As a seasoned sologamist, I’ve become so well versed in the language of self love that I often forget how abstract it can seem to some. It’s become a bit of a buzz word, with various brands jumping on the wagon, peddling pamper products and wellbeing breaks. Now, I like a spa treatment as much as the next gal but, for me, self care is about much more than treating yourself to life’s luxuries; it’s an ongoing journey that is not always indulgent.
The way I see it, self love is about self awareness – paying attention to your deep down responses to the environment and people around you. It’s about self acceptance – knowing that you will keep making mistakes because you are human, and it’s about self compassion – because kindness should start with you.
I’ve done a bunch of interviews and talks on this subject and it’s so rewarding when people get it. Once you start digging into what a positive force it can be, the conversation gets really interesting. The one thing that bothers me, though, is that the audience is largely female.
This stands to reason I suppose. Women are good at love, right? Hearts, roses, cuddles, romcoms – they’ve got it nailed. From girlhood, women are conditioned to recognise and talk about their soft and gooey feelings. After all, they are positioned as society’s primary care givers, so they need to be fluent in emotions when they look after others. The idea that they should actually focus some of that loving attention on themselves is, of course, a welcome one; strung-out mothers embrace the idea of ‘me time’, mistreated girlfriends realise they might actually be happier on their own, terminal agony aunts feel liberated as they ditch toxic friendships. Taking back some of your own precious energy for yourself can feel incredibly empowering.
Which is why I got to thinking – surely men need to master this self love stuff too. In fact, they probably need it even more than women. They may not be expected to be care givers but they have their own cultural pressures to deal with. They’re supposed to be the breadwinners, the main providers. They’re supposed to cope with all of life’s curve balls without so much as a whimper. The same playground us girls are learning to talk about feelings, our boys are learning to shut them down. God forbid they show signs of vulnerability or any ‘girly’ traits.
This may sound as old-fashioned as hell and, yes, I know gender is just a cultural construct, but these outdated and unhealthy stereotypes prevail – fact. And when I really start thinking about the repercussions of years upon years of emotional suppression that men are more prone to, it’s actually quite terrifying. Because failing to acknowledge negative and complex feelings and burying them deep down inside, can lead to ingrained shame, isolation and even self loathing.
And could this, perhaps, go some way to explain the awful situation in Britain today, where suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45? Where, in 2015, 75% of all UK suicides were male? It seems that young men suffering from poor mental health today are simply unable to cope with it by themselves. They don’t necessarily want to die but they cannot see a way to continue living with their own vulnerability. Because, when you take away the bants and the swagger, many of these troubled men have never managed to move past the fears they swallowed as boys.
It is time we start asking some tough questions about what society expects of men and what they expect from themselves. As a feminist who believes in gender equality, I think we need to go in hard on these ridiculous stereotypes where men are strong and always in control and women are weak and overly emotional.
And so, we invited six brave men to talk at the BelongCon event in Aug 2019, Raw Masculinity – Jake Tyler, Bradley Wescott, Lucan Barton, Ben Hammond, Robert Potter and Guy Lloyd. They shared their personal stories of enduring suffering and distress; from addiction to depression to self-sabotage, they spoke about how they hit rock bottom and cracked open their wall of silence. The room held its breath as our speakers discussed the powerful transformation that occurred when they faced themselves head on and finally admitted that they needed help.
I am used to seeing men dominate the conversation in a room full of people but I have never seen this many men talk so openly about their state of mind. Needless to say, the Q&A at the end could have gone on for the whole night; here was a rare space, a twilight zone where men and women saw each other mirrored. Rather than difference we found similarity.
I was shocked at how unusual it was to witness. And I am SO ready for it to happen again. It has made me realise that I was right to question the absence of men in the dialogue around self love – or self care, self management, self help – whatever you want to call it. Our mental health is a fragile, fluid reality and it needs constant love and attention. Sometimes we need to open up and examine what is sensitive and sore, bleeding and raw – it might hurt but it is the first stage of healing.
Big shout out to Beyond Retro for being our venue partner for this important event.