I was recently reminded of the concept of ‘self love’ within anime. That as of late it’s been on trend for a character to love themselves first, and then have all the other pieces fall into place after. This isn’t a new phenomena in anime, as you can find variations of self-love quotes from several anime from several years back.
For instance, “You will never be able to love anybody else until you love yourself.” is actually said by Lelouch in Code Geass of all things. While this might be the most bold and direct take I’ve seen, there were similar ideas echoed in shojo as well. “You should love yourself more.” is one of my favorites, which was said by Rima to Shiki in Vampire Knight. While these two might be a bit different from how self-love is portrayed now in the 2020’s, I think they’re pretty close comparisons and certainly predecessors to modern interpretations.
Overall, I don’t disagree with Lelouch’s thinking here. I think it’s pretty selfish to ask someone to like you when even you don’t like yourself. That’s a pretty big ask in most regards. So in theory, I like this concept. But for me ‘self love’ isn’t something even as an adult that I can do in full. And upon some reflection, I can say my relationship with the idea of self-love, and therefore how I interact with media where that’s a theme, comes from my experiance with Fruits Basket. I think many can anticipate where I’m going with this, but allow me to lead you through my thinking.
I’m not going to re-hash my entire awkward teen years to the internet. I think there’s plenty of stories of people coming to terms with themselves, and that my experiance isn’t a novel concept. I will say that I did struggle with my self image for a very long time, thanks to the harmful ‘pre-make over’ vs. ‘make over’ sequences that plagued tween and teen movies aimed at girls. As you can anticipate I was always the ‘pre-make over’ girl, never the ‘made over’ one, so self esteem issues of course.
So yeah, I didn’t have self-love. I just kinda… existed. My mom would remind me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, personality over looks, etc. That as long as I liked who I was, that was enough. I like to think I believed her. I’m sure I told her as much, but the reality is much different. I didn’t like myself, but I was smart enough not to tell people that outright. If I didn’t have looks at least I had a few friends, siblings who didn’t hate my guts, hobbies, decent social skills, above average grades, and impeccable taste in manga to get me through it all.
Which is why I probably cried during Yuki’s talk to Kisa in Fruits Basket one too many times, without understanding why. And when I say cry, I mean wail. To the point where I could only re-read this particular chapter when my family wasn’t home because I’d be a mess after reading it. The quote I’m referring to is in chapter 28, volume five and reads as follows:
“Here, it says to “like yourself.” What does that mean? Good things- how are you supposed to find them? I only know things that I hate about myself. Because that’s all I know, I hate myself. But even if you force yourself to find good things, it feels so empty. It doesn’t work that way. People like your teacher just don’t get it. I think when you hear someone say they like you, for the first time, then you can begin to like yourself. I think when someone accepts you, for the first time, you feel like you can forgive yourself a little. You can begin to face your fears with courage.”*
*I’d like to make a note here before going further that I pulled this quotation this good reads page. I think there’s a bit of difference between the Tokyopop and Yen Press translations, as well as the anime adaptations. It’s less about the exact quote, and more about the concepts Yuki presents to Kisa in terms of liking yourself.
The idea of liking myself, self-love, and knowing my good things; I hadn’t a god damn clue as a teen. I might not have hated myself the way Yuki did, nor did I go mute like Kisa, but god damn if reality hadn’t hit me like a brick. When society puts such an emphasis on looks being just as important as personality – if I started to like my appearance could parts of my appearance not become my good points?
Again, I’m not going to bore you with the cosmetic changes I made to myself. Some of it was superficial, and some of it really did make me feel better. None of those changes made me love myself though. These changes helped other people accept me, because I now fell more readily into conventionally attractive standards.
The ‘good things’ still didn’t materialize after this. While I matured enough to know ‘good things’ weren’t physical features, was a solid start. I still hadn’t a damn clue what a good thing I had was. I didn’t count things like academics or sports as ‘good points’ either since I wasn’t particularly talented in either. I didn’t want to ask my friends or family directly about it either. Which honestly is a bit out of character for me, since I’m rather direct in general. I probably didn’t want to come off as fishing for compliments, and I wanted these ‘good things’ to be incorporated naturally into my life. An organic moment so to speak. So it wasn’t until end of my first trimester of college that I finally had one told to me.
“You’re cool.” my friend had said to me, so off-hand and casual.
I was gobsmacked that I nearly dropped the laundry I had been folding.
Me? A former pre-makeover character in a bad tween movie, cool? There must have been some mistake. I laughed it off and told my friend to knock it off. That being cool was the last thing I was. And she proceeded, with a few others hanging out in my dorm room, to elaborate on why.
That I was passionate about my work/social life/mental health balance. My hours at the gym and insistence on having a sleep routine was admirable and the envy of many. Being able to accomplish that also showed how good I was at time management since I had never asked for extensions before. I was someone that they saw as respecting other people’s time because I respected my own so much. I sent curtesy messages about being late/early or cancelling and never left people hanging.
Of course, they mentioned some cosmetic stuff so those changes did pay off a bit. And I did my best to reciprocate their kindness. I’m not going to pretend it was perfect, because I was so overwhelmed. I was really focused on not crying in front of my new(er) friends because I got told I was ‘cool’ for the first time in my life. I didn’t want compliment to be revoked so shortly after it was issued.
And that was a very long story time, on how self love coming just from within, isn’t the reasonable thing to expect in every story. That there are some characters, real people too, who have an innate sense of self-love where they don’t need others help in finding it. There are some people and character alike, who need a bit of help from their friends into finding self love. Stories that showcase both are still really important.
As for me, I’m still on my own journey of self love. Somedays I strongly agree with Lelouch and his idea on self-love and work really hard on loving myself first. Other days, I’m much closer to Yuki and Kisa in terms of self-love, and I’m not afraid to ask friends and family for a nudge in the right direction. Somewhere out in the wide world of anime and manga, there’s a story about self-love that strikes the balance. I just haven’t read it yet.