Self-Image (plus some existentialism)

I have always struggled with positive self-image. I believe most people in this world have. But though this is the case, it does not mean that it is something to strive for and normalize. 

I feel like I constantly need to be achieving something. Instead of allowing my accomplishments to sink in, I seem to be elated for a split second, and then run after another goal to conquer. 

This also seems to apply to body image. Although my body image was very good during quarantine, recently a couple of my friends came over for my birthday. I absolutely loved having them and enjoyed every second of it; but afterwards, looking at the pictures my mom took, I had a breakdown. Not seeing my peers prevented me from comparing myself— so when I finally did see them, I became more prone to this detrimental comparison. Looking at myself in the camera, I began to nitpick every detail— my hair was too long and limp, my stupid braces, my weird nose, etc. The problem was, my family and friends didn’t see it this way at all. I got so many positive messages from people telling me I looked beautiful, and my family members said I looked like an angel. These positive messages only confused me more; why were my close ones lying to me? The conflict between my self-image and that which external factors were telling me contrasted to an absurd degree. It made me angry at myself… for being angry at myself. 

The strange thing is, my self-image changes drastically. At some points, I look at myself and think, Wow! You are SO talented and smart. You have achieved an enormous amount of things already, and your desire for knowledge is incredible. You look absolutely beautiful and strong. And I believe it. 

But other times, I look at myself and think, You are so stupid. Look at all of these genius people around you you are nothing. You are worthless and you need to work harder; you are ugly and gross, and how could you ever DARE to think otherwise? 

This disparity of my reality is what frustrates me. How can I go from one viewpoint to another so easily? Which one is the truth? Can we even attain a reality if we view it through such flawed lenses as what comprises our human senses? Is there such a thing as reality, if everyone— including your own self— has these disparate mindsets?

Switching the topic a bit, I’ve recently been obsessed with Albert Camus. When I study a certain person’s work or philosophies, I begin to adopt their mindset. This is definitely what has happened with Camus; I’ve read The Stranger and The Plague, and have just begun reading The Myth of Sisyphus (DEFINITELY recommend all of these).

Though some people may immediately write off his ideas as depressing and miserable, I tend to strongly disagree. These people fail to dive deeper into his philosophies— they are lazy in their beliefs, and instantly judge. Camus’ ideas are actually of the opposite nature. He supports Absurdism, the “conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.

However, this is not a reason to despair. “A meaningless universe is actually an opportunity to free ourselves from the shackles of hope and experience existence more fully” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJZEq61KeM). This idea took me a while to truly grasp. Though I try my best to learn with an open mind, it is incredibly hard to overcome subconscious judgments that spring from the ideas you are raised, or “nurtured”, with. I am by NO means finished processing this idea, and I don’t think I ever will be… and that in itself is beautiful.

Here is a great video to watch about Camus’ take on life:

And as always, I cannot recommend Stephen West’s Philosophize This podcast enough (I have not gotten to Camus’ episode yet, but I already know it is absolutely INCREDIBLE)

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

–Albert Camus

Anyways, what is my point in going off on this tangent? It is that the universe is absurd (at least from Camus’ perspective). It is random and arbitrary, and there is no reason in it. But that is not a cause for despair— it is not a cause for philosophical or physical suicide. It is instead a reason to create our own morals and values, to fully commit to living our own life.

A meaningless life means that these standards of beauty, these pre-written societal paths of accomplishments and set roads to some distant point, are fallacies. We are free to revolt against these constraints, and throw ourselves into our lives. If there is no afterlife or transcendent morals, why should I set myself to harsh expectations? To become what Camus refers to as an absurd hero, I must live life to its absolute fullest, despite the absurd. 

To me, this applies to my self-image in that I must rebel against the ever-clashing realities I am constantly barraged with, and instead live my life fully and joyfully. I must make absolutely the most I can with it, instead of restricting myself to what society tells me to do or look like.

This is very hard to properly apply to situations, but I will not give up trying or thinking. My absolute favorite thing is when I am able to connect seemingly distant philosophical ideas to concrete conflicts present in my life or immediate surroundings. It makes their application and reality so much more tangible.

I hope you enjoyed this philosophical approach to some recent thoughts about self-image! The more I learn about philosophy, the more I realize how intrinsically connected it is with our human reality. Philosophy is not elitist knowledge of abstract, unusable ideas; but rather, the study of innate human nature and behavior.

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