A few days ago, I looked in the mirror and flinched. I was exhausted, with no makeup, my hair in a ragged mess, and wearing a sweatshirt which should have been retired from service at least ten years earlier. Not my best look.
And the thing is, I have pretty tops that fit me. I know how to wear my hair so that it looks awesome and stays up and out of my way during the day. I've long known that failing to pencil in my eyebrows makes me look like Grima Wormtongue and that I look infinitely cuter with a little lipstick. And I could have taken a nap earlier in the day, but instead found myself doom-scrolling through Twitter.
None of those things take a particularly long amount of time or a strenuous amount of effort. I'm excruciatingly aware of that when I make the choice in the morning to walk away without doing them. I know that it is going to hurt when I catch a glimpse of myself later in the day. I know that I feel better when I take the time to pick out a cute pair of earrings. Blame my internalized misogyny or patriarchal oppression if you wish, but it's the truth. When I think I look nice, I feel better and more confident.
Which brings me to the question: why do I find it so hard to make that effort?
I suspect I'm not the only person who experiences this. It's something I've often heard among my friends and there's a reason why self-care is at the top of most self-help lists.
One of the things I hear in my head is that there's no point in making an effort because it's not like I'm going to see anyone. And yet, that's not true. At a minimum, I'm going to see myself. And taking care of myself isn't about living up to someone else's opinion of how I should look (I have hit the "you have obviously mistaken me for someone who gave a fuck about your opinion" stage of my life).
The easy answer is that it's a form of self-punishment, which is something I am sadly far too familiar with. I've rarely been a good friend to myself. If anyone spoke about one of my friends in the way I speak about myself in my head, I would kick their butt immediately. I've often blamed myself for circumstances that were out of my control. But that's too easy and, in a way, it's furthering the self-punishment: you're not doing it because you're not good enough to be worth it.
The slightly more compassionate answer is that 2020 has been a terrifying hellscape of a year and my energies have been going toward survival for myself and my family. And that would be a very simple answer to accept. After all, I'm not the only one embracing the sweatpants as workwear dynamic. But it doesn't ring true for me. I struggled with these issues long before COVID reared it's ugly microscopic head.
Maybe it's a society thing. Our society praises self-denial a lot. We admire those who deny themselves simple pleasures (creating the awful and overused trope of "pretty, skinny girl takes a bite of a donut and loses all control" that I despise). And yet, what is the actual value of self-denial? Where is the benefit in living a life where a person is, at a minimum, mildly unhappy most of the time? Where a great deal of their effort goes into saying no to the things that bring them pleasure?
A lot of studies have shown that willpower is a finite resource. The more a person denies themselves, the harder it is to deny themselves the next time. Yet it is also difficult to take care of oneself, to say yes to oneself.
Maybe that's where it needs to start. With just one yes. Just one: I'll do this because it makes me feel happy.