We Asked Real Women What Self-Love Truly Means and This Is What They Said

The topic of self-love is everywhere these days, and for good reason.

But while we can read endless suggestions of cozy nights in and listen to motivating podcasts by some of our culture’s finest creative minds, sometimes you just need to hear from those who are right in it with you. Real women, real stories and real voices to speak into the mirror in the moments when you need it most.

We think February is precisely such a time. Sure, it’s Valentine’s Day and “love” is in the air, but it’s also right about when the winter months turn colder and self-confidence, for whatever reason, can easily start to wane. That’s why we asked women from a range of ages, backgrounds and life experiences to define self-love and the below is what they said.

Consider this a collective Valentine for every day of the year.

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“To me, self-love means true acceptance of who I am, who I have been, and who I still wish to be.”

Katie, 71

“In the pursuit (and not the striving) of becoming a better daughter, wife, mother, friend—that’s where I found in myself a woman whom I genuinely loved.”

Brittany, 33

“Appreciating and embracing the parts of you that maybe you’re not crazy about, while also working to change those things IF YOU desire. I think that’s the big “if” – changing something about yourself for yourself is part of loving yourself; you can be motivated by self-improvement, taking on a challenge, overcoming obstacles, etc. Changing something about yourself for others feels like the opposite since you’re putting the opinions of others before your own feelings and desires.”

Anne, 44

“I think I define self love by the number of positive versus negative thoughts I have about myself in a day. Am I proactively loving who I am or listening to a different commentary all together? If the tally doesn’t come out in my favor I know I need to do more loving self talk the next day.”

Victoria, 37

“Self-love is the continual process of surrendering to and honoring the way God designed me.”

 Brittney, 26

“Treating yourself the way you would want others to treat you.”

Kenz, 26

“Self-love, to me, is respecting and unconditionally embracing every single incarnation of yourself – every age, every stage, every day, every hour. You might not always LIKE parts of yourself, but self-love is recognizing and honoring that we are constantly in flux and making decisions with our highest self in mind. Self-love is the truest form of unconditional love there is.”

Katie, 31

“I understand self-love to be the intentional care of our physical, mental, and emotional state. But it doesn’t end there—that self-love then allows us to be fully equipped in supporting, encouraging, and sustaining others. When we are at our personal best, that gives us the opportunity to be wholly present in our relationships.”

Leslie, 28

“Self-love is the ability to accept myself completely and truly embrace the characteristics that define me (both physical and mental), regardless of how others may perceive them.”

Kelsea, 26

“Rudy Francisco said ‘I’m still learning to love the parts of me that no one claps for.’ To me that has always been the definition of self-love, accepting and embracing yourself as you are that day even in all the ways that you are falling short of what you or others had hoped you would be.”

Colleen, 27

“Learning the balance between self awareness without an indulgence in insecurity. Affording time to listen to my body, my heart and my head. Learning, listening and giving–to me, to them, to us, to others.”

Katie, 26

“Building yourself up and never tearing yourself down; being honest with yourself; appreciating both areas where you glow and areas where you need to grow; embracing the person that your life journey has allowed you to become.”

Anna, 25

“At this point in my life, I believe self-love is giving power to all of one’s well-deserved positive affirmations, and finally putting negative, self-deprecating adolescent thoughts to rest.”

Kira, 24

“Gratitude for the person I became after many challenges and mistakes I made during my lifetime.”

Francesca, 73

“I define self-love as the radical decision to choose yourself over and over again, no matter the circumstances. Life will throw obstacles of all kinds in our paths, making it hard and at times perhaps even impossible to feel like we love ourselves. Self-love doesn’t mean we are swaddles in warm and fuzzy vibrations at all times. Self-love merely means choosing to do right by ourselves, that which serves our highest good, even when we don’t think we can or don’t want to.”

Stephanie, 28

“Understanding self-love is not selfish. That all your relationships (friends, family, romantic) will be stronger, more mutually joyful, and healthy if you are whole and kind to yourself. And if they are not better for it, that is not about you but a fault in that relationship.”

– Kelsey, 33

“I pause and softly preach to my heart, ‘You are doing the best you can.'”

– Christie, 27

“To me, self-love means being unapologetic about the things that make me happy.”

Kitty, 21

“Self-love is the act of creating time and space to nurture your interests and passions. Self-love allows us to refuel in ways that are unique to our individual personalities.”

– Rachel, 32

“Self-love is a reminder to your soul of its timeless value and a confidence felt by the unique power of your own skin.”

– Victoria, 23

“It’s choosing to show yourself grace over and over again, no matter how unworthy you may feel of it.”

Ashley, 23

“For me, it is knowing that my identity, security and worthiness come from God. When I know this, I can love myself and others.”

– Lauren, 29

“A grateful heart that accepts the whole of me in each season: my spirit, body and soul with all of its immense giftings.”

Michelle, 47

“It’s a plant, a grown and growing thing. And if the seed is good, the roots are cultivated, and the sunshine/rain come in good measures (like life. that’s life)…then the fruit is juicy and nourishing. The thing about plants, about growing things is this: they can’t spend a lot of time/energy looking inward. They just reach up and down, they wait and hope (at least I like to hope they hope), and then, there. They are ALL they were made to be. It’s love-ly. I’m over the “I’m-great-and-the-best-and-if-I say-it-loud-it’ll-be-true” schtick. Self-love at it’s best is not real mindful of self, but more about others. When given-love is reflected back, it’s a small leap to love the self who gave it in the first place. I want to do more of that.  I suppose that’s not a definition so much as it’s an attitude.

I am, as I like to say, on the young side of old. I maybe have a lot of attitude. Dare I love it?”

Linda, 63

“Self-love is accepting everything that makes you *you*. The scars, the bumps, and quirks, every bit of stunning humanity that is inside and outside of you.”

– Leslie, 26

“Valuing and sacrificing for the time you need to feel rested and centered.”

Katherine, 31

“Holding my strengths, failures, longings, and dreams close, and taking moments to reflect on how these all impact the woman I am becoming. But at the same time, remembering that I am enough and loved, just as I am, whether I am understood, noticed or accomplish anything.”

Kristin, 33

“I find self-love when I look back over these past four decades; the embarrassing outfits, the terrible advice I dished out, my brittle ego and desire to be different, a brunette who wanted to be blonde. The striving, the scraping by, my craftiness and eagerness. The years of working hard and wearing ill-fitting clothes, the years I spent breastfeeding and being awake and weary, the years of laundry. I love that woman! These former-selves collectively piece together who I am now. I see her in a different light (great boobs!) and have such an overwhelming compassion on my teenage self, my job-hunting self, my newlywed self, the young mother-me. I freely give grace to who I was. Self-love has got to be a little of this; of appreciating ourselves from a distance, glazed with a hazy memory, deep compassion, and a healthy dose of eye-rolling.”

Jennifer, 33

“Honor. Dignity. Knowing, really knowing, you hold value because of who you are rather than what you do, how you look, or who you know. Self love can grow if you make steady, small decisions about things like not picking apart what you see in the mirror, not comparing yourself to others, and choosing to deeply believe you are worthy of being loved with your flaws, wrinkles, scars, and mistakes. There’s no arriving, it’s more of a forward motion that brings increasing measures of peace and rest as the insanity and darkness of perfectionism and comparison falls away. It’s work. It’s a choice. And it’s worth it.”

Elizabeth, 50

“Taking the time to improve myself and enjoy the small pleasures of life. Guilt free.”

Elisa, 37

“I’m still figuring this out and know it’s an ever evolving process. At 28, I’d say self-love is about knowing yourself at the core and allowing yourself – appreciating the good qualities about yourself, getting pulled to what you truly want in your life, letting go of other activities without guilt, putting less pressure on being better and perceiving flaws. It’s more about inner appreciation than outer comparison. And so counter to what society had taught us – that we have to be perfect and mask the ‘bad’ qualities. I’ve found that those same perceived weaknesses were the exact ones that made me great when I saw these qualities in a different light. I’ve found tuning in to your own self briefly for a few minutes each day and ask what I need quite good.”

Emily, 28

“Naps and spinach. If I’m going to play hard and raise healthy babies and create from a place of abundance and generosity, then self-love means beautiful doses of sleep and restorative menus.”

Liz, 41

“Willing to be intimately acquainted with my greatest strengths and deepest weaknesses understanding there is One greater who knows them to an even higher and wider degree and loves me unconditionally.”

Robin, 59

“Self-love requires leaning in to ourselves with honesty, acceptance and forgiveness. It means exploring our vulnerability, nurturing our strengths, cultivating our spirit and creating intentional space(s) for all of that to happen. At its best, self-love results in the unabashed expression of our true self. It’s what happens when we dare to be our own light — and to continue to spark it.”

Valeria, 33

“Never apologizing for choosing what makes you happy over the happiness of others.”

– Zhrah, 18

“There is a toxic self-love that leads to self-centeredness, and there is a nontoxic version that recharges you. Positive self-love should involve rest and investing in your health holistically (body/mind/spirit) so that you can be an effective agent of love in your sphere of influence.”

– Sarey, 34

“For me, self-love is when I choose self-respect. Even when I do not love my body, my story, my circumstances – I choose respect as a bridge to self-love through my words, actions, and mindset.”

Rebecca, 46

“Accepting oneself fully, acknowledging shortcomings and areas to grow, while settling into the person you are today, here and now.”

Allison, 31

“Self love is first and foremost being rooted in your identity, value, and worth from the inside out. Grounded in the knowledge that you matter because of who you are not what you do, accomplish, the status you do or do not have, or your relationship status. The journey of learning to love yourself authentically begins here.”

Kat, 32

“It’s a deep knowledge that you are okay and deserving of love no matter what someone says to you or how they treat you or what kind of obstacles come your way. It’s a centering belief that you matter.”

Mary, 50

“Self-love evolves as we evolve. For me, opening up about postpartum anxiety to my community, and asking for help as a new mom felt like the most loving thing I could do for myself.”

Jessica, 34

“Seeking to understand who I am, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Then intentionally nurturing the healthiest and most content version of myself.”

Buki, 33

“Self-love is never doubting yourself, never quitting, and be open to all the opportunities that are presented to you – even the ones you don’t see right away.”

 Stefanie, 37

“Self-love is the ability to silence one’s inner critic (taking captive every shaming, demeaning, condescending, negative voice, feeling, &/or mindset), which releases one into a continually transformative love so deep & pure that she/he is able to function from a place of abundance & overflow.”

Liz, 32

“Acceptance. It’s about embracing your best self, inside and out, the beautiful and the ugly. It’s about showing yourself the same kind of love and affection you show others, because you wouldn’t judge or put down someone you care about, so don’t do it to the most important person; yourself.”

Diana, 28

“Self-love is acceptance that I am a work-in-progress. It lies in the Knowing that when I can see myself through others, and mirrored back to me…that is who I am; the mirror and the light….of Love.”

Iris, 68

“Having grace for yourself, treating yourself the way you would treat your closest friend, and giving yourself love and patience. Taking time to take care of yourself.”

Jessica, 31

“Free to be who you are with no shame.”

Judy, 55

“The moment you have with yourself where you encounter peace and choose to move forward in freedom.”

– Abigail Louise, 20

“I don’t know how I would define it, but it starts with valuing myself and my well being enough to actually pause long enough to ask myself where I am at and what it is that I need.”

Joelle, 31

“To me, self love definitely means an epsom salt bath and essential oil mud mask while reading Darling, but on a deeper level it is taking time to pause, examine my heart and, in reflecting, enrich my soul, cultivating growth, patience, and humility in my heart and relationships.”

Searcy, 31

“Mastering “self-like” seems harder than “self-love;” working towards speaking kindly to the girl in the mirror and quieting the incredibly unhelpful inner critic (who shows up at the most inconvenient possible times) are my attempts to foster more self-like in my life.”

Talitha, 32

“To me, self-love means offering gentleness and attention to my past, present, and becoming.”

Rebekah, 28

“Self-Love takes kind ownership of our full human experience and lays the foundation that we are already safe, complete and beautiful. No need to hide, change, strive in order to be valued. Self-love is the radical and mundane belief that infuses daily habits with value, presence, and the intention to enjoy oneself and one’s life as it is now. To really see and celebrate the unique delight of being alive as you, not someone else. It is a declaration of self-worth that demands to be heard but also is quiet in its rooting. It is often tied to self-care, a series of rituals that remind us time and time again in the cycle of a normal day that our habits matter because they reinforce presence in the moment and that keeps us close to our voice, to our spirit, to our purpose in each day. The side-effect of self-love is that it can nourish contentment and compassion, which allows competition, fear, anger, and other incomplete coping mechanisms to fall away, leaving a heightened awareness of the beauty of ourselves and others — both as we are now, and as we hope to be.”

Abby, 29

“Inhabiting every corner of your being and inviting it all to belong. Gentle presence, and generous belonging.”

Elizabeth, 27

“Self-love is giving yourself the same gentleness that you offer out — seeing yourself just as worthy of the attention you give everyone else. Showing up in the world with a determined mercy that transcends the loud fears of our internal realm.”

Kristi, 26

“Compassion towards and acceptance of who you are, have been, and will become.”

Rachel, 27

“Looking yourself in the mirror and memorizing how your eyes crinkle when you real-smile; being okay with not getting it right the first time around, and giving yourself permission to exist in wholeness and trueness and beauty, as you were made to.

And being good at making yourself laugh first.”

– Chantelle, 26

How do you define self-love?

Images via Marshall Cox

This post is brought to you by the Darling Team! To learn more about who we are, please visit our Meet Our Team page.

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