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My Journey to Self-Love

By Sarah Baek

Graphic by Helena Kim

Maybe it’s a Gen Z thing, but the idea of “taking care of myself” was really unfamiliar to me. Nobody really taught me what it meant to be nice to myself, to take off some pressure during exam seasons, and most importantly, to take care of myself. Maybe this is something that we should figure out by ourselves throughout the years of puberty to become a real adult; however, it still feels as distant as theories of black holes.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought that taking care of myself had to be something extravagant. I’ve often seen social media influencers spending thousands of dollars at once on luxury items or filming clothing hauls that were basically the size of my whole entire closet. Seeing teenagers my age having the privilege to do so made me pity myself.

And it wasn't just influencers with millions of followers or subscribers — seeing photos of friends having the time of their lives while I spent most of my hours each day studying for exams also had a similar effect. Sadly, our teenage brains are very vulnerable and continually soak up the photos that keep popping up in our feed, no matter how badly they make us feel. Personally, they lead me on an endless chain of thoughts from something like, “I envy them so much,” to “They’re so lucky,” to “Will I ever be able to do this?” and finally, the worst: “Why am I like this?”

I recently realized, though, that if I constantly neglect taking care of myself — and simply assume I will feel better in the morning or feel dissatisfied at the lack of extravagance — then I will never learn how to take care of myself. Learning how to care for ourselves is the first and possibly easiest step we can take to achieve self-love. As my parents said, “you will never be free of hardships or stress, so be happy now and take care of yourself now.”

As a high school student, I need to excel in my exams to get into university, and once I’m there, I will have to work my butt off to graduate. Unfortunately, that’s where it gets even harder, since I need to pay off my student loans, get a job, and actually make a living. Hence, I’ve reached the conclusion that taking care of myself needs to start now. Today will probably be the “easiest” day I’ll ever live in the next 40 years or so.

In my experience, taking care of myself looks quite different from something you might have seen on the internet. At times, it may seem contradictory. The overarching rule of looking after myself, though, is to always keep the promises I’ve made with myself, the most important of which involves working hard and efficiently. I strongly believe that working hard is the minimum standard of self-respect. In addition, setting objective goals for myself is important, but so is acknowledging that I as a human being will ultimately burn out and cannot constantly stay motivated. Hence, I recommend you to reward yourself often with things that make you breathe again!

The second overarching rule I set for taking care of myself is setting boundaries and guidelines. In the past, I’ve set so many rules and restrictions that basically sapped all of my energy. Instead, if I operate within certain defined boundaries, then it gives me the freedom to care about more than just my academics. Personally, my boundaries include but are not limited to eating at least one healthy meal a day, working out three times a week, and not studying more than 10 hours a day.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned on every level that each individual is mentally, physically, intellectually, and socially very different. This is why we can’t always say yes to all the self-care routines we see on the internet. I’ve tried so many, but they only worked for a few days. Although it took me some years to find a routine that worked for me, it was more than a worthy journey that I am looking forward to solidifying in the coming years.

On days that I am feeling down, I tell my parents that I will leave home ten minutes early to get to my academy. On busy mornings, even these few extra moments make a significant difference. Not only do I not have to sprint to catch the subway but I also get to admire the sky, enjoy the trees, take some photos, and enjoy the morning! This little bit of relaxation can be a breath of fresh air when you’re feeling trapped and lethargic.

Some will say I am a weirdo, but this has worked for me, so you should find something that really speaks to your soul. Also, on a daily basis, I’ve learned to eat healthier alternatives for food cravings that I have so that I don’t stress-eat, which I think is my most effective way of taking care of myself. I’d eat oatmeal cookies instead of white sugar cookies, or drink almond milk instead of sugary drinks. Looking for and appreciating small things is so much mentally and physically healthier than only considering big and rare events as happy or good moments of our lives.

Finally, I want to emphasize that life will always be stressful and demanding. However, as much as I regret not being kind to myself in the past, I genuinely hope that young girls and teenagers find their own ways to smile, to look after themselves, and to enjoy the sky and the flowers on their journey to loving themselves.

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