What Happened When One Poet Embraced Radical 'Self-Love'

“Police the people in your head.”


If time travel were possible, poet Caira Lee would visit her 15-year-old self. 

Lee would commend her on her courage and honesty. She would tell her to how remarkable she was, maybe even throwing a cheesy pick-up line or two to assure her that she knows her worth.  

"Did you read Dr. Suess as a kid? Because green eggs and DAYUM," she would tell her adolescent self in recognition. 

 Because Lee realized what so many of us fail to recognize as teens: the importance of radical self-love. 

“When you do not act on your self-esteem, you aren’t loving yourself and when you aren’t loving yourself, you are failing at life," she said in a recent TEDx Talk in Shaker Heights, Ohio. 

The 21-year-old  Baltimore-native stresses the importance of embracing your true self despite what negative things others have to say about body image, race or sexual orientation.

“It’s looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I am the most important person in the world to me. I accept that person. I admire that person and I will do everything in my power to see that person’s dreams come true,’” she says.

Reciting the words to the hook of Kendrick Lamar song “i” with the audience, in which the rapper declares "I love myself" several times, Lee explains that the outside forces of the world working against them are no match for their self-love. 

But how exactly does one practice radical self-love and how do its practitioners gain from it?

Lee offers four points of practicing and reaping the benefits of radical self-love. 

 1. “Find that thing that you can do for hours and lose yourself in that.”

Lee urges her audience to find the skill that makes them feel “cool, productive, important, challenged.” Come alive, she says, because that’s what the world needs.

2. “If you’re black, know your history.”

There is no one way of living in this world despite society's expectations of black people, according to Lee, and knowing your history will reveal that. She says that one's “blackness is at the top of the list of things that the United States has that will continue to use and misconstrue in order to get you to dislike yourself.” Don't let it.

3. “Police the people in your head.”

Many of the negative things we think about ourselves come from other people, she says, and most of it isn’t true. “We let it infest us,” she says. Lee polices the doubtful people in her head by writing positive affirmations like “you are good enough” and posts them on the walls of her dorm room. 

4. "Give self-love to others."  

The fourth step is hard to do but IS the most important, Lee says. She urges audience members to stop other’s self-deprecation when they hear or witness it. “Dedication to radical self-love is not just about ourselves, it’s about not letting weakness in your circle at any time.” 


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