Over the last year, the number of conversations regarding mental health and wellbeing has only increased. The pandemic has weighed heavily on the shoulders of young people in many ways. However, the pressure of perfection still remains ever-present. When summer rolls by, as a girl in my mid-teens, I’m always confronted with all sorts of social media posts promoting a ‘summer glow up’ or posts to become ‘that girl’. Summer is the season of self-care culture- the season of 5 am mornings, aesthetically pleasing meals and detailed yoga routines. The green smoothies and the Chloe Ting workouts seem harmless on the surface, right? They only promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage young people to live their most productive and positive lives… right? For some people, yes. For many, no.
The idea of the ideal young person is pressed onto us from all directions: from school, family, social media and friends. The expectations to be A* students, popular and physically attractive are peppered into conversations with all sorts of people. The wave and the popularity of self-care culture have improved several lives but, like many things on the internet, remain a constant, looming presence on all social media sites. At the end of the day, we aren’t going to wake up at 5am every morning and study for 7 hours every day. The human experience is meant to fluctuate but in a world where everyone is living their best lives on your Instagram feed, it’s hard to comprehend. It’s difficult to realise that these people have ups and downs too, more than ever in this age of hiding behind filters.
Another rather common experience of the idealist pressures young people face is in the much-despised form of grades and exam results. As a student at a competitive, all-girls school, I’ve witnessed this throughout my secondary school years so far. Every time results from exams were given out, the immediate reaction was “What did you get?” and I’m not afraid to admit that at one point, I used those compared results to define my status and my worth. This is something that is somewhat ingrained into the life of students but the impacts can have detrimental effects on the mental wellbeing of children and young people. This comparison makes students feel worthless but also puts young people against each other and therefore causes more harm than good.
Sometimes we need to step away from how to solve the problem and first focus on what exactly we’re aiming for. Self-love is defined as the regard for one's own well-being and happiness. It’s a simple, yet dense meaning. So what is wellbeing? What is happiness? Unfortunately, as I am not a philosopher of any sorts, I will be relying on my personal experiences to explain what achieving self-love is. Self-love is satisfaction. However it is not a state of constant stability and satisfaction with oneself- self-love is not interchangeable with perfection. Self-love is accepting that you won’t achieve perfection and that’s fine! As well as emotional growth, the practice of self-love can improve and aid physical growth and increase a person’s pleasure in terms of life.. Multiple studies have linked self-compassion to better immune function and improved relaxation.
Whilst researching for this article, I discussed this topic with a friend of mine. When I questioned her on the impacts of self-love on a person. she responded with “When a person truly, undeniably and completely loves themselves, they offer the world something that not a single other person on earth can give.” Her words are not only inspiring but are undeniably true. Those who practice self-compassion experience increased motivation, stronger resilience and greater happiness. When we have broken down the standards that society, social media and school force onto our shoulders, we are one step closer to our goals, a step closer to future achievements, a step closer to success.
Let’s get this straight: self-love is not determined by green smoothies or the hours you spend studying per day. The main struggles young people face- grades, self-image and more- all distract you from your happiness and therefore cause a decrease in a person’s state of wellbeing. In a world that teaches you to be perfect, it is hard to come to the realisation that these statistics, the Instagram likes and the grades don’t define who you are. Repeat it to yourself- however daft it sounds, this is the mindset we need to instil and convince ourselves of.
One important lesson I’d like to leave you with is that we don’t ‘reach’ an absolute state of self-love. Self-love is a non-linear, bumpy path that you will, without fail, trip over at least once. Reading this article, I hope, is your starting point. Your first step is convincing yourself that you’re ready to go on this journey and, with time, love yourself more.