving yourself, having a relationship with yourself at all, is less-talked-about, but many believe it’s the true key to romantic love. Darling doesn’t mince words on her website: “Unless you fully love yourself, your intimate relationships will be a shitshow.” Quoth cult favorite Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby: “You’ll never get a boo if you don’t love you.”
“When I’m loving myself, I’m not coming to another person as an empty cup that they need to fill,” Brown said. “I’ve got a full cup, you’ve got a full cup, and let’s pour into something common.” Adds Darling: “You have to treat yourself well, so that the person that you fall in love with has a model of how to treat you.” The concept extends, she says, to sex. “Learning how to pleasure yourself in bed,” Darling said, “makes you more satisfied with partners.” Cue the Divinyls.
There are memes that preach it: “Loving Yourself is the Greatest Revolution.” But it took deliberate action and effort for Brown, including talk therapy, and somatic (body-based) therapy. “One of the practices I did to begin falling back in love with my body was a self-scholarship in the mirror, where I would look at one part of my body at a time and just offer love to that part of my body,” Brown said. She started with her left pinkie and gradually moved to her thighs and belly. It didn’t happen overnight. “Self-love is a practice,” she wrote in 2017. “Practices take time. More than 21 days, more than 3000 reps, even more.” Now, she says, “I’m in that place where, when I walk by the mirror naked, I’m like, ‘Yes, I like this.'”
There is something so contagious, almost mystical, about hearing another woman count the ways she loves herself. “Oh, I love my little looping mind that can get caught up in a narrative,” Brown says. “I really love my curiosity. I feel like it saves me when something comes along that I wasn’t expecting. I love being smart.” Darling cites her “creativity, enthusiasm, optimism, New Zealand accent, and lust for life.” Unabashed self-love makes Lizzo and Indya Moore magnetic, and I can’t help but look back lovingly at SNL classic Stuart Smalley (originated by Al Franken) and his mantra-in-the-mirror: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.” “Feeling oneself” is an instructive concept: I have a friend who posts full-length mirror Stories on Instagram captioned with how cute she looks in her culottes or matching sets; another with whom I swap new haircut pics and texts saying, “I look amazing!” I love how they love themselves, but I wish the sentiment wasn’t so rare.
I decidedly don’t love everything I see in the mirror—although my naturally long eyelashes are great. I love that I’m ambitious. I love that I care too much. I love that my heart bleeds and I want to be useful to the world. I love that I desperately want to make my friends and my family feel loved; to love themselves, too. I love how I speak my mind even if it’s sort of embarrassing—like right now. There will undoubtedly be people who find this story unbecoming, corny, cutesy. Some people will like it and some won’t. I’ll love myself either way.
It’s a bit of a family tradition now, one I try to impart to my seven-year-old daughter, who agreed to be interviewed for this story. I want her, like the imagined narrator in Nani’s self-love nursery rhyme, to think she’s grand.
“Do you love yourself?” I asked her.
She smiled. “Yeah.”
When I ask her why, she said, “I love myself because I’m amazing. I’m here in this life. I just love it.” Also: “I have blue eyes.”
“Do you think it’s good to love yourself?”