The Importance of Affection

This past semester was my hardest semester at Princeton thus far. As a junior, I was confronted with taking five classes for the first time, having to think about my independent research, producing independent research, attending to a more rigorous work schedule, the thought of actual post-graduation plans, familial tensions, maintaining entire relationships and, of course, having to sit through and then attempt to swallow the detrimental results of the election. All this on top of the usual stress—read pervasive daily turmoil—of being a black student on this campus and a black person in this country/world. Yes, this semester was a particularly emotional and vulnerable one. For this reason, I was continuously reminded of the importance of self-love. Self-love, in its many forms, was absolutely essential in the fight to effectively make it through this semester—more so than previous semesters. Therefore, as the semester progressed, my reliance on self-love naturally increased.

The concept of self-love is very much at the heart of our community. Loving your whole self in the most complete way leads to acceptance and love for your intersectional blackness. Self-love is the foundation of being unapologetically black. It is a tool of active-resistance against a society which demands black bodies do the opposite. It is the path to self-worth, success, and the key to happiness. Self-love is everything! I would have never challenged this conclusion not too long ago.

However, I now see how the “self-love is everything” narrative has a subtle “self-love is all you need” undertone. Looking back now, I realize this might lead to a trend of over-reliance on self-love in our community. As a black woman, I have all the love to give to others and myself. The importance of the love I give myself cannot be understated, by any means. As mentioned before, radical self-love is utilized to fight against the self-hate narratives our society enforces. My conclusion that self-love is everything made me start to think the love I give myself is my only reliable source of love, and therefore strength, instead of my foundational source of love and strength. I thought, at the end of the day, I got me so I’m good. Without realizing it, I was distancing myself from the ideas of external love, acceptance, and appreciation because I could provide those things for myself and that was the only thing that mattered. Aside from the isolating effect this had on me, I was forgetting about the importance of that external love, acceptance, and appreciation—forms of affection.

Forgetting the importance of these forms of affection, because of the “self-love is all you need” narrative, can reinforce the societal oppressions self-love is used to combat. These forms of affection important to humans as social beings but, they are expected from some members of society. I have been conditioned to live with a lack of love, acceptance, and appreciation from society as a black woman which is why my reliance on self-love became so important. Therefore, the lack of external affection is the very thing that drove me to the “self-love is all you need” narrative in the first place—but therein lies the bloop. I wasn’t just forgetting about the general importance of societal affection, I was forgetting about my right to societal affection as a black woman. I, too, should expect this affection. Feeling love, acceptance, and appreciation of my short, curvy, kinky black existence from society should be a normal thing. So when I decide to only rely on self-love, I not only forget about this critical fact, I am internalizing the opposite—that it is indeed not normal. This internalization forces me to accept society’s rejection of blackness and black-womanhood—which is so whack fam.

Although I have reached this conclusion, I know expecting societal affection where there is none is much easier said than done. However, as per usual with our journey to liberation, baby steps are necessary. This is why we should remember to accept, call out for, and give affection to and from our community—especially when we find ourselves trying to solely rely on our self-love to get us through. Remembering to participate in the act of affection, in its many forms, then becomes a crucial practice of liberation. One that I am now making the choice to no longer ignore.

– Leezet Matos