Self-love is a concept often batted around on social media, bubbling forth in a flurry of pomp, platitudes, memes, and hashtags. 

But what does that really even mean? And in this flashy new decade — 2020 — how can we collectively use it as a turning point, moving toward more acceptance of who we really are? It’s a tricky subject, and one that women (and yes men, too) of all backgrounds, colors, creeds, shapes, and sizes are forced to grapple with day in, day out. 

Since the dawn of civilization, people have been expected to adhere to certain “norms” or face ridicule.   

That’s not to say we aren’t making strides — we are. Twenty-five years ago, it would be unlikely that a plus-sized female rapper like Lizzo or Winnie Harlow, a model with the skin condition vitiligo, would grace the covers of fashion magazines. Today, they are. Many women with powerful platforms are breaking down barriers — loud and proud about who they are, what they look like, and most of all, what they represent. But it doesn’t take a celebrity with a hit Instagram account to inspire others. Local ladies do it every day. 

On a shimmering Sunday, a group of five exceptionally beautiful women gathered on Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. A stunning array of confidence and strength, they came packaged in a spectrum of shades, sizes, and shapes. Each of the women — aged mid-20s to early-60s — have left their marks on those around them, serving as pixies of positivity and inspirations in the business of self-love. 

Here are their experiences and advice on how to cultivate a sense of self-love in one’s own life: 

Jessica Bush

A 36-year-old mother, daughter, and sister, who shares the love of Zumba (and a positive body image) with students weekly at The Club on St. Simons Island. 

What’s been your greatest challenge in cultivating self-love? I think the main thing that made me self-conscious in life has just been the fact that I’ve always been really shy. I was in a lot of sports and activities, but for some reason I just hated being in front of people, and looking back now, worried about what everyone was thinking of me.

How did you overcome this? The thing that helped me overcome my shyness and really just be confident in who I am was beginning to teach fitness classes. It was a little scary in the beginning, just wondering if I was good enough to teach other women and wondering if they would actually like my classes, and even questioning if they would like me. 

After working through those beginning stages, I finally realized that I was there to help other women. I couldn’t worry if anyone liked me. I had to just do my best and be true to myself. People would see my passion and how much I care about them.

In your mind, what is beauty? Beauty is when I see someone come into their own, and completely unafraid to be who they are, and loving life fearlessly. Beauty is kindness. 

Why is it hard for women to feel as beautiful as they are? 

I think the self-love journey is difficult for women because there are a lot of social pressures to be perfect. I think as women, we compare ourselves a lot as well, but this does not do us any favors. 

What is your best  advice for others? One piece of advice I would give someone struggling with self-consciousness is to be the best version of yourself. Work on bettering yourself in a physical, emotional, and spiritual way. When I started loving my body for all the things it did for me and appreciated it more, I realized I could enjoy life more. I am not worrying about the negative things, but focusing on the positive things about myself — and finally loving myself and who I am today. 

Michelle Evors 

Michelle Evors is a 30-year-old hair stylist who underwent weight loss surgery, which she documented on social media. She works daily to combat social pressures with sass and a whole lot of humor.

What has made you self-conscious in life?

I’d like to reword the question to “who has made me self-conscious in life?” I could go on about how my weight was constantly brought up by my dad, as if I had no other worthy qualities and how it has affected me my entire life. I could, but I won’t ... because the answer is “me.” Until here recently, I’d been the one allowing myself to stay a victim, and to continue to see my weight as an unworthy flaw.

How did you overcome that?

I wouldn’t say I’ve completely overcome my issues with my weight. Even after losing 125 pounds, I’m still “fat” in the eyes of my inner child. It is a choice I make every day to see myself as more than the number on a scale or the size of my clothing. 

What is beauty to you?

Personally, I think authenticity is the most beautiful quality of any individual. Learning to accept your unique differences, inside and out, without looking at them as “flaws” is a great start. You are who you are. Be proud of who you’ve fought to become.

How do you love yourself and celebrate your beauty? Why do you think self-love is difficult for women?

Personally, I express myself by wearing what I want, how I want. Societal standards brainwash us as children into believing a (plus-size) woman should only wear certain styles of tops, bottoms, dresses, etc. I call bull. I fully intend to show you who I am, and whether or not you see what I see — which is total gorgeousness — isn’t my business.  

What advice would you give someone who’s struggling with self-consciousness?

Acknowledge you feel the way(s) you do, forgive yourself for allowing those thoughts to negatively effect how you view your mind/body, and create a healthier relationship with you.

Megan Manders 

Megan Manders, a 25-year-old yoga instructor, who helps students to find health, strength, and flexibility on and off the mat. 

 What has made you self-conscious in the past? When I was younger, I was self-conscious about how skinny I was. I began to love myself as I am. My body type is and always has looked the same. I’ve always played sports, exercised, and lived a healthy lifestyle, which has contributed to my size. 

What is beauty to you? Beauty can be many things. Beauty in people to me is being confident and comfortable in your own skin. The self-love journey is difficult for women because we live in a society that profits off of our insecurities. 

How do you love yourself and celebrate your beauty? I love myself by accepting myself, and taking care of my physical and mental health on a daily basis. I celebrate my beauty by being confident and embracing my imperfections. 

What advice you would give someone who is struggling with self-consciousness? Challenge negative thoughts and work on accepting yourself as you are.

Tina Kim-Brinkman 

Tina Kim-Brinkman, 60-something persistent optimist, dedicated to cultivating creativity, while still working on her headstand. 

What has made you self-conscious in life?

Self-consciousness is relative, right? What has always served to make me feel this way is to be treated differently, or as second-class, or not important. All things that are feelings women everywhere have had, although very different depending on their age, their color, their socio-economic state, or where they live. 

Can you recall a scenario where you overcame the issue and came into your own?

My reality is that when I have a few extra pounds (because baking!) I am self-conscious. The other side of that is the pride of saying, “hey — have you been blessed with my cooking?” I think that being self-conscious looks different in the seasons of our lives. It’s our job to see it and do what we can to ease the feeling.

How do you love yourself and celebrate your beauty?

This actually makes me laugh … because if a woman says that she always loves herself and has the ease to celebrate her beauty, she’s being somewhat disingenuous.  

For me, age has changed self-love and celebrating my beauty different in ways I didn’t see coming. I tell others when the subject comes up that I thought I was going to age a whole heck of a lot better than I have. I can be pretty tough on myself. I hate the fact that my knees are garbage, and that I can’t do as much physically as I once did. I can still do plenty and I celebrate that. I also try to balance the shortcomings with saying that I’m far wiser with each passing day. I love myself by practicing yoga every weekday, and hot yoga is my passion. As my tank top says, “I’m stronger than I look.” My practice has changed in that I do not see my poses always advancing or moving toward perfection as they might have years ago. I fight with everything to hold the line, to keep what I have.  

In that is the celebration. You show up, you give it all you have, and you are gentle with yourself when what you have falls short of your expectations. Self-love and celebration are gifts you choose to give yourself. I believe that when others see your effort and your attempts to make the “less” acceptable, it shares the gift of self-love.

How did you overcome your insecurities? 

One of the “gifts” my mother gave to me was to honestly give zero cares to what other people think about me. That has allowed me to speak out more, to be honest with myself, and to encourage others to do the same. Making another person self-conscious is just control, and it is never okay to control another person.

What is beauty to you? Beauty is being authentic — to speak your own truth, to know your value. Most of all, it’s extending love and compassion to everyone. That is beauty. I appreciate gorgeous eyebrows and glowing skin as much as the next person, but it’s true, it’s what is on the inside that counts. Love is beautiful, sharing is beautiful, honesty is beautiful, and caring about others is maybe the most beautiful of all.

Why do you think the self-love journey is difficult for women? Women are taught that they have a long list of must-dos in order to be accepted, to be loved, to be fairly compensated. Women are incredibly strong, and that strength is not always taught from an early age or applauded when it is demonstrated. Most often, I think that women have a difficult journey because they are just flat tired. They do it all, and they are expected to do so in many cases. We are not taught that we can draw our own boundaries, choose our own roles, and stand in our own power. This faulty teaching diminishes the individual and the group. Self-love has wrongly been called out as being “selfish,” when in fact, to care for ourselves is the greatest gift we can give to others who rely on us. 

What advice would you give someone who’s struggling with self-confidence? Take care of yourself first and foremost. If something gets in the way of your self-confidence, ask if you can change it or if you have to learn ways to make dealing with that easier. 

There are amazing women today who are role models in the areas of body size, age, sexuality — and everything else that women struggle with. Find a role model, a mentor. Pull up alongside them and ask for help. Mr. Rogers was right, “look for the helpers.” I bet he heard that from Mrs. Rogers.

Roxana Bush

Roxana Bush is a 60-year-old native of El Salvador. She is Jessica’s mother (and has three other daughters) and a grandmother to nine. She is a Zumba and fitness teacher who packs the house multiple times a day at The Club.  

In the past, what was a challenge for you? 

I was self-conscious of being on stage teaching a group power class where the students taking the class were going to be scrutinizing everything I said because of my accent. I felt like they were going to compare me with the other teachers who have been teaching for years. 

How did you work through that? 

I knew not everyone would be judging me on my accent but on the way I was teaching my class. I trusted that the people around me would see that I was doing my best and would see how much I love to exercise.   

How do you cultivate self-love? 

I love myself by taking care of me. I eat healthy, exercise, am positive, get good sleep, and surround myself with family and friends who love and support me.

What makes this hard for women? 

Because we are always thinking of others and putting ourselves last.

How do you suggest overcoming it? 

Accepting yourself unconditionally as a valuable person in spite of your faults, celebrating your strengths and differences ... and being patient and kind to yourself.