TIROC: Self Love vs. Self Acceptance

As we enter Black History Month and Valentine’s Day two themes come to mind as a woman of color, Love and Acceptance. Valentine’s Day is both beloved and hated for the pressure it puts on many to find, express and receive love. On the other hand, Black History Month, especially as a Black woman, conjures that driving need for being authentic and acceptance. For this TIROC blog I wanted to discuss something that often is confused as being the same but is in actuality very different.

Self-Love vs. Self-Acceptance

I have many examples of the differences between the two from my years taking ballet and hearing the hard truths of what that can mean being a Black girl in dance. I could talk about being short, and my disdain for Subway. I could talk about hair or skin color as they often can be subjects of trauma for those of us who are Black. However, instead of trying to illustrate this difference using trauma that is more deep seated and has very strong connections to race, we will talk about shoes.

What do shoes have to do with being trauma-informed?

I LOVE interesting shoes. The wilder the better. I have shoes that look like tacos, shoes with cartoon characters, designer brands like: Gucci, Louboutin, Tory Burch, Aquazzura, Jimmy Choo …etc (I have a collection). I have shoes that are intentionally mismatched that I saw Whoopi Goldberg wearing on The View and shoes that are soo tall they make me 5’4 (I am 4’10.5). My mother used to say as long as your head and your feet look good what’s going on in-between matters less. My father on the other hand, who had foot issues due to gout later in life, told me you can be cheap about many things but NEVER about your feet.

I internalized both of these truths, as shoes growing up for me were a struggle for a long time.

Now my parents were not rich, but I never wanted for anything…except in one area, shoes I liked. You see growing up I had a problem. My feet are short, wide, flat and with an under-developed heel. Let me explain what that means.

When my parents would try to buy me shoes, they encountered the following issues: If they went by my foot length the shoes often pinched on the sides, painfully to the point even just trying them on in the store would make me wince. If they went up a size to accommodate width my shoes would “talk” i.e. the heel of the shoe would clap the back of my foot so audibly loud you could hear me coming a block away. Shoes that did not have proper arch support hurt after an hour. Even with tennis shoes it was the same struggle.

Now my mother was familiar with foot struggles, as she wore the dainty size 4W shoe. A shoe size that relegated her to shopping in children’s departments if she wanted tennis shoes and getting imports from her friend, Ms. Vo who imported smaller shoe sizes from Asia and Italy for her shoe store. My mother and Ms. Vo worked my foot issue until they concluded that until my feet grew to adult sizes; I was forced to wear mostly one brand: Stride Rite.

I HATED STRIDE RITE! OMG, the shoes in the 1980s they made were revolting to me. I vividly recall a pair with what they called “ripple bottom” soles. Imagine patent leather Mary-janes and then stick hard rubber ice boot soles with spikey treads on the bottom of the shoe.  Now as an adult I would probably wear them with pride, as they were what you call so ugly, they were interesting shoes. I enjoy interesting. However, 1980’s Tiffany was not happy. I don’t know who was designing their shoes back then but if I EVER meet those people, I have words for them. I began to loathe Stride Rite, so much so, that when I had my own child that built up years of resentment meant I refused to buy her any shoes from them. If you gave me a pair of them right now the urge to toss them in the trash would be strong (same thing with Steve Madden but that’s a tale for a different time).

For years I hated buying shoes. Now buying shoes after I was 2 became solely a mom thing. My father loved being involved in buying clothes, the man wore a suit and fedora practically every day. However, shoes were not his thing. He, like me, had been stuck with one brand he could wear, British Knights. With his gout his big toes had to be drained often which meant when they would swell he needed shoes that offered toe space and would allow him to still be able to walk.

However, my feelings on shoes and my feet changed, in 4th grade. My mother was sick with pleurisy from a cold gone sideways so I had convinced my father to take me to buy shoes.  Now back then everyone in my neighborhood were into K-Swiss a big sea change from the Adidas shoes that had dominated my local shoe culture thanks to Run DMC.

I remember getting to the mall with my father and being excited. My foot was now a size 6 (the size I would stay at until I had my daughter - yep its true you can go up a shoe size when you get pregnant). Store after store I hunted for a pair of K-Swiss shoes I could wear, and I couldn’t find them. Either they were cut to narrow, they had so little arch support they hurt after I did the jump test or they fell off my heel. It was the same frustration I had had for years which forced me into Stride Rites followed by brands my friends never heard of.

Now let me be clear as a Black kid in an urban environment your shoe game was life or death (and sometimes sadly I mean that literally). Not having “a great shoe game” was social death regardless and there had been many times in which I had “figuratively died”.  I was so upset by the time we got to Foot Locker I wanted to cry.

My father then pulled me aside and asked me something that stuck with me that I remember it today. I was barefoot sitting on the bench staring at my feet annoyed. I was letting them air out because I had been trying on shoes for hours by then. He sat down beside me and asked me to describe my feet. I began to start listing off all the things that kept me out of the shoes of my dreams. He then silenced me and asked me to describe my feet not how they fit into my shoes

It was an odd way to think about it, but I was not a child who could not follow instructions, so I did. I talked about my toes which I felt had a nice cascading slope from big toe to pinky, it made them great when I pointed them which was often for dance. I told him about my toe-nails that naturally looked like I got pedicures back then because the pink was very pink and the white very white, so I never really needed to paint my nails if I put on sandals. I told him about how I liked the dexterity my toes had. I could write my name holding a pen with them (my dance instructor was very particular about toe dexterity) and how they were strong enough for me to do the beginning work for Pointe. My father nodded and uh huh-ed until I finished.

Then he said something I hadn’t yet realized. “So, you love your feet”.  I remember being taken aback. Of course, I didn’t love my stupid feet, they were keeping me out of shoes I wanted yet again. I began to protest, and he stopped me.

He then said what helped me understand the difference between self-love and self-acceptance. He told me that there will always be things we may not like about ourselves, but that also doesn’t me we can’t love those things too. Now the kid brain took a minute, but it clicked.

I LOVED my feet just as they were that was how I truly felt about them; they allowed me to do things I enjoyed. Nevertheless, I also needed to accept that my feet were different. While that difference made it harder for me to have everything I wanted (Jelly shoes, K-Swiss, Some Puma designs) it didn’t mean I had to feel bad about it. My foot issues were just that, issues that I needed to be patient with myself to adjust for.

Self-Acceptance is being able to objectively look at yourself without judgment attached. It is saying, “That is just how it is.”

Self-Love on the other hand is about how you feel, and care about yourself. It’s saying you love yourself and accept the you, you are (or maybe parts of the you, you are) no matter what others may say. This leads into Self-Care which is how you treat yourself.

Body Positivity is having a positive view of your body regardless of shape, size or other elements of physical appearance. This falls into Self-love.

Body Neutrality on the other hand is not always loving your body but focusing on abilities that body can perform and non-physical characteristics. This falls into Self-acceptance.

You see I had been so focused on my mother’s advice I had never considered combining it with my father’s. I was being cheap with myself. Not in a monetary sense (I have never really worn cheap shoes - you get what you pay for was also drilled in my head), but in a mental sense. I was so focused on trying to boost my esteem by looking like everyone else that I wasn’t accepting that it was ok to be different.

I went home with a pair of ripple side pink and green LA Gears that day. They had felt good on my feet. Sure, they were different than anything kids in my neighborhood were wearing but that was ok. What mattered was I bought shoes that fit well on my feet and that I thought were pretty.  I was the first kid in my neighborhood to wear them. Little did I know I was ahead of the trend. A few months later they were every where and all the kids at both school and home were wearing them. However, by then I had discovered Reebok and Nike, and that also my oddly shaped feet meant I could get the one-offs my local Footlocker got, rare shoes that they only bought a few pairs because they didn’t fit most folks.

Thus began my shoe obsession.

Now look, I’m not saying I still don’t struggle with buying shoes. I have a pair of gladiator boots my husband spent too much on as a gift for our anniversary last year I can’t wear. My calves from years of dance, cheer, weightlifting and walking double time to keep up with you taller folks have made them overly muscular. I can’t zip those bad boys up fully. It’s frustrating, but I accept that years of hard work resulted in legs that allow me to squat 200lbs easily and I like having strong legs. Nevertheless, it also means I am not able to buy boots that aren’t wide leg. It means I can’t always have the things I want.  And that is OK because my body is just that, my body. I don’t need to love everything about it, but it doesn’t mean I hate it either. I am body neutral and besides that is what boot extenders are for.

What That Means for You

There may be things about yourself you don’t like. Maybe it’s your hair, your weight, your teeth, your laugh, how your eye lids twitch, honestly doesn’t matter. I want to change what my father used to say about feet and apply that to everything. “You can be cheap about many things but never on how you feel about yourself.” You don’t have to be in love with everything about yourself, but you should acknowledge the things you do like. You don’t have to be hard on yourself for every short-coming and sometimes things are just how they are. Its not about being perfect but being authentically you.  Be kind to yourself.

I hope you were able to complete the TIROC survey as it helps us better understand what we as an institution need to do to be Trauma Informed and Resilience Oriented. Also please look out for this months TIROC nuggets as we will focus more on how we think and view ourselves.

To Learn More

 Body Positive Power: Because Life Is Already Happening and You Don't Need Flat Abs to Live It, book cover
The Self-love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, book cover
A Body to Love: Cultivate Community, Body Positivity, and Self-love in the Age of Social Media, book cover
The Body Is Not An Apology: the Power of Radical Self-love, book cover