You Can’t Have Self-Love Without Self-Respect

Millennials, we are told, are good at self-care. We know when a three-day “tech detox” is needed and can identify a flax, chai or sunflower seed in a lineup, along with its individual protein properties. We’re not afraid to spend money on scented candles, rose-oil facials, colonics, cupping and cacao nibs. We can meditate with the best of them.

We’re also good at self-love — listing what we’re grateful for in a leather-bound monogrammed notebook at the end of a shitty day; Instagramming ourselves while making sure to capture rolls of fat and dimples of flesh in the interest of realness. Sometimes, it feels like the only route to happiness is by taking the much-fetishized path of wild, abundant self-love, declaring your body, your face, your life perfect just as it is. Truly committed self-lovers can even marry themselves now.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-respect, the more boring and less showy cousin of self-care and self-love. It is not in the immediate lexicon of the typical millennial, but it is a virtue of the highest degree for our parents and their parents. To those generations, self-care and self-love are unnecessary, vain indulgences. But self-respect — integrity, nobility and a loyalty to what you believe to be right and wrong — is everything.

In Joan Didion’s 1961 essay on the subject, self-respect is defined as a thing that is just for its owner, an acceptance that your outward actions should align with what you feel inside. Didion thought of self-respect as a self-assessed quantity, not something dependent on what others think. “Self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation,” she writes. “Self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.”

It is perhaps for this very reason that self-respect got lost on the journey to self-discovery in modern life. When nearly every thought and feeling is recorded online for an audience, it is hard to imagine practicing an act of self-maintenance that’s just for you. Dignity is quiet and boring while self-love is loud and proud. Public manifestations of self-love can sometimes feel like a short-lived, passionate, adolescent fling — fleeting and high-octane, something you fall in and out of quickly. It often feels very surfacy, primarily about how you look and present to the world.


In terms of sheer self-development, I don’t know how helpful it is to proclaim to the world that I love my rounded stomach or my buck teeth or whatever because I don’t, objectively. I don’t think I ever will. I would rather strive, instead, for self-respect — a deep and profound understanding of who I really am and a pledge to myself to reflect that core in the decisions I make.

After all, a scented candle is just a scented candle. Its wick will burn down eventually. A naked selfie is just a naked selfie; at some point people are going to stop hitting the ‘like’ button and move on to something else. What will care for and cradle you far longer than a matcha latte or a yoga session is feeling you’re being true to who you are; that you are comfortable with how you behave whether there is someone there to witness it or not.

Self-respect is always voting, instead of always talking about voting. Self-respect is recycling, instead of talking about recycling. Self-respect is not making dinner plans with someone to keep them happy when you know you have too much work and you’re going to cancel day-of. Self-respect is helping someone in need when no one is there to witness it. Self-respect is enjoying the acquisition of knowledge, without others having to know that you know it. Self-respect is leaving the party when you’re tired, instead of staying up for everyone else. Self-respect is pulling all facets of your personality together into one whole, steady place where you’re comfortable, rather than only showing certain sides of yourself to certain parties in the interest of their approval.

Self-respect isn’t about always making the right decision; it’s about taking gracious accountability for your actions. As Didion accurately describes: “people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things…we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.” Self-respect is the only long-term foundation on which self-care and self-love can be built; the essential base-note of authentic, quiet contentment. Self-respect is sacred. We all owe it to ourselves to find it.

Dolly is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Sunday Times, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, GQ, Marie Claire, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Vice and more. Collages by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

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  • This is a beautifully written piece. I’ll be thinking about this for awhile.

  • Abby

    I think we’ve all moved so far away from the original notion of self care and into a more commercialized, buzzword understanding of it that it’s practically meaningless now to mention, much less call it out for its showy ineffectiveness. I think the points that you call self respect are basically the most pure parts of self care and self love, with the Instagram filter removed.

  • Andrea Raymer

    before i even read this I came down here to say how much i love these collages. Maria, you did good!

  • Real Metanoia

    amazing and thought-provoking. Especially in a time where I feel really lost in myself. I needed to read something like this, thank you

  • Emii Lou

    I love this. It is a concept I have thinking about for a while and you have captured it so brilliantly. It’s not useful for anyone to see a naked selfie of me pretending that I love myself. For images of ‘self-love’ to have power, the subject has to really mean it .Otherwise, it’s just background noise to an already chaotic online world. I have also stopped pretending to myself that having a long bath and using expensive skin care products multiple times a week, rather than getting on with what I’m supposed to be doing, is anything but self-indulgence. I’m working on an article about self-care and the idea that we have become afraid to push ourselves because of it. Your piece has inspired some additional thoughts so thanks!

    • grace s

      I agree with you 100%. When I read F*ck Feelings last year, it hit on this point so well. Just like Dolly says – our parents valued self-respect much more than our generation and it was actually one of the “life lessons” they were trying to teach me in my childhood and teenage years. I kind of felt like about 6 months ago I too “woke up” to the fact that constant navel gazing and new age things (tarot cards, horoscopes non stop, baths w/ essential oils) were not actually helping. I could flaunt them, flaunt the fact that I did them, but they did not help me find employment or help me manage my life. So, I totally agree with you that we can use self-care as a crutch! Now I feel like I manage things better and I can just tell myself, “this situation is hard but I’m doing my best and I respect that about myself”. Also, I stopped following people on Instagram who posted all those naked selfies and paragraph upon paragraph about how this world doesn’t know what love is. Oof.

  • Samantha Small

    Jesus Christ, Dolly. Just be my friend.

  • Kristen J

    Thank you for this brilliant article. You’ve captured various fleeting thoughts I’ve had over the last ten years.

  • Thank you!!!

  • Inaat

    Thank you for this amazing piece.

  • Lou

    The Joan didion piece is my favorite thing. I re-read it regularly when I need to be set back on track — I also sent it to friends all the time. Was starting the article and was like “man I wish I could send dolly the Joan piece” and lo! What does she cite….

  • Suzan

    A breath of fresh air this, Dolly! Especially how you link it to social media. Beautiful thought-provoking article.

  • JLC

    So good! Self-respect is the cornerstone and we’ve all been distracted by the rose-oil facials and picture-perfect selfies. Thank you for brining us back to the core!

  • Dana

    is self-respect sleeping in or not sleeping in? Trying to figure out the balance between discipline and being kind to myself.

    • CM

      It’s sleeping in sometimes, and waking up early to get stuff done other times…

  • Stefani

    This is the best article I have read on Man Repeller! Love from Australia 🙂

  • Molly D

    This is why I love Man Repeller. Amazing.

  • Meerabel

    This is. So. Good.

  • Stephanie Pittaluga

    Well said, and could not agree more with the message! I am very happy to have read this article and plan to share with others.

  • Lenna

    please respect us more by stop posting those ugly collages

  • Natalie Redman

    Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂