Very often when I’m talking to friends about love and relationships, I hear repeatedly that in order for things to be successful, I have to love myself first. I never quite understand what this means, but it is because I hear these conversations so often that the idea of loving myself before anyone is able to love me, has become the norm. It wasn’t until I learned about capitalism and how it no longer is just an economic system but also a societal issue that I understood that we are privatizing love. Applying worth to love is dangerous as it rehearses the violence of capitalism. In the capitalist imagination, we are worth only the amount and quality of the labor we can produce. Capitalist thinking is rooted deep within our lives and unfortunately, our perception of love has suffered the consequences.
When I look at both the mainstream body-positive movement and the very broad conversations of self-love, I notice that the language that is used to encourage marginalized communities to love ourselves is extremely similar to conversations that happen at Wall Street or inside a bank. Unknowingly, we use words and phrases like, “You are ‘worth’ a lot more than that,” or “In order for things to ‘work’ you have to ‘work’ more on yourself. The terms we choose to encourage each other to love ourselves more “radically” looks a lot like the systems we say we are committed to ending.
I particularly remember what I thought was my first love. I remember being so distraught by the heartbreak that I called out of work for a couple days and I cried and listened to songs that reminded me of him. I recall my friends trying to console me with encouraging words (this is not an effort to hold them accountable), but sometimes I felt worse after hanging out with them. There were politics as to why he and I were no longer together. There was a lot more to the dynamics of the relationship than me not loving myself enough, this was something that I did not know how to explain at the time.
“We are meant to be loved simply because we exist. We are meant to be loved by ourselves, by our friends, by lovers, by family, completely free from the belief that love has limits.”
What a lot of the people that promote body positivity or self-love are failing to understand is that love does not exist in consistency with capitalism. Love does not have a price. You cannot buy love, it does not come in limited quantities and I should not have to “work” in order to feel loved – in fact, I don’t want to work on myself at all. I don’t want to feel like I am the problem anymore. What we are forgetting is that there are entire power structures that exist solely to assure that people like myself cannot love ourselves at all.
I see the effects of this through the lens of a queer brown man. Growing up, I was taught to believe that to be taken seriously, my masculinity had to be traditional like that of my father – this can be an entirely different subject, I know, but it is important to remember that we mean more than the performance of anything. We are meant to be loved simply because we exist. We are meant to be loved by ourselves, by our friends, by lovers, by family, completely free from the belief that love has limits. Love is never-ending, it does not understand privatization, it does not understand borders.
I am not the only person writing about this nor am I an expert on love, but may this serve as a reminder that we must reject the concept that in order to love our bodies and ourselves labor is required. Remember that in order to abolish or replace capitalism, we have to live free from the notions that there is a cost to the abundance and beauty of love. Remember that you do not owe anyone the act of loving yourself. Some days, you will love yourself more than others, this is okay. Our journeys towards self-love are not a debt to anyone. This is why it is important to be critical of movements that promote self-love because way too many times an inadequate amount of people are never talked about.
I am here for the people that are learning and unlearning that they are meant to thrive not because they are expected to or because “woke” people only deem you capable if you’re working on yourself. I am here for the chubby, queer brown boys that do not know how to even begin loving themselves.
You’re fine. Keep going. We are going to win.
David Carbajal Torres is a public health worker and activist, he lives, works and parties in Santa Ana, California.