Transcript: Gala Darling on Radical Self Love at TEDxCMU 2012

Gala Darling

Blogger, author and speaker Gala Darling presents Radical Self Love at TEDxCMU 2012 event. The following is the full transcript.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Radical Self Love by Gala Darling at TEDxCMU 2012


Only 4% of women would call themselves beautiful and that’s a stunningly small statistic. So basically, if this entire room was somehow magically transformed into women that would mean then less than two of you would say that you thought you were beautiful if you were asked.

Young girls are more afraid of being fat than they are of getting cancer, nuclear war or of losing both their parents. And there are so many statistics that support all of these things.

A recent study in the UK said that 6 out of 10 girls thought they would be happier if they were skinnier. And a study of 455 college women said — 80% of them said that they had been told negative things about their body from — not their friends or society but from their parents and siblings.

Low self-esteem is a major problem and especially through women. Women with low self esteem are more likely to stay in abusive relationships. They are less likely to start their own businesses. They are more introverted and they also earn less money than their more confident counterparts.

I believe in the power of women. I think women are so amazing. I think they are sacred neon-pink sparkly amazing. They are subversive and wild, they are fierce and strong. We can really do anything that we want to do but so few of us do it. We all feel like we’re being held back by an invisible hand but the truth is that we’re the only ones holding ourselves back.

Even though we’re told all kind of things by society and by the media, once you realize that all of that is total nonsense and most savvy women realize this by the time they are about 14 years old. Once you realize that, you’re really free to do whatever you want to do. I mean, okay, so they are quite beautiful but there’s no diversity — even the women who are not white are extremely pale. They all have the same waist size, they’re all the same height, they’re all gussied up to be sexy for a man and I mean, that’s not really all there is to it.

So all of this stuff kind of converged and came to a head for me on Valentine’s Day in 2010. So, I’ve been writing online for about 5 years – and actually I have been writing online for about 13 years, but let’s forget about that.

So I’ve had my blog for 5 years and I started off writing about fashion and style. But as I kept writing I realized that what women really wanted wasn’t like, “What’s the perfect dress for my body type?” They really wanted to know how to be happy in themselves.

If a woman would write to me and say, “Well, what should I wear to disguise my chubby thighs?”, I don’t think the answer is, “A 350 dollar pair of jeans.”

I think the answer is, “You need a major dose of self-love and you need to focus on your assets and not obsess over your flaws.”

So, Valentine’s Day is this ridiculous anomaly where all women no matter how brilliant or genius, become these blubbering messes because some dude didn’t spend all his money on an overpriced bouquet of flowers. It’s like, this is the only thing that matters, “You have no value in our society if someone didn’t buy you some chocolates on the 14th February.” And it’s so tragic.

And I would see these incredibly brilliant genius women on Facebook, complaining, like, “My life has no meaning.” And it’s like, “Come on, you have to get over it.”

So, I decided that on Valentine’s Day, I was going to start this movement. The thing with Valentine’s Day is — even if you have a partner and you’re desperately in love, it doesn’t necessarily make your life any better and it doesn’t necessarily make you any happier. If you don’t feel comfortable within yourself your relationships are going to turn to custard because you’re not comfortable saying who you are and what you want. You probably won’t be able to tell your lover what you want in bed and, it’s just not going to go very well.

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There is an amazing quote by RuPaul. At the end of every episode of RuPaul’s drag race she says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love anybody else?” And it’s totally true. We need to stop looking for validation and acceptance outside of ourselves and realize that it’s all within us.

And, by the way, isn’t that so amazing, it’s an assemblage art piece and you can see, like, there is a bottle of Nair in there. I love it, I think it’s so brilliant.

There is another brilliant quote by Buddha and he said, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” And again, it all comes from within. If you don’t have that, then life becomes very difficult.

So, I decided in February of 2010 to start this radical self-love movement and I figured that I would start writing about my journey in loving myself and getting comfortable with who I am. And I put it online. And if women want to join in, then that would be fantastic. And I hope that they would learn something from my mistakes.

And radical self-love has been this amazing thing. It’s still going. It’s brilliant. Women have used it. And they’ve emailed me and through their own discoveries they have left abusive relationships. They’ve started their own businesses. They’ve traveled the world. They’ve gotten over eating disorders. And most of all, they’ve learned to be really comfortable with who they are and I think that’s the most important thing. It’s all I ever really wanted.

My story is not a really pretty one, actually. The reason I feel like I can talk about radical self-love is because I’d been on the other side of the coin, which I like to call “radical self-loathing.” Although it’s not that radical, mostly, it just sucks.

So, I grew up in New Zealand, hence, the accent and I had a pretty idyllic childhood. I was very lucky, but of course, you don’t realize that until much, much later. And — but somehow when I became a teenager, it was like I transformed overnight and I became this horrible person. I was really, really miserable. But mostly I was just really angry. And I didn’t really know what I was angry at, I just knew I was really angry. And I didn’t know how to deal with it at all.

And I was a teenage goth, it’s true. I would wear like all black, and I bought this dog collar from the supermarket with spikes on it, and I would wear like every day. Stripey stockings and combat boots, and it was like the whole thing. And even though, I kind of make fun of that now, I think a lot of that was because I was looking for people who were outsiders as well. I always felt very different to everyone and I was looking for people who could kind of empathize with that.

So, my rage was really bad and I just felt — I kind of felt like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown all the time, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. So, I’m not really sure where I got the idea but I started self-mutilating when I was 13 years old. And it was the only way that I knew to deal with my emotions. And after I had done it, I would feel calm and I would feel peaceful again. And it was — it felt like something that was worth doing even though I knew it was really weird and kind of wrong.

So, I did that for about 5 years, and when I was 18, I had a bit of an accident. I was doing my usual thing and I didn’t realize how sharp the blade I was using was and I cut myself really deeply, and it bled a lot. And I thought that I could’ve done myself some real damage.

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So, that kind of stops everything, but somehow I didn’t realize like, “Oh, this is really stupid, you should do something else.”

So I stopped doing that but 6 months later I moved away from my parents’ home, and was living by myself, and I swiftly developed an eating disorder. Really fun. Awesome. Don’t recommend. I would basically subsist on a coffee and a little piece of sushi every day and I was really miserable. And the thing with being miserable and being depressed which I clearly was, is when you’re not eating it’s even more difficult to feel any better like this. There is absolutely no hope. Depression is bad enough. Depression and starvation is absolutely catastrophic. And I just — I felt like my life was pretty much over, and it was really terrible.

So, I was very lucky when I met a man who wouldn’t take any of my nonsense and basically said, “If we’re going to be together, you have to get over all this crap.” So he was into a lot of alternative healing modalities, and I used this thing called “EFT”, which stands for “Emotional Freedom Technique.” It’s basically like acupuncture but no needles. And I used that to get rid of my eating disorder and it basically left my system overnight, which is amazing. And these days I can eat like a whole box of donuts and I’m so happy. So, that is — that is my story.

So, I have a lot of people come to me on my blog and online and they say, “I want to get into this radical self-love thing. Where do I begin? What should I do?”

So, behind me you can see, these are a selection of radical self-love bibles. So, when people want to start, I say that they should get a big blank book or a journal and fill it with everything that’s good about themselves. So, you have a thing that you can look at when you’re feeling stinky or ugly or you’re having a bad day and you can immediately feel better. So, these are some of the books that people have made that read my site. And they’re all super cute and really different. So, that’s the first thing that I recommend.

The second thing I recommend is that you basically write down every compliment that you receive over the next like, I don’t know, five years. And the reason for this is that it is so easy to focus on the terrible things people have said to us or about us, and forget the positive things, like I said to you what’s the last awful thing someone said to you, you could probably recall it. But if you were asked about the most recent compliment you were given, you might not be so sure. So having a list of these compliments is a great way to just remember that you’re actually pretty rad.

The other thing that has been really instrumental for me in radical self-love, and just in keeping myself positive in general, is the practice of gratitude. So, I started doing this thing on my blog, like five years ago, called “Things I love Thursdays” and basically every Thursday I’d write a list of things that were making me really happy, and it could be anything from, like, sparkly nail polish to rescuing a dog, or whatever it is. And that has really spread through the internet like wildfire. There are hundreds of women who do this every week. They make their own lists. They make their own — this is a collage that somebody made on Flickr and these were all just pictures that made her really happy that week.

And even if you can come up with a small section of things, it’s so much better than sitting around and dwelling on the things that suck about our lives, because it’s really important to count our blessings and not our problems.

So, the other thing that I really recommend is that you stop reading tabloids and gossip websites.

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Just from looking at that, you can’t really deduce anything positive from it. It all looks pretty bleak. So, I think that tabloids are really destructive, they’re very negative, they encourage being judgmental and critical. And when you’re judging Angelina Jolie who is probably one of the most stereotypically beautiful women in our society, you can’t possibly feel like you’re going to measure up positively against her. It’s never going to happen.

So, stopping looking at tabloids and reading gossip websites has been huge for me and makes me feel so much better about my life. And it’s not that celebrities are bad people it’s just that tabloids really bring out the worst in people. It’s very competitive, it’s very judgmental. And leaving those behind has been quite amazing for me.

And these days when I see, like, an “Us Weekly” or whatever in the supermarket it looks like it came from another planet. It’s so weird to me. I can barely even comprehend it.

The other thing that I recommend is that we really need to start coming up with our own visions of what beauty looks like, what success looks like, what a relationship looks like. And coming up with those and really putting them into play in our own lives. I think that we very often inherit those values from our parents or our friends or our family, and they’re not necessarily true. Your parents might be biased against people from another culture or they might think that success is only what’s in your wallet. And the truth is that the world is a lot bigger than that.

And as we start to research these things we can really expand our vision of what life could be like and it makes us more well-rounded, diverse and certainly more happy.

I’m going to finish by reading you the Radical Self Love Manifesto, which is something I wrote last year. I was in New Zealand on a press trip and I was with all these other journalists and we were having an amazing time, I mean, it’s the most beautiful country on earth, clearly. And we were all having a great time, but even so, a lot of them were complaining and they were unhappy and they had grizzles about this or that and it kind of made me crazy.

And I started writing this in my head as I was walking around with them. So this is what I said.

“Strive to always be thankful and optimistic. Focus your gaze on what is good and positive; never dwell on the negative. Do not allow life to make you cynical or closed off. Remaining open and true to yourself is a lifelong adventure, and the only one worth having. Choose to see the best in people. Strike up conversations with strangers. Never be afraid to ask for what you really, really want — that’s a big one, by the way — To love, purely and fiercely, without agenda, is the most terrifying and rewarding thing you’ll ever do. Travel is essential to the spirit. A pair of great shoes means nothing if you have an ugly heart. Try your hardest not to judge anyone else; it never leads anywhere good. Always avoid tabloids and gossip; they destroy the soul. Be kind and loyal. Many things in this world are more important than money. Always trust your intuition, always. Rescue animals, it will strengthen your heart. Never delight in anyone else’s misery. Trust in others. You are your own best investment. Believe in the magic of a new day and a fresh start. Follow your bliss. Do more of what you love. Always do the best you can. Create your own family and care for them ferociously. When people offer you opportunities that scare you, say yes: it’s the very best way to grow. You are never as stuck as you think. Stay eager. Love yourself. And say yes to the adventure of life.”

Thanks very much.

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