A quick google search of the words “self-acceptance” yields countless results, ranging from articles covering the importance of loving yourself no matter what, to step-by-step listicles that show readers just how to achieve self-love. And for those of us who’ve suffered from low self-esteem and anxiety issues (yes, I’m talking about myself), the thought of genuinely liking ourselves is an attractive one.
So it’s not surprising that a push for self-acceptance has grown immensely over the past 20 years, encouraging women around the world to love themselves, their bodies, and their unique traits. And while I do think it’s incredibly important that we embrace and appreciate the qualities, physical or otherwise, that are exclusive to us, I’ve noticed that the modern self-acceptance movement stops there — and more often than not, it pushes the harmful narrative that we’re perfect just as we are, that we need not seek to improve a single thing about ourselves, because we’re faultless.
We’re Not Perfect Just the Way We Are
We’ve come to interpret “self-acceptance” as meaning total approval of oneself, but shouldn’t it go further than that? Shouldn’t we accept that we do have faults, and then work to improve ourselves? The most damaging thing about telling women we’re absolutely perfect the way we currently are is the fact that it’s wildly untrue, and it’s keeping us from bettering ourselves.
Shouldn’t we accept that we do have faults, and then work to improve ourselves?
I, for one, am far from perfect. I can and should become more patient, loving, driven, physically fit, well-read, and thoughtful about the food I consume, among so many other things. And it’s a good thing to recognize the faults that I can change. Acknowledging my shortcomings is not being unaccepting of myself — it’s just being realistic. Plus, why wouldn’t I want to enhance the best qualities I naturally have and diminish the unsavory ones?
Total Self-Acceptance Can Keep Us from Finding Love
Imagine a horribly sexist, rude, thoughtless, unmotivated man saying, “Well, I love who I am, so I don’t need to change.” I don’t think anyone would jump at the chance to be in a romantic relationship with such a man. We’d tell him he needs to take into account the needs and desires of a potential significant other, that his selfishness will keep him single forever, right? So what makes women think it’s any different for us? We assert that men with unlikable qualities aren’t worth our time, so shouldn’t it go without saying that if we have undesirable traits that we make no effort to improve, we’re not “worth” dating either?
The truth is, it’s incredibly self-centered to believe that we deserve to be loved by someone exactly as we are, especially when we ourselves wouldn’t even do that. Investing in the betterment of ourselves, doing the best with what we have, is what makes someone relationship material — not just existing.
It’s incredibly self-centered to believe that we deserve to be loved by someone exactly as we are.
This obviously isn’t to say we should obsess over our flaws; rather, observe them, discern whether or not this is a flaw that’s holding us back, and work with what we have. We can’t change our body type, but we can do exercises that help target certain areas. We can’t erase the trauma we might carry from our upbringing, but we can decide that our trauma won’t rule our life. We can’t exchange our innate personality for another, but we can build into the best traits we naturally possess.
I think self-acceptance can be wonderfully healthy, but only if it’s coupled with honesty and self-improvement. Our tendency as humans is to look for the easiest, most comfortable route, but that’s not always our best option. In the end, self-acceptance needs to be about accepting what we have to work on, rather than just liking everything about ourselves — because nobody wants to date someone who doesn’t want to improve themselves.