YouTube is one of the best websites on the internet if you want to find motivational videos that tell you to reach for your dreams, ignore the haters, and love yourself. That's ostensibly the message behind the somber "I Am Ugly" Video by Rachel Levin, a popular beauty YouTuber; the video recently went viral, earning more 3.1 million views and garnering nearly 20,000 comments, many of which praised its message on self-love. But while Levin's point about loving yourself is an important one, it's not always as easy as the video seems to suggest. Indeed, it can be hard to put self-love into practice — and that's absolutely OK. (Bustle has reached out to Levin for comment.)
The video begins with Levin applying makeup in front of a mirror in a dark room, a spotlight shining down on her from behind. Levin, who usually sticks to more lighthearted content such as DIY projects and makeup challenges, then begins criticizing her various facial features: "My lips are literally so small, and my nose is so big," she says in the video. With every taunt, she swipes the makeup angrily, smearing mascara and lipstick over the side of her face.
Suddenly, a little girl who represents a younger version of Levin appears in the mirror, looking back at her. The girl asks, "What else is wrong with me, Rachel?" and repeats her insults back at her: "You said my dark circles were too dark, my nose is too big, my lips were too small and my eyebrows were too bushy." The older Levin says that she won't be mean to her younger self. But the younger Levin insists, "No, go ahead, tell me everything you hate about me... That's exactly what you're doing to yourself right now."
The video ends with the reminder, "If you wouldn't say it to yourself when you were little, then why would you say it to yourself now?"
It's a powerful video in many ways, and I have no doubt that both it and other videos like it have only the very best intentions of inspiring their viewers to love themselves more. And indeed, thousands of Levin's subscribers have commented on the video, noting how much it inspires them and saying it makes them more confident. And it is wonderful that the video helps them feel that way.
But what we tend to forget is that self-love takes time and practice, and it's absolutely OK if you're not at that point in life where you've totally accepted every part of who you are. Everyone talks about how and why we should indulge in self-love, but rarely do we talk about how hard it is to love yourself.
As someone who's lived with a physical disability for 24 years, I am the first one to advocate for self-care and body image positivity. But at the same time, it's taken me years to feel more comfortable in my own body. Because of my disability, my voice gets raspy and my breathing makes me sound like Darth Vader. I'm fully aware of my insecurities, and there are times when my self-esteem is so bad that I just feel like staying in bed all day.
A lot of what I experience is due to the fact that women like me start getting bombarded with unrealistic beauty expectations even before we hit puberty. Society has taught us that angelic voices and specific body types are what make a woman attractive. Similarly, in this video, Levin's criticisms include ones that society directly tells women that they should be ashamed of, such as having small lips instead of fuller ones. While the video reminds us to be less harsh on ourselves than we would on other people, instead of saying "You do you," the video seems to be saying, "You must love you!" — which isn't always the most helpful message to hear on those days when you're having trouble doing so. It can feel like one more thing that you're not able to do — one more failure to add to your tally.
Loving yourself is more complicated than just switching off all the years of conditioning and gender norms our culture has taught us, because, as one commenter put its, "when you were younger people didn't care what you looked like and now everyone does." We're all at different stages in our journey toward body image positivity, and the relationship we have with our own bodies is deeply personal. While having a positive body image is something we should all be striving toward, it's important to give ourselves the space to feel otherwise.