“Genuine self-esteem—please understand this—genuine self-esteem is not competitive or comparative. Genuine self-esteem isn’t expressed by self-glorification at the expense of others, or by trying to make yourself superior to everyone else, or diminishing others in order to elevate yourself. Arrogance, boastfulness, the overestimation of your abilities, reflect low self-esteem, even though we’re often encouraged to believe the opposite. In human beings, joy in the simple fact of existence is a core meaning of healthy self-esteem. Thus understood, how can you possibly have too much of it?”
― Nathaniel Branden
This kind of genuine self-esteem is the key to how expansive, loving, compassionate, joyful, and, ultimately, valuable to society, we are. There is no such thing as too much self-esteem, and given the epidemic of low self-image among girls and women today, aiming for “just enough” self-esteem isn’t going to cut it. We need to aim for and encourage self-esteem so high that it sounds completely absurd and ridiculous. I call that level of extraordinary self-esteem Radical Vanity.
Radical Vanity is the pursuit and practice of unbridled and unapologetic self-love, self-respect, and self-admiration. Radical Vanity means spending time adoring yourself in the mirror, talking about your accomplishments at parties, and accepting a compliment without negation.
Radical Vanity means enthusiastically cultivating and sharing your gifts and your strengths with others, and refusing to body-bash or gossip about anyone. It means making the time to explore and prioritize authentic self-care, and to stop automatically putting other people first. Radical Vanity means having the courage to accept and love who and where are you today, even if you’re working toward change.
Don’t be thrown off by the word “vanity” here. It isn’t the insult most people think. When imagining someone who is very vain, we tend to think of someone who is vapid and empty, so obsessed with herself that she never thinks of anyone else. We picture someone who is selfish and unkind, lacking compassion and empathy. We imagine that if a person loves herself, she won’t have enough love left over for anyone else. But that’s a myth; love is not finite or scarce. True love can only ever create more love, not less. There is no such thing as loving yourself “too much.”
Bullies and other unconfident people use a false sense of inflated self-love to cover up for insecurities and self-loathing. Someone who truly loves and accepts herself is someone who has made compassion and acceptance a way of life, because loving yourself—flaws and all— requires a deep level of both. Plus, the more a woman puts herself and her needs first, the better able she is to show up fully and lovingly in the world. That turns her self-love into a gift to those around her.
Radical Vanity isn’t a cover-up for insecurities. It’s true love, and it requires a high level of courage and commitment. I want to live in a world that recognizes self-love as an asset, and praises it accordingly. In an effort to foster that appreciation for true self-esteem and self-love, I decided to reclaim the word “vanity.”
Society teaches women that self-loathing and self-criticism are not only normal, but also commendable.
Women in our culture face limitless and infinite messages of judgment and negativity about the way they look, speak, behave, and exist in their bodies. If you are a woman, you are never good enough. Photoshop, celebrity culture, fashion, fitness, magazines, and media all compare, scrutinize, and attack your appearance and body every day.
But even worse than those messages is the fact that we eventually internalize them so they become our own personal truths. We continue the comparison, scrutiny, and attacks on ourselves in an effort to “not be stuck-up,” or to “stay motivated” to improve ourselves. Self-judgment shows “humility.”
We’re encouraged to spend our entire lives practicing shame and self-loathing.
With that kind of practice in self-judgment under our belts, it’s no surprise how readily we believe untrue and awful things about ourselves. Most women see themselves in such a hyperbolically negative light that their thinking is referred to as “cognitive distortion.” Cognitive distortions are created by reinforcing certain thinking patterns, like polarized (“black and white”) thinking, filtering, blaming, and using “shoulds.” Thanks to years and decades of using distorted thinking patterns to grease self-hating neural pathways in our brains, the images that most women have of themselves are dramatically inaccurate.
While distorted thinking patterns can apply to anything in our lives and brains, nowhere is this distortion more prominent than in relationship to our bodies and appearances. When a woman sees herself as ugly, fat, stupid, bad, unlikeable, incompetent, or unworthy, what she’s seeing isn’t the truth; it’s just the cognitive distortion she’s been practicing and refining her whole life.
That’s the key, though: Your self-image is the product of practice and refinement. It’s not something you’re stuck with.
It’s something you’re constantly creating. It’s based on what you train your mind to pay attention to, what you do and say, and how you choose to receive information about yourself. This means that your negative self-image, though encouraged at every turn, is something that you are actually doing to yourself. Surviving it requires Radical Vanity.
Radical Vanity is the practice of refusing to participate in your old self-critical behaviors and thought patterns, and replacing them instead with behaviors and thought patterns that create an upward spiral of self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-admiration.
You’ve been practicing your old self-image for a long time, so it won’t change overnight. Your old self-image required a huge amount of support, creativity, and practice, and your new one will too. Like your old self-image, it has to become something you actively do.
Consistently practicing Radical Vanity will help you create that upward spiral in the following three ways:
By interrupting and challenging the negative distortion to which you have become so accustomed, you create dissonance in your brain’s neural patterns. This leaves you an opening in which to create a new pattern of thinking and behaving. A quick example of cognitive dissonance is looking at yourself in the mirror. Although, typically, your eyes might search out the parts of your body that you don't like so that you can scrutinize them, instead, now you consciously look for things you like about your body. By needing to search for what you like in order to complete that task, you've interrupted your brain's pattern, and offered yourself a chance to build a new one—a nicer one.
By consciously choosing to speak positively about yourself, both to yourself and in front of others, you feed your brain positive messaging about you and your body. At first, you may not believe all of the nice things you say about yourself, and the self-love may feel forced or phony. But, over time, when weeks or months have passed since you last said something mean and hurtful about yourself, those old messages will start to fade away, while the new, positive messages will change from sounding fake to sounding plausible. Eventually, they will ring true.
Behaving like you're not afraid to love yourself will automatically shift the energy around you, in turn affecting the people around you. By refusing to tolerate or bond over body bashing or self-criticism, you will fade out the people in your life who are stuck in that kind of behavior, while positively influencing and attracting others. As you make room for people who have other things to talk about and other ways of looking at things, you will notice that your rigid attachment to those old habits start to soften, and it becomes much easier to take on the new habits.
Refuse to say anything negative or self-critical about your body, your face, or your accomplishments. Not one word. Take a vow of silence on bashing yourself, and see what changes. Trust me, a lot will change.
Refuse to say anything negative or critical about anyone else’s body, face, or accomplishments. If you want to get to a place of accepting and loving yourself as you are, you need to also learn to accept and love others as they are. Interrupt your brain’s habit of searching for stuff to criticize; not just about yourself, but also about everyone and everything.
Stop spending your time, energy, and attention on stuff that makes you feel worse about yourself. This includes any media, magazines, friendships, relationships, social media, hobbies, and literally anything else that doesn’t leave you feeling good about yourself. If it makes you doubt yourself, compare yourself, or see yourself in a negative light, stop making room for it in your life. Your energy and attention are finite, and where you spend them will determine your life.
Re-frame how you think about your body. There’s literally nothing you can't re-frame to include Radical Vanity. Every time you decide to stop telling yourself a negative story about something, and find a way to tell a positive story instead, you’re re-framing your thoughts for the better.
For example, I used to think that the dimply cellulite on my thighs was gross and embarrassing, because that's the story everyone I knew agreed to. But then I stopped agreeing to that story, and I started calling my cellulite “fancy fat.” I did that by really examining the agreement we had all made that dimples are gross and embarrassing. But why? Cellulite isn't unhealthy, or even a sign of poor fitness or high body-fat percentage. It's a natural part of how women are built, and I refuse to believe that anything about how I'm naturally built (and can't change!) is a problem. So I started reconsidering it, and realized that cellulite is actually quite healthy, feminine, and pretty.
Practicing Radical Vanity will look different for each person, but it always involves consciously seeking out the people, places, and things which help support your own upward spiral of epic, relentless self-love. It will also probably require that you think outside the box of what you thought was possible, getting creative with the way you look at things, choosing to interrupt your old mental patterns, finding sustainable ways to adjust your behaviors, and practicing, practicing, practicing.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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