It’s Okay If Your Self-Care Isn’t Pretty

Are you trying to develop a self-care practice? It doesn't have to involve candles, altars, mantras, or bubble baths if you're not into those things. Self-care can look however YOU want. Click through to read more >>
If you’ve ever read a blog or magazine written for ladies, you’ve surely encountered the words ‘self-care practice.’
There was probably a list with bullet points and all sorts of sweet, well-intentioned suggestions like:
“Draw a bath, pour a cold glass of Pinot, and turn up Drake’s new album!” 
“Make an elaborately descriptive list of your best qualities!” 
“Call your best friend and ask her what she loves about you!” 
Now. I’m not hatin’.
1) I love me some list posts (obviously)
2) It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a glass of wine and a bathtub
But for a long time, I felt like I was missing the proverbial ‘self-love’ train because how I take care of myself? It’s not particularly luxurious or sexy or the things that popular blog posts are made of. 

How do I show self-love?

I leave parties after two or three hours, when I feel the light inside me turn off.

I opt out of huge, incredibly popular street festivals (that all my friends are attending) because I just cannot even with parking and crowds and standing in line for fried food.

I don’t go to amusement parks, state fairs, or scary movies.

I run (read: trudge) up and down the same flight of stairs every morning in lieu of the gym.

I let a few friendships die on the vine because my tolerance level for whining and/or drama is very, very low.

I spend $80 dollars getting a pair of beloved, decrepit boots resoled and $114 for the honor of sleeping in a chair on a 23-hour train ride.
See? Don’t those all seem sort of …. not uplifting? Like, you’re probably not pinning this post and thinking “Yeah, that’s a great idea! I should leave parties earlier and sleep on more trains!”
You get to decide what self-care looks like for you. (It doesn't have to involve bubble baths.) Share on X

If you don’t want to stick personal mantra post-its all over your bathroom mirror, you don’t have to. If green juice, setting intentions, gratitude journals, and weekly massages just aren’t your jam? That is totally, 100% okay.

(It’s better than okay, really.) 

If your self-care looks like pizza and Netflix with your best friend – awesome.

If self-love looks like a slick of blue eyeliner and a night out at a dirty bar – good on you.

If you take care of yourself by spending Friday night writing Harry Potter fanfic and dressing your cat in Hufflepuff gear – you’re an amazing human.
There’s nothing wrong with crystals and personal altars and glitter and daily affirmations about your intrinsic value. Those methods are wonderful and lovely and work for heaps of people. But know,that if you’d really rather not write things on your mirror in lipstick, your methods of self-love and self-care are perfectly valid.
You can create a self-love, self-care practice that involves camping in the Boundary Waters, giving up on high heels for good, and really leaning into your love for craft beer.
You can take care of yourself by reading all the YA lit you want, taking water aerobics with octogenarians, and making yourself a gorgeous (gluten and dairy filled) meal every night.
The only thing that’s important is that you really, actually make the time to show yourself + your mind + your body the love and care it deserves. Even if that comes in an un-sexy, non-Pinterest-sanctioned package.

I’ll be over here, taking that 23-hour train ride, feeling blissed out and loved.

How do you practice self-love and self-care? Have you ever suspected you were ‘doing it wrong’?

P.S. 5 practical, unsexy ways I practice self-love + 23 ways to treat yo’self without buying or eating anything

photo by kari shea // cc

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  1. Sarah-Jayne

    YES. This was so refreshing to read! To me, self love is about accepting who we are, embracing it and then spoiling ourselves in the ways that make us the most happy. These ways do not necessarily involve what looks good on instagram! I practice self love by taking the day off to marathon watch a tv show (such glamour!) or going on a little drive and singing loudly and uninhibited in the car, amazed by how wonderful my voice sounds ;). Not really activities that require sparkly (uncomfortable) outfits and Photoshopped selfies…

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I, too, am a loud car singer AND car dancer!

  2. Rachel

    Finally! The whole "candles and baths" and "peonies and puppies" self-love tips that pervade Twitter just aren't for me. I've tried candles and baths and I get too hot and flustered, my book gets wet and my skin shrivels far too quickly. I can appreciate a decent long, relaxing bath maybe once a year, after a day of sports in winter, but that's it.

    I would much prefer to walk home from the office listening to music, or make a giant cup of tea and dunk ginger biscuits in it…things that Instagram really terribly 🙂

    • Rachel

      *Pervade PINTEREST. Not Twitter. Twitter's much more straight-up.

  3. Anonymous

    Oh my god THANK YOU. Trying to embrace the glitter version of self-love is just NOT my jam. The idea of writing positive affirmations on post-it notes and putting them all over your house makes my skin crawl – and I definitely feel that if you can't roll with that version of self-love it's easy to feel really guilty about it, especially when everyone says "at first it's awkward chanting about how beautiful you are to a mirror, but you get used to it!" Thanks for providing the other perspective for those of us who want to not feel like a pile of garbage but also don't want to be a unicorn pooping sparkle rainbows.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Ha! My version of 'positive self-talk' is frequently "Daaaaang girl! Dat ass!" 😉

  4. Manisha

    Thank you for this, it is so right on. Every time I hear about a new self-love thing (the latest for me a personal altar and date night with myself) I try it and realize I've done all this before and keep doing it but they don't fit into my vision of self-love. For me it's about going to bed at a decent hour during the week and drinking whiskey on the weekends. As it turns out, I'm easy to please. Aside from those things, I also think about being my own friend and being more gentle with myself by not re-running conversations in my head.

  5. Shireen

    What a great post! It's SO refreshing to read another woman's thoughts that aren't caked in bullshit and cutesie "Pinterest-sanctioned" words! Everything you said is dead-on, and valid! We all have our own ways of showing self-love (mine is not shaving my legs, eating something greasy or chocolate-y and not using a napkin, just my sweatpants, reading a mushy gushy novel, and hanging out by myself on a Friday night instead of standing in uncomfortable heels in a loud bar paying for a shitty cocktail that costs 2x the price of a bottle of wine. Yeehaw for me!) Then again, some people may think I'm nutso, but I don't care! I loooove myself, and I love that you put the words out there. Kudos to you!

  6. The Divine Miss Em

    I used this analogy to a friend after a break up. I think the same thing applies here:

    You go to a store and find a pair of pants you really love. You try them on and they're a little tight in some places. Since you really, really like them, you buy them anyway hoping they'll stretch. After a few wears, they're still uncomfortable in all the same places. In the end, you end up donating them to a thrift store. It's not your fault. It's not the pants fault. It just wasn't a good fit.

    I'll really love the idea of one of these self love tricks / programs / what have you. Then I give it a few weeks (I'm a firm believer in giving something new more than just once chance) and it just doesn't work. For example, I hate yoga. It took *forever* for me to admit I hate yoga. I tallied up the amount of money I'd spent on Groupons, drop in yoga classes, & yoga gear only to realize I could have bought a plane ticket to Europe with the same amount. But it would make me love my body! It would get me in touch with my higher self! It will bring me joy and freedom! Yeah, didn't happen.

    And I might be guilty of an iteration of spending a Friday night reading fan fic & dressing up my cat.

  7. Bianca Bressy

    As soon as I saw the post title, I thought, "This is gonna be good!" And it is, Sarah! Lifestyle blogs are great to read, but how much can you actually 'love yourself' if the person writing the article is showing Instagram photos full of $800 dresses, glitter, and talking about the next trip to the other side of the world she's gonna take? I believe that those articles can at best offer you some ideas on what to do the next weekend, but sometimes they can even harm your own self-esteem and make you feel wrong, if not even *forced* to love yourself according to their standards. The last time I took the 'bath' advice, the result was hilarious! (one of my best stories so far) And meditation sent me right in the arms of Morpheus. So for now I'll stick to children books, fanfictions, walking to the nearest town once a week and not working between 4 and 5 p.m..

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! And if buying fancy dresses and planning trips is how someone shows herself love that is 100% valid – but we don't need to hold ourselves to standards that don't work for us 🙂

  8. Caroline M

    Yay! I love myself by taking punches to the stomach in sparring sessions and dressing up like a pirate whenever I have the chance!

  9. Sydney

    (no lower case feelings about it)

  10. Anonymous

    THANK YOU!!!!! GREAT POST. My self love means reading YESANDYES to learn english and find awsome links even if I end up being the only one in my town who doesn't buy all the telenovelas' selflove junk.

  11. Destrehan's Daughter

    Three hours of ballet every week where I can talk with friends, stretch and occasionally feel graceful. OR, I binge watch the worst/weirdest TV known to man all by myself in a little bubble. It's the best.

  12. Katie K

    YES! THANK YOU! I also think that self-care is ultimately knowing yourself, or being aware of yourself. Isn't that what we're aiming for? Listening to ourselves and being present? For instance, I know, inherently, that I am not a bath person, nor am I pedicure person, and flowers make me sneeze.

    For me, self-care is listening to my favorite songs on repeat, researching the crap out of things that excite me (from new cities to sports to politics to maxi dresses), singing along with the radio, using google image to find pictures of puppy head tilts, and every now and then, spending an entire Sunday in bed.

  13. Todd Lawrence Lohenry

    Personally? I get self care but self love always sounds weird. I find self compassion to be a more useful idea…

  14. Anonymous

    Bravo! This is one of the best things I have read in a very long time! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  15. Janelle @ Two Cups Of Happy

    YES! Exactly. And tonight hand-lettering, True Detective and eating sweet potato roasties. Holla.

  16. Veronique Mead

    Yay Sarah! I love that you resoled your boots and are doing your travel & Train thang. I love your way of talking (you know, "Don't those all seem sort of …. not uplifting? ) haha; and you make me laugh. I love avoiding a party altogether, sneaking in a whole bunch of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives to have a love fest with all the foods I can't tolerate right now, and looking up scientific articles in the areas that move me. Sometimes I know I'm on borrowed time (health and energy issues), but "acting out" … I mean, acts of self-care, can do wonders for one's state of mind. Here's to nonjudging! Happy travels (where are you visiting, if that's not too private to share?!)

  17. Kate

    PREACH. I would much rather spend 7 hours with 5 wonderful people playing Dungeons and Dragons than a party to get drunk ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. I'll take my quiet friday night and I will paint that room for fun.

    You get me, girl. <3

  18. Tara

    Love this.

    And anyone who says they love the taste of juiced kale stalks… is a LIAR!

  19. Mirella


  20. Anonymous

    I rarely (aka never) post comments on any blogs I read. But I just wanted to thank you for writing this, because this just made the whole "self-love" movement click for me. I love reading all the pink and glitter filled self-love stuff, but I always felt like I was missing the train somehow. So thank you, this is great and makes me feel great 🙂


    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, gosh! Well, *your* comment made my day! <3

  21. Lauren Dee

    Love this list! It's very true that showing love to yourself is entirely subjective. I'm with you on opting out of big social events due to the crowds and parking drama. For those already subscribed, how do we get access to the "ABCs of self love"?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Email me and I'll send it to you! 🙂

  22. Lisa

    Yes!! I don't buy into the "look in the mirror and say I love you" stuff. Self love to me is getting enough sleep, having quiet time, laughing often and just taking care of me and my soul.

  23. kathrynoh

    Well said. I never get the 'take a bath' thing because baths bore me to death. And candles – I don't get those. You don't have enough light to do anything useful!

    To love yourself, you have to know yourself and also the line between brainless diversion from the real issues (that ends up being harmful) and the things that bring real comfort. Like shovelling a bunch of sweets in your mouth to bury your feelings isn't self love but enjoying a warm, comforting slice of pie, that's true love. Mmm, I want pie now!

  24. Erin O'Brien

    Very well said! As somewhat of an introvert, I could relate to the one about leaving a party early. Some people need to recharge after time with a big group. I don't like going to the gym either and would rather get in shape in other ways.

    Self-love to me means taking care of yourself, but also not being too critical of yourself.

  25. Sheila Bergquist

    I am so glad to have read this. It was just what I needed to hear. We are told over and over again to love ourselves and most of the time it's related to yoga or meditation…things I just can't do. You have nailed it with your advice. It's whatever makes YOU feel good and taken care of.

  26. Chelsea Shannon

    Amen sister-friend. It seems like entire empires are built upon very narrow, specific definitions of self-love for everyone when you are are SO right that it is a completely different for everyone. Excellent and insightful as per usual 🙂

  27. Anonymous

    Wow, I LOVE this post. It sounds so ridiculous now that I think about it but I actually thought I wasn't doing it 'properly' but turns out I am, just in my way 🙂 which makes me really happy, so thank you Sarah!
    I love myself by avoiding drama queens, by having the occasional night where I get home and have a 'no speaking' night because I don't have the energy to communicate and need to recharge (thankful I have a partner who understands this) and by occasionally buying a very decadent slice of cake from this amazing cafe at work and just relishing it at my desk when I've knocked over a dreaded task.

  28. cassandrattp

    WOO HOO! A non-classist, non-heteronormative, non-cisnormative take on self-love! I occasionally spoil myself with peonies and wine in bathtubs, but the number one way I show myself self-love is by pursuing only opportunities I really want, even if that means I'm just scraping by–which means there are weeks on end with no peonies, even though clearly I love myself enough not to sell out just to afford such things.

  29. Shelly

    *I* was thinking I should sleep on more trains 🙂

    Thanks for this!

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