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Self-care has to be rooted in self-preservation, not just mimosas and spa days

I know how difficult it is to “just love yourself” in a society in which the media tells us that we don't have enough money for that.
Image: Lizzo performs at the NPR Music Showcase in Austin, Texas, on March 15, 2017.
Lizzo performs at the NPR Music Showcase in Austin, Texas, on March 15, 2017.Merrick Ales / WireImage file

I don't think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it's a decision that has to be made for survival; it was in my case. Loving myself was the result of answering two things: Do you want to live? 'Cause this is who you're gonna be for the rest of your life. Or are you gonna just have a life of emptiness, self-hatred and self-loathing? And I chose to live, so I had to accept myself.

That's the first step: Acceptance. And acceptance is hard. I'm still accepting myself every day; I'm still working on it.

I understand how difficult it is to “just love yourself” in a society in which the media quite literally tells us that we don't have enough money to love ourselves. It tells you that you should get money to buy this so you can look like that and be perfect. And so a lot of people ask me how I do it, and I tell them that I don't take self-acceptance for granted or lightly, because I know it's difficult.

I want people first to understand that there are levels to loving yourself. To an extent, choosing not to hate yourself can be a choice, but, at a certain point, people can develop a mental health issues from self-hatred, from bulimia or anorexia to depression.

Sometimes, you need therapy to help you learn to love yourself. I know that therapy is some privileged sh**, and the fact that I'm financially able to afford it, and that I was also in a place where I could accept the fact that I needed it, is incredibly fortunate.

And I also know that there's a stigma around therapy in the black community, and there had been for a long time, especially for black women. We're so strong, because of all that we have been put through, and how little we're sought after and looked out for. So, black women end up like, I got it. I don't need help. I'm handling this. That's why I tried to be strong for so long.

But I finally realized that owning up to your vulnerabilities is a form of strength, and making the choice to go to therapy is a form of strength. It took years for me to get to that point, but I did it last year for my friends and my family. I didn't really do it for myself at first, but because I realized what my emotional condition was doing to my relationships. And I wanted to be a better sister and a better daughter, a better boss and a better friend.

In therapy, I had to learn how to communicate because, even though I can be onstage talking to thousands of people, communicating my personal emotions to the people around me was so hard. Even just saying, You upset me because of this and that was extremely difficult for me. So when I was on a tour bus seven months out of the year with my best friends, and unable to communicate how I felt to them, it was going to go wrong somewhere.

Now when I am frustrated, though, I can tell them why. When I am sad, I can tell them why — and not feel guilty for doing so. It's made touring life so much easier, and it's made communicating about work so much easier, because there's no loaded emotional bulls*** in between.

More than that, I also learned how to take space— not outer space, but inner space. When I'm tired, and so exhausted, I know how to find that space.

I'm excited that treating mental illness and the idea self-care are becoming part of the zeitgeist — but I also don't want it to turn into something that loses its weight or validity. Self-care is more than just going to the spa, getting your nails done or drinking a mimosa "'cause it's Sunday." It is so much deeper than what commercialization is going to try to turn it into.

Self-care is really rooted in self-preservation, just like self-love is rooted in honesty. We have to start being more honest with what we need, and what we deserve, and start serving that to ourselves. It can be a spa day! But for a lot of people, it's more like, I need a mentor. I need someone to talk to. I need to see someone who looks like me that's successful, that's doing the things that I want to do, to know that it's possible.

I feel like my job is to push the narrative about self-care further and not just give up because it's mainstream now. I can't be like, Cool. Love yourself! Bye! I have to have answers when people ask, How? How do I love myself?

And I have to be able to start to answer those questions for myself: How do I love myself on the days when I hate myself? How do I love myself on the days where I'm dealing with some boy and he's not treating me the way that I deserve to be treated? How do I love myself in a world that doesn't love me? How do I love myself in the face of systemic racism and misogyny? How do I love myself amid fat-phobia? How do I love myself still?

I've been working on self-care and self-love for so long, that I feel like, with this album, "Cuz I Love You," I am starting to really answer those questions for myself. I got to use those tools that I created for myself in the real world in real time. I don't have all the answers — but, if I did, I wouldn't be an artist anymore.

As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.