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Women on self-love and coping with pressure

By STEPHANIE ZUBIRI, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 12, 2023 5:00 am

On my 38th birthday last November, I drove down to BF Homes to get the tattoo I had always wanted. Etched forever on the skin of my ribs in delicate Sanskrit is the mantra, “Aham Prema.” Loosely translated as “I am Divine Love,” it meant to me a full acceptance of my being. A celebration of filling my soul with nothing but love. It took me years to finally get inked, despite working on this mantra regularly during my meditations. I felt that I needed to be slimmer, to have a flatter tummy, to be able to sport a tattoo on my torso. How ridiculous.

Sometime late last year, just before my birthday, without being in any particular physical state of supposed “perfection,” I realized that it was completely beside the point. If I really was the embodiment of love, that had to start with myself. I needed to love myself unconditionally. In all my physical and emotional states. Particularly even more so when I was vulnerable and seemingly “imperfect.”

And so here I am. Jeans a little too tight but still very proud to say I love myself no matter what.

That being said, I’m still a victim every day. I still question, doubt, and compare. As I scroll through an endless feed of slim, perfect, healthy, happy, shiny women on Instagram, it still niggles at me constantly. The fear of getting older, the much-slower metabolism, the wrinkles and age spots, the fear of irrelevance with time—add that to juggling a career, multiple roles as a partner, daughter, friend, and mother; the constant need to do it all with panache; a pressure that women tend to have to live with; a pressure that comes not just from the outside but, very often, from within.

I often toggle between “I can do this and fight the battle, defy age and gravity and genetics! I can do it all!” and full acceptance and surrender of “It’s okay not to have it all figured out and that we all get old.” Shouldn’t we just do it gracefully and gently? There’s no right or wrong. There’s only what works for you. And yet, with our constant exposure to images of what perfection looks like—how do we know what is the ideal that we place on ourselves versus what society does? How much of it is what we really want ourselves to be versus what we feel we ought to be?

Self-love allows you to express yourself without having to meet the expectations of others.

Personally, it helps me to be quiet. To have pursuits not defined by image or constant documentation. To have serious alone time to do things that make me feel good regardless of the outcome. Dancing alone. Reading voraciously. Singing, even if I can’t really carry a tune (that’s a fact, not an opinion). Meditating and forcibly sending good energy out to the world (because it’s not always what you want to do that always makes you feel good after).

I also try to find moments with people I love that are sooooo good, you get so lost in them, that you forget to capture them on camera. They only live in your mind and in your heart. I purposefully put away my phone and try to just be.

For International Women’s Month, I asked a few women for their thoughts on loving themselves and what they do to remain true to their souls and stay the course.

Mikaela Lagdameo, 37

Mom of three, digital creator, and entrepreneur

Whether we like it or not, there is always pressure around us and it is usually from family and society, but in the end, it’s always our response to these pressures that set the course.

First things first: Stay true to yourself, go inward, ask yourself what it is that you really want, and push all opinions aside. Once you know, then you take into consideration the opinions of those that matter, and only those that match up with your own goals and values. Next, act on it. Guard your heart, be conscious of your emotions. Take control because it’s your life and no one else will live it for you. Your heart and mind must both be fully convinced about who you are. That includes your value, because then, no one else can take that away from you.

Jackie Lou Blanco, 59

Mother, grandmother, actress, host, and fitness enthusiast

It's easy to get overwhelmed, maybe even jealous of how others present themselves and their lives, making us feel we don’t have much or lack a lot. Accepting your situation and your reality is key. Accept what you have and be grateful. Accept what you don't have and work on it. Being grateful for what I have despite what I don’t has helped me stay true to who I am, no matter what society dictates. I have my mom to thank for my feelings about aging. I look at her and she is managing to age beautifully. There is a natural process to everything and I would like to take that course. A few lines here and there, a few gray hairs—these, I would like to embrace fully. I look at them and I know I have earned them. With three kids and two grandchildren, they remind me of the journey I’ve taken and I’m so grateful. I want to look at myself in the mirror and say I’m 59, not 25. We can’t hold on to youth. The more we do, the faster it will slip away. Having a grateful heart, being kind, and doing what God has set out for you are what will make you age gracefully. What is inside of us will always radiate. 

Tessie Singson, 70

Digital creator and fashion slayer

Self-love and self-worth start with acceptance and celebrating who you are. It is accepting who you are, where you come from, and being grateful to where life has taken you. Self-love is also knowing that you are enough as you are, even with your flaws and weaknesses. Besides, it's when we fall and manage to get up that makes us stronger. Self-love allows you to express yourself without having to meet the expectations of others. Just by being fiercely yourself without any fear of rejection, and knowing that you can do it.

Joanna Preysler Francisco, 53

Wife, mother, fitness and fashion enthusiast, founder (along with her husband Raul) of Provenance Art Gallery, 8Rooms Creative Space, and Sunday Morning Food Store

Both of my parents were athletes. Sports was almost like a religion at home and athleticism was almost as important as academics. I grew up loving being able to move my body. To have the freedom of movement and space. I was always into tennis, swimming, and later, running. Even now with my husband Raul, we’ve done three full marathons together and running became a family affair. Then I fell ill when I was 47 so I decided to up my game with regular workouts to become more defined. I wanted to feel strong and capable. This helped my mind as well because I believe in what the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius taught—that what the body does, the mind will follow. It’s an assertion of who is in charge. I wanted my mind to be strong and sharp as I grew older. It was my road to 50 and I wanted my body and mind to be at their best. I wish I started earlier, but it’s never too late to begin something new and do something good. I want to show my children that if you have the discipline and commitment to do something, then it’s just a matter of taking action.

Every day is day one. You will have good days and bad days. I always tell my kids—choose your hard. Feeling weak is hard. Feeling lethargic is hard. Feeling overweight is hard. Exercising is hard. So, choose your hard and make the right choices. Time is a function of choice. If it means something to you, you will find the time to do it. Working out and staying strong is the least self-serving thing I have done. This is so I can grow old with my children strong and hopefully not to have to break anyone’s heart. I always want to be available to my children and don’t want to be a burden to anybody as I grow old. I’d like to see my children’s children and be a rocking lola. I want to take trips with them and not just be sitting there, maybe knitting. Eventually, I will get there but I want to prolong it as much as possible and still go on travels and adventures with my husband. I want the adventure and passion in life, and dive in headfirst, no matter how old I am. I am so grateful for everything I have been blessed with and I want to be a good steward of my blessings. I want to take care of myself so I can take care of everyone that I love.

The 50s have been the best years of my life. If it ain’t real, I don’t want it. Friendships, relationships… I don’t have the same societal pressure anymore. The weighing scale is more in my head and I’m always weighing things out—family versus whatever, and family will always win. My husband has been pivotal in supporting me and bringing out the best in me. I work every day on being authentic.

Cristalle Belo Henares, 40

Managing director, Intelligent Skin Care Inc. Belo Essentials

I must admit that there is an extremely fine line between the ideal I set for myself and that which society dictates. That line is often blurred and difficult to distinguish especially since our family is in the business of beauty. As a matter of fact, I think the responsibility on our end is even greater since we actually put marketing money behind our thoughts and beliefs that ultimately influence a lot of Filipinos. In creating my personal goals to reach my ideal state, I usually reflect and evaluate three things: How will I feel if I reach or not reach this goal? What sacrifices do I have to make in order to achieve it and will relationships with others or myself be affected? What are my motivations for wanting to achieve this goal—is it merely fitting in or for personal health?

I find that it's important to revisit the goal every so often. Getting obsessed with "staying the course" is a trap a lot of people fall into. I find that being kind to yourself and cultivating self-compassion is always healthy. At the end of the day, it's the journey that counts and not the destination. It also helps to be surrounded by people who are authentic and truly care about you. I rely on my closest and dearest to call me out when they feel I'm striving for something that is deviating from my authentic self.