By Manik Sharma Apr. 09, 2018
Our cultural zeitgeist is the closest we have come to an epidemic of self-love. From frantically chasing body types in the gymnasium to manufacturing them on Instagram, the self-image is seminal. But we do little for the mind that suffers every day, except perhaps to bypass that question altogether.
When Kareena Kapoor’s Geet cheerfully declared “Main apni favourite hoon,” in Jab We Met, she had no idea that it would become the definitive catchphrase to come out of Bollywood in 2007. We didn’t either, because there was an abundance of better films that year, including Chak De India and Taare Zameen Par. But those four words seemed to carry with it a sense of prophecy for young millennials.
Most women I knew at the time took to the catchphrase like honey to bread. Whoever I met, they ended almost every other moment of self-doubt or critique with the same pronouncement, even those that were unsolicited. Soon, men joined the roster and it was #SelfLove all the way.
But let’s be honest – more than a decade on, Geet and her perky, loose-hands act of adrenalised self-love kinda feels horrifyingly narcissistic. Her character, pulsed by the obnoxious need to register her self-image, becomes an eyesore as you grow with age. Much of it is down to the fact that we are past the age, where self-love can be seen as virtuous.
Around the time of my third year in college, I valued myself on being perceptive through my aimlessness, investing in the immodesty of being loveless than the hope-spun web of being love-struck. I wanted attention but I knew not what to do with it. My self-esteem flowed not from what was said of me, but the way people looked at me. I took at least two haircuts a month, put three different kinds of creams in my hair, and matched stare for stare on the street.
We’ve missed the fine line where self-care and self-love transformed into vanity – to the extent that we don’t know the difference between them anymore.
Our cultural zeitgeist is perhaps the closest we have come to an epidemic of self-love in our history. From frenetically chasing body types in the gymnasium to manufacturing them on Instagram, the self-image has become seminal. We do little for the mind that suffers every day except perhaps to bypass that question altogether. It is all about looking good and happy, rather than feeling that way. And it appears not only in the way we handle social media, but in what we eat, what we buy, the way we travel and the way we talk. In everything we yearn for the decorative rather than the substantial. One excess after the other.
We’ve missed the fine line where self-care and self-love transformed into vanity – to the extent that we don’t know the difference between them anymore. Maybe we were always like this, but now the plot points are visible.
Greek mythology has in Narcissus, perhaps the pithiest example of the overlap between self-love and vanity. Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection – we have fallen in love with an idea of ourselves. While vanity has always existed, before the digital age, it at least required a great amount of effort. Today, it has taken the form of something that can be as casually achieved as it has become essential.
It is ironic that all we do on social media is judge, while in the ambit of our own personal lives, we refuse to turn the lens inward. I don’t remember the last time anyone wanted me to be honest about something they did, made or bought.
There is nothing wrong with Geet as an idea, except she seems compensative of the failure to grow up, accept that life doesn’t come wrapped – it comes splayed and scattered. Of the presumptively kitschy philosophies embedded in Geet’s character, the only tragedy happens outside her, when she is dumped. There is no self-realisation, there is simply rejection.
All the while Geet has been chasing a happily-ever-after, because you know, she thinks she deserves one. If you look at Geet’s character in retrospect, you realise that after the deceit that befalls her, there are layers of privilege and hedonism that are unpeeled for the first time in her life. In reality such a person would eventually learn that goodness is neither a trait, nor a task that must yield reward. It is just a way of being, like colour or taste. Had Geet had a more earthly, appreciable window into the world, and a fairer mirror to her inner self, she might have handled things better.
Our digital age, the purgatory for all hedonists, courts approval through the eyes of the other. This is perhaps the worst manifestation of the self-love paradigm. Not because it is any different from the ages gone by in principle, but because of its sheer manipulative force and the abundance of alternative “yesses” in contrast to the good old singular “no” can only lead to a wall of decadent, pompous, and arrogant ideas of the self.
Instead, we can redraw our lines of esteem, adjust the bars a bit and keep them flexible. Let your self-worth be the residue of what you enact and not the summary of what your role in this life will be. Self-worth and self-love are two different things. It is in the interest of the former, that we bid goodbye to the latter.
When looked at it this way, this idea to love thyself with military discipline comes off looking vacuous and weak. But then, why am I surprised? This is, as I’ve realised over the last decade or so, the age of best worst ideas. Onwards to the next one!