Caira Lee on Self-Love

When you hear the phrase “self-love,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? How do you feel when thinking about this? What makes you want to practice self-love? What makes you feel like you can’t practice it enough?

In February 2015, national-award winning performance poet and author, Caira Lee, stood in front of a large crowd as she delivered a speech at Shaker Heights High School (SHHS). She opened the speech with a live performance, standing and delivering one of her poems to the audience. In this poem, she states what she would say to her fifteen-year-old self.

“I really have a lot of respect for you. ‘Cause time waits for no colored girl.” 

As an adult, Lee now finds loving herself, as a woman of color, one of the hardest, yet simplest of tasks and she gives all the credit to her own religious practice of “radical self love.” She asked “What is radical self-love?” and explains that it’s when an individual comes to realize that the body and its flaws are assets that don’t need fixing and are advantages that one should build their life around and gain from. To Lee, it means:

“Looking in the mirror once a week and saying, ‘I am the most important person in the world, to me. I accept that person. I admire that person. And I will do everything in my power to see that person’s dreams come true.” 

While the concept of “loving oneself” seems simple enough to grasp, it isn’t. Because we are systematically taught to dislike ourselves, to believe that we aren’t able to acquire anything and everything we wish to have – through the practice of vigorous work and repetition, and, as a person of color, it’s quite common to grow up in environments where one isn’t pushed to believe in their own positive mindset and kind self-talk.

In our world today, there are more and more people being told to believe in themselves, however there are less people actually doing so. In order for one to believe that they can achieve all that they dream of achieving… they must know that they are good enough. You, as the reader, must know that you are good enough. Your voice matters, your life matters, and you will, always, be enough.

“When you look the world in the face like you have a right to be here, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world. And they will call you egotistical but it is a lie and they are wrong.”

You are able to work, to attend college, to live a satisfying life. You are fully capable of performing at your best and obtaining your deepest desires. And if you are a student… you are able to take a moment to yourself, recollect yourself, cross off a few goals, write a few new ones, and so much more. According to Lee, self-love is “more important than any limitation that the administration can put on you” and when you aren’t fully loving yourself you are, in fact, failing at life.

Towards the end of her speech, Lee gives the audience an advance on what they can do to fully “reap the fruits” of embracing radical self-love:

1. What’s your thang?” 

Find what calls you, what pulls you in, what makes you feel alive, content, and in control… and pursue it.

2. “If you’re black, know your history.” 

This is crucial. Especially now. Discussions concerning and revolving around race are becoming more and more common in public spaces. And, it’s important to have a firm grip on who you are and where you came from. Not everyone knows about their roots. And that’s okay. But, at least, research, read about, and participate in discussions and activities that push you to learn more about yourself and discover important characteristics relating to your own individual struggle.

“Your blackness is what the [United States] has and will continue to misconstrue in order to get you to dislike yourself… and that’s real. You need to know that there’s another way of being in the world, alternative ways of living other than the way you’ve been living. And if you study black history you will know that.” 

We all struggle. But not everyone struggles the same. Know your history. Especially if you are a person of color – and no matter which group you choose to identify with.

3. “Police the people in your head.”

Acquiring a new mind-set is nearly impossible. However, it is quite possible to develop positive thoughts through the practice of daily mantras and regimes. Not every thought you have is genuinely yours. As humans we read, write, listen to music, and so much more. We’re constantly hearing words and phrases and settling on the ones that sound best to us. A key to policing the “people,” loud voices, or negative self-talk in your head is by replacing negative words and concerns with positive ones, repeatedly, and engaging in timed meditations. All as a committed practice.

4. “Give self-love to others.” 

Promote others to do what they want to do and tell someone they’re pretty. If someone seems to be having a hard time saying good things about themself, let them know how important it is for them to treat themselves as if they were their best friend. Tell them to be kind to themself. Tell them to actively pursure a loving relationship with every part of their being. According to Lee, “When you think highly of yourself, it really gets people into you.” Give self-love to others and create your own circle of positivity.

“Someone has to start it so, I’m here. And I will see you at the top.”

What are some ways you promote self-love? Share them below!

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