In our modern society, wanting to change for the better is a normal and accepted modus operandi for many of us. Magazine covers show us what we're supposed to look like, advertisements tell us how much weight we should lose, and movie stars demonstrate the lives we would have if only we were as charming and successful as they are. While wanting to improve ourselves is often a good motivator, can't it also be a trap?
So sure, striving for more can be okay. We can strive for more money, more acceptance, more love, more sex, better nutrition, and improved fitness. Our goals and aspirations—if healthy and non-obsessive—can lead us to many enhancements and improvements to our life or circumstance. And working towards enhanced self-love can be a very positive aspect of personal growth.
If we acknowledge that we're overweight and we strive to reach a goal of weight loss and increased fitness and wellness, that could have a lasting and profound effect on our lifestyle, our relationships, our career, and even our longevity. These goals can be very healthy indeed, and those of us who achieve them can feel really good about ourselves.
Striving as a Negative Force
If we base our longings and striving to be different on images from the media, what people tell us we "should" be doing, or on wounds that we've incurred from parents, teachers, or others who have shamed us, then our striving for improvement or perfection can be a negative force.
The conditions of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are two examples, wherein an individual may develop such intense self-hatred and self-loathing that they will literally starve themselves to death in order to achieve a weight or body type that they hope will make them feel better, receive more love, or otherwise counteract the loathing and bad feelings they harbor for themselves deep inside. Their self-hatred may have resulted from some form of abuse, or perhaps from some other cause, but that earnest yet misguided goal of achieving a body shape that will gain them something they don't already possess can be a powerful demon that is difficult to shake off.
Self-acceptance is a very healthy thing to strive for, and I've added the term "radical" in order to drive home the notion that self-acceptance can itself be a radical act in the face of the pressures imposed by 21st-century society and values.
Radically accepting yourself means acknowledging the ways in which you want to change or grow, but also accepting yourself fully, including all of your foibles, warts, fat, pimples, lack of experience, or low income. It means using self-love to overcome self-hatred, and to ward off the pressures of the wider culture by maintaining unconditional love for yourself, no matter what.
Yes, it may behoove you to lose weight, get new glasses, finish your GED, or learn a new skill so that you can earn more than minimum wage, but that doesn't mean you still can't choose to love yourself before those goals are accomplished.
Radical self-acceptance is the difference between saying, "I'll really love myself when I weigh 120 pounds and fit into my old jeans", and "I love myself as I am, and I'll be proud of myself if I can manage to lose 20 pounds. But even if I lose only 2 pounds, I'll still love myself just as much."
We can change and improve, but our level of self-love should not necessarily be based on how much we achieve, especially if those are measurements imposed upon us by others, or by society as a whole. We are more likely to achieve the most if we support ourselves with what I like to call radical self-acceptance.
Can you accept yourself just as you are, right now in this moment, without changing a single thing? If you can, that is certainly a radical act that is itself wholly worth striving for.