You’re powerful, talented, smart, and seriously gorgeous. We would all love if our internal monologues spoke these truths—so, how come so many of us hear the opposite? Research shows that up to 85 percent of people struggle with self-esteem, and those doubts could be impacting everything from our careers to our relationships. For women and girls, insecurities loom even larger, with 98 percent reporting that they feel pressure over their appearance, and one in four receiving a clinical diagnosis like depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder.
Of course, casting off these feelings entirely proves to be unrealistic. Even the celebrities we most admire struggle with self-love. Instead of making your confidence level another unattainable standard, take smaller steps and soak up that self-care wherever you can find it. Give yourself a compliment. Rock a risk-taking outfit you’d usually banish to the back of your closet and smize like you’re on America’s Next Top Model (I can’t be the only one who’s tried it). You’ve got your back—and so does poetry. Here’s how to write and read your way toward self-celebration.
Establish a poetic mantra
Have you ever read a poem that resonated so deeply you carried it in your mind for the next few days? What if you could carry it more literally? If there’s a poem that helps you feel yourself, consider screenshotting it for your phone background, writing it out in your planner, memorizing it, or even incorporating it into a tattoo design.
Having a go-to poem that embodies your values or what you love about yourself can serve as a guide. During stressful moments, returning to the familiar rhythm of the words may provide comfort. For me, poems like “Processional” by Joanna Klink are the closest I come to prayer and can pack the same uplifting power as meditation.
Carve out time in your day for poetry
Experts regularly state that the way to enjoy more long-term happiness involves seeking it out in everyday life. In other words, make time for the activities and interests that sustain you—including poetry. This is easier than it sounds: You can sign up for the Poem-a-Day newsletter, the Poetry Daily email, a daily poem from Rattle’s archive, or listen to the five-minute Slowdown podcast (which Electric Literature described as “a literary once-a-day multivitamin”).
Make your writing process sacred
Science suggests that rituals increase confidence and reduce anxiety. Furthermore, they make moments special—including moments you spend solely with yourself. In Jane Hirschfield’s “Page,” she pays tribute to the blank page’s power, writing: “It waits for the old / to grow young, fed and unfearful, / for freighters to carry their hold-held oil / back into unfractured ground, / for fires to return / their shoeboxes of photos and risen homes.”
In other words, Hirschfield sees the page as the only place where she can unleash her deepest wishes. If poetry really is that influential, we should treat it as such. Decorating a writing nook, buying your favorite pens and notebooks, or setting up a weekly writing time with yourself the way you would a night out or a date can all be a way of committing to yourself and your art form.
Find your poetic support system
Celebrating yourself doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. In fact, close relationships boost happiness, a fact that’s definitely cause for celebration. There’s nothing better than having a tight-knit group to believe in your goals and cheer you on, and what fits that description better than a poetry workshop?
Check out Read Poetry’s guide to forming your own writing community and helping it flourish.
Pen a love poem to your first love—yourself
Though love poems might conjure images of romantic relationships, they can be subverted to appreciate almost any person or topic. With this in mind, love poems just might be the perfect way to explore what you love about yourself.
In Nate Marshall’s “Finna,” published in The Adroit Journal, he navigates self-love through the lens of personal and cultural slang. He praises finna as a word that “comes from the southern phrase fixing to / like i come from my southern grandmothers & finna / is this word that reminds me about everything next. / even when i’ve been a broken boy i know i’m fixing to / get fixed. i’m finna be better. every dream i have is a finna / away from achievement. each new love i uncover is a finna / i unfold. every challenge i choose to meet & not let defeat me is a finna / i fight for.”
Through writing about his language, Marshall describes his own journey with compassion. Adapt this prompt to your own experience: Write an ode to your favorite thing about yourself or an ode to a time you overcame a challenge.
Take your time
The ideas above can help you celebrate yourself, but only if you grant yourself freedom and flexibility. We often stress over our jobs, our families, our finances, and our love lives, so let’s not add poetry to this towering list. If you can’t find time to write or read on certain days or sometimes feel disappointed by your poems, that’s normal. Don’t disappear into imposter syndrome. Instead, simply continue to show up and to connect with yourself through your words.
Keep writing and keep being you. You’re always worth celebrating.