Eating Disorders

Self-Love and Celebration of the Self

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When I think of love and eating disorders, I think of one magical summer evening–and it wasn’t a romantic evening I spent with a significant other. In 2013, I had the privilege of conducting a workshop for a small group of teen girls. On the agenda: body image, confidence, our society, and the elusive concept of self-love. I remembered how I had been at age 12-15 and I smiled, but I knew I had my work cut out for me.

How do you explain self-love to a group who doesn’t truly know the concept?

I came prepared. On the picturesque wooden deck of the home of their youth group leader, sweating a bit in the oppressive heat, I looked into their young faces and saw such beauty, such eagerness to be understood, and such fear.

They weren’t afraid of me. They were afraid of their own private thoughts, afraid of embarrassment in front of their peers, afraid of being vulnerable.

Vulnerability, I explained, is what would help us to feel understood together as a team. They looked as though they wanted to believe me, but weren’t sold.

Next to me was a whiteboard, blank and ready for our thoughts.

I passed around a bowl of paper and markers, asking the girls to write down an insecurity, a fear, or an issue they had. They looked interested, engaged. I told them to fold up their papers, pass them back to me in the bowl, and I would make a list on the board. They looked absolutely horrified.

They leaned forward, scared, but very, very eager to see the list appear on the whiteboard next to me.

What I read was half expected and half shocking. I was astounded by the list self-hate our whiteboard soon held.

From “My stomach grumbles all the time” to “I worry my thighs are too big” to “Will people like me?” to “I hate my toes,” the list was there for all to see. I sensed their mutual discomfort and also their mutual sigh of relief.

I asked them how they felt looking at so many negative things on list. They were all in agreement: it was depressing. They also agreed they did not think any of those things about their friends sitting next to them, only about themselves. It was self-directed hate and fear.

I remember saying, “It’s amazing to me that such amazing, smart, beautiful girls can come up with so many negative things to put on a list.” I asked them to pay attention to just the body image items for a minute. “I’m looking at all of you,” I said, logically, ‘”And for example, someone wrote she hates her toes. You’re all wearing flip-flops and I don’t see any ugly toes. Only cute toes.”

They looked self-consciously at their feet, as though my attention to a specific body part–a compliment no less–had exposed them in a way that made them question themselves.

I asked if any of them had ever heard the term “self-love.” Most of them nodded. I asked if they knew what it meant. I saw blank stares and glances at their peers.

This told me some of them had no idea and others had possible definitions they were too embarrassed or too nervous to share.

“The definition of self-love,” I said, “is the love of yourself. It’s not the same as being arrogant or conceited. It means caring for yourself, taking responsibility for yourself, respecting yourself, and learning yourself.” I looked around at their faces. I admitted to them it sounded a bit cheesy, but was still totally true and extremely important. “I’ll also add one more: celebrating yourself.

Compliments and positive reinforcement don’t come naturally in this society, especially for girls and women, so being kind to ourselves with what we say to ourselves is a kind of foreign concept.

So we passed the bowl around again, and this time I asked them to write down a compliment. For themselves. One caveat: no appearance related compliments.

We’re more than how we look, even though we’re all beautiful.

We made a new list on the whiteboard, and as one girl so aptly put it: “The negative list made me sad, but the positive list makes me happy.” She didn’t like knowing all of the girls sitting there could create such a negative list, but she enjoyed it when her friends could all see their own good qualities and traits.

We chatted about a variety of questions: What makes you mad about the media? What makes you happy about it? Why don’t we feel good enough? Do our expectations play a part in our perceptions of ourselves? If you wouldn’t say something negative to a friend, why would you say it to yourself? Why aren’t girls allowed to be proud of themselves? Why are they seen as conceited unless they’re berating themselves?

The questions themselves aren’t as important as the fact that we were talking about them.

These girls were finally talking together about what scares them, what makes them feel insecure, what makes them sad, what makes them angry, and what makes them feel confused. And in being vulnerable in one place, together, they wonderfully and magically felt less alone. More understood. Stronger. More positive. Ready to create change.

Before I said good-bye to the group, I asked them to make goals and say them aloud. Instead of saying, “I hope…” or “I wish…” or “I want to…” I asked them to say “I will…” and to trust their own power and determination. “I will ask for help when I need it,” said one. “I will call my friend when I’m feeling sad,” said another. “I will tell myself one positive thing each day,” was yet another.

I know they will. And if you are ready, if you are willing, I know you will too.


Arielle is an MSW, LSW, writer, and blogger. She is a Hospice Social Worker, widow, stepmomma, and wife. She has professional experience with eating disorders, domestic violence, grief and loss. She loves her work, her family, her cats, and her dog! She most often writes about grief, loss, end of life issues, and suicide. Gratitude fuels her every move.

SITE DISCLAIMER: The opinions and information shared in any content on our site, social media, or YouTube channel may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We are not liable for any harm incurred from viewing our content. Always consult a medical professional before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Libero does not provide emergency support. If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433 or another helpline or 911.


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