Last week, an article called “‘Positive Attitude’ Bullshit: On The Dangers Of ‘Radical Self Love’” was published, and it really made me feel bad. It focuses on figures like Oprah Winfrey, and one of my personal heroes, Gala Darling, who preach self-love to the masses. The idea is that thinking positively isn’t something that gets you anywhere, and putting on a sparkly dress and pink lipstick isn’t going to change any real issues like poverty, police brutality, or misogyny.
The article is a giant over-simplification of what self-love is, and comes from a very cynical standpoint. Comments circulating about the article touch on how having an optimistic attitude isn’t going to “fix” your depression, and it all just makes me sad.
First of all, self-love is all encompassing, and is way more broad and intense than this article makes it out to be. Secondly, I have a long history with mental illness, including four diagnoses and am no stranger to self-mutilation or suicide plans, but I can honestly say that thinking positively, keeping a gratitude journal, and embracing my inner child HAS changed my life.
You know what else changed my life? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I went to weekly appointments every week for six months, and it was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That half a year was full of assignments and self-reflection that made me bawl my eyes out and feel terrible for very long periods every day. But you know why I did it? Because I love myself. I loved myself to dive deeper into the issues, to do something difficult that I knew was going to help me. THAT is part of self-love.
Do I have more shoes with glitter on them than not? Do I have googly eyes on my person at all times? Yeah, I do. But that doesn’t take away from anything else. I don’t think that by wearing a fake mustache I’m going to fix society’s problems, and I don’t claim that’s the case (and neither does Gala Darling). But guess what? Going around with a negative attitude about everything is not helping anything.
I can wear a tutu to a protest. I can dance in the street in between takes on a video I’m making to draw attention to street harassment. Being silly in frivolous outfits and activities is not mutually exclusive from focusing on issues in the world. If you’re positive, you’re more likely to be inspired to go out and actually make a change! Focusing on the good is a skill, not something that demonstrates a lack of intelligence or naivety.
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The article touches on how if Gala was truly interested in providing self-help to women across the globe she wouldn’t price things so high, and that I can actually get on board with. I’d say that most people (especially those more likely to be in need) don’t have $200 to drop on an online course. Obviously Gala Darling (and myself) have to make a living from these products we create, but I understand the author’s point on that one.
I realize my privilege in life. Despite being fat, mentally ill, and a woman I have it pretty great. I’m white and grew up in a middle class home with two parents until I was a teenager. On paper, that’s a pretty blessed situation. I’m extremely aware of the socio-economic discrepancies in America and across the world, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to provide solutions to people who might find them useful. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t do that and advocate for better conditions for all at the same time.
If you read my blog, Gala’s blog, or Oprah’s magazine, and don’t identify with what’s being said then ex out of your browser or throw the magazine away! No one is forcing you to read it, or even do the things we suggest. I simply want to remind you that you are already beautiful as-is, and don’t need to change your beliefs for anyone, including me. If you think I’m full of bullshit, feel free to move on, but there’s no need to talk shit.
You can absolutely disrupt social norms and challenge political constructs while being positive and practicing self-love. Don’t think you need to make a choice on whether you should have an optimistic attitude or a strong intellect. You don’t need to decide if you can own sequins or change the world. You can do it all, gorgeous.