“Kat, you just have to love yourself,” says a bikini-clad woman with a perfectly tanned ass in the middle of this week’s Euphoria.
“But that’s what I’m trying to tell you: I fucking hate myself!” replies an exasperated Kat as she eats a Costco-sized box of goldfish while splayed out on her bed.
In the second episode of the HBO show’s second season, writer and director Sam Levinson included a montage that might as well have been plucked right out of my very own apartment. As Kat (played expertly by Barbie Ferreira) attempts to unpack her discontent with her loving partner, Ethan, she quickly realizes that she’s unhappy in her relationship because she’s deeply unhappy with herself. Within this realization is her frustration that she’s unable to express it to others, because, as Zendaya’s Rue narrates over this particular scene, “At some point recently, the whole world joined a self-help cult and won’t shut the fuck up about it.”
What comes next can only be described as my personal nightmare. Kat’s bedroom is inundated with nearly a dozen different genres of body positivity, self-love, and mental health-adjacent influencer types, who crop up all around Kat to spout their upbeat mantras directly in her face. “Kat, you need to smash all beauty standards,” says one in an outfit that would only be worn by a white woman at Coachella. “Society puts things in your mind!” screams another, evoking the energy of a sentient pink Pussyhat.
As someone who has struggled with mental health and spent the better part of the last several years scrolling through Instagram and TikTok at all hours of the night, I too am accustomed to the toxic positivity rhetoric geared towards women and young girls. Ad nauseam, we’re told to have self-love and be confident and feel courageous and fight the patriarchy and not adhere to cis, heteronormative standards of beauty and lean into radical self-empathy. Sure, there is an objectively decent message at the root of this rhetoric, but it’s also a massive pile of horse shit. Sometimes, when someone states that they hate themselves, they don’t need to hear an emphatic, empowering response. That random, often more stunningly gorgeous stranger on the internet telling me to simply not hate myself isn’t going to change the deep-seated belief that I do not have value. Their plea won’t suddenly wash away the waves of insecurity. This messaging is the emotional equivalent of offering someone a bandaid when their hand’s been cut off: It’s a nice gesture, but it does literally nothing to solve the problem.
After spending years in therapy, off and on, you realize that part of being alive is weathering those days when you just can’t get out of bed. Days when you, as Kat articulates, “fucking hate” yourself. Days when you are entirely faking every seemingly non-negative facial expression or utterance. And that’s normal!!! I don’t need to love myself on days when I fucking hate myself. I can just be in that—however grim—reality. I don’t have to emote anything different than what I’m feeling for the sake of “self-love.” And I can know to my core that those feelings are not facts without a wrinkle-less face urging me to love myself.