Why We Must Learn To Love Ourselves-Original

September 28, 2017

*This is the original version of the post Why We Must Learn To Love Ourselves that includes a reference to the current politics at the time of posting. While I still completely stand by this post and what I shared, and the conversation in the comments, I re-wrote it to exclude this reference. My original intent in sharing this was that women (and men) can be reminded of their true value in this world and that we learn to see the value in ALL people no matter their belief system. In including the political reference I can see how this message can turn into a debate that wasn’t intended when I wrote it. I stand by my beliefs and observations here, but also believe a lot of the hate I stand against in this world can change when we learn to love ourselves and others fully. I also encourage you to read the comments here, I believe they are an example of how good conversation from polarizing views can begin.*


I created this self-portrait several months ago and have been hesitant to share it for many reasons. I had been contemplating the idea of Imago Dei, or The Image of God for weeks. Imago Dei is a theological term that states that we are all made in the image of God. The implications of knowing this and genuinely believing it can be staggering and life-changing. To look into the eyes of someone who is different than you in every way possible, from beliefs and morals to appearance and class, and know that they reflect the image of God can turn how you see someone upside down.

As I reflected on this notion, I began to realize that for so long there was one person who I struggled with seeing God in the most. That person was me. From years of being raised and participating in a spiritual environment that considered sharing the love of God akin to convincing someone they were shameful, how I viewed myself was from an incredibly distorted lens. Rather than acknowledging, accepting, or moving forward from mistakes, or imperfections in my life, deep down I believed I was a mistake. My makeup was a mistake, my personality, my character, who I was made to be was a mistake. I was full of shame to my core.

I have spent the past 15 years slowly working my way out of this pit, through counseling, small groups, relearning what I believed about God, and a lot of self-reflection. I used to think that loving yourself was equal to self-centeredness, and often Christians bemoan the ideas of self-care or self-love and call it sinful. However, I now see these things as essential to begin to love anyone else. How can you see the worth and dignity of someone so different than you if you can’t even see it in yourself? How can you love a God and his creation if you see it as entirely flawed?

Throughout the years during my relearning, I had so many questions and doubts. I became fed up and hurt by others in a subset of Christian culture that became oppressive to me, but still held on to my faith. What ultimately kept me hanging on was seeing an open and unconditional love in the person of Jesus that I have not seen anywhere else. I also found a beautiful way to live, when taught from this base of unconditional love, through what is at the core of His teachings. What is at the core of his teachings? To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. It rolls off the tongue so easily, but to put into practice is so hard. Loving your neighbor, loving those who are different, loving your family, loving those that have done great harm. It can be incredibly hard. But we hardly talk about that last part, for many the most difficult part, the part where you love yourself. And to love others fully, and properly, you have to be able to do that. If you can’t see that you are worthy, that you are deserving, that you are made in the image of God and loved by Him, how can you find value and worth in others, especially others you don’t understand.

So I made this image. It is me, standing strong, and facing out into the world. This is me knowing that I am full of imperfections, that I’ve made mistakes, but I am loved, lovable, and worthy. This is the same person whose culture told her that she is disobeying God by having anxiety and worry. That she is not pretty. Not smart. Incapable. That she was the last person they had expected would do anything with her life. That she is too quiet and shy. That she is too opinionated and loud. That she is not good enough, and never will be. This is the same woman that had to fight to be heard in her career as a photographer. That was shown she could never teach men about God because of her gender. That when she started to use her voice, her shakey timid voice, she received screams, letters, accusations, and worse, rejection from those she loved. Most of all, this is a woman who is learning to love herself.

For some people, loving themselves comes easy. So easy in fact that they only love themselves and no one else. However, for many of us, it takes work and patience and courage to learn to love ourselves. I see this particularly in women, this struggle to know and respect our value. Over and over again, women are told, through words, actions, and media that their bodies and voices are not respected in this world. Their bodies are too much, their words too much, their anger, their sadness, their hurt, TOO MUCH.

I looked at this photo today to remind me of who I am, and that who I am has value in the world. After Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing yesterday, I felt a sense of despair in how Dr. Christine Ford was treated. How once again, a victim was guilty until proven innocent and a woman was shown that her story and voice didn’t matter. She was treated with disdain and dismissal without the world seeing the Imago Dei in her.

I’m not here to argue or debate what happened in the Senate yesterday, only to share my sadness in what I witnessed. However, with that sadness, built in me a desire to remind the women reading this that each of you have immense value and worth. If you are afraid of being who you were created to be or feel shame for who you are, know that you are loved fully and completely. That if you are afraid of being too much, remember that you are enough. That whether you are quiet, or loud, whether you are married or single, or passionate or even-keeled, you are made to be you. You don’t have to hide who you are. Your voice is essential, your body is important, you being here and a part of this crazy life is imperative.

I still struggle to see myself through a lens of love and probably always will. But I will continue to remind myself and others of the truth of our value no matter what the world says. Women, let us remember today our worth, no matter what others may say. No matter what our government says, or our abusers say, or unfortunately for many, what our churches say. If your worth and value and dignity are questioned, please know that you are listening to a lie.

I challenge you today to take an image of yourself, just for you. Don’t be afraid to stand firm and bold and be proud while you take it. Forget the naysayers and how awkward it can feel taking a self-portrait. Don’t think about the quality, this is just for you and you are in control. Look at your photo and try to see past what you consider your flaws. Look past the parts of you that you hate, that you want to change. Look beyond memories and shame that haunt you and see that there’s love and beauty there. Look at your image and say “I am made in the Image of God.” Those curves, that hair, that skin, that nose that you may hate. It is the image of God that resides in there. You are loved fully and completely. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are not a mistake.

*Let me know if you took an image of yourself today and how it made you feel, being in control. Leave a comment here or send me a message, I would love to hear from you.


Whitney Leigh Carlson

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  • Reply Debbie Lester September 29, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Very well written and I have always had trouble loving myself. I’ve never been smart, pretty, skinny, talented…never enough. I avoid mirrors because I don’t like to see my image. Yet, you are right. I’m made in the image of God and I’m a child of God and should hold my head up high. I feel horrible for anyone treated badly and with hatred. Yet, I see not only this woman testifying in the Senate, I see a good man being ripped apart by a woman with not much memory and no one to testify for her. I see a man with a wife and two children who had to leave the hearings because of the horrible and graphic things they were saying about their husband and daddy. I see those little girls having to deal with hearing these things and being forced to hear them again and again on TV and what other kids will say to them in school. I think of their trama dealing with this from now for years to come. This other woman says this happened to her back in the early ‘80’s yet only now came forth to speak, when Kavanaugh has been rising in ranks for decades and she stayed silent. I can understand being silent, ashamed, thinking no one would believe you, yet why now when the stakes are so high? Why have the people who she said wittinesed it, saying they didn’t? There is not enough evidence for me to believe her and condemn Kavanaugh. If it turns out I’m wrong, then I will apologize. But until then, my heart goes out to him and his wife and girls and what will be something they will be dealing with for years to come. They are victims also. They are women and girls who I feel are being abused by the media and anyone saying these horrible things about there father and husband. There are many victims in this and we can’t discount what is happening to them over what may or may not have happened to this woman decades ago. It’s true we are all made in the image of God, yet this little girl telling her dad that they needed to pray for this woman that’s accusing him…she seems to be a child of God. There is a big difference. I so respect you, and your thoughts and feelings and I don’t mean to dismiss anything you are saying. You speak from your heart and come from a place in your experience I haven’t been (in certain ways). But my heart sees both sides and what those girls are going through. It’s hard, it’s a time that we can let tear us apart, but I feel like if we can look at both sides and take away all prejudices about politics and just look at the facts, then maybe we can find the truth somewhere. Girls and women are not, and have never been treated well, with the respect we deserve. God however, loves us totally. And and respects us and gives us talents and responsibilities. When we become a child of God, through our belief in Jesus, we need to see ourselves through His eyes. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. And our neighbors are everyone. I think you are a beautiful and talented young woman and I respect you. I may not agree with you on everything, but my love for you doesn’t change. We are family, both children of God. We’ll spend eternity together. And we see things differently. But that’s ok. I’m just concerned for Kavanaugh and his girls. I would not want to be them. I am hesitant to post this, yet, I feel like those girls need some love and respect also, during all this mess in Washington. Lord, help us all be able to treat each other with respect and help us know the truth and the right way to deal with it, In Jesus’s precious name, Amen. Love you, Whitney!

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson September 29, 2018 at 3:26 pm

      Debbie, thank you so much for sharing your heart and your struggles with me. That means a lot. Your vulnerability here means a lot. And thank you for sharing your views so tenderly as well. I can see you are looking with a heart of compassion for Kavanaugh’s family. I ABSOLUTELY feel for his wife and kids. So much. They are victims in this I believe. However, I do not blame Dr. Ford and absolutely blame Kavanaugh for what is happening to his family. He could have done more to protect them. You are so right that they are precious and loved too. And even though I do not like him, Kavanaugh is as well. However, he has the power here, he is a powerful judge, and once again, and the victim doesn’t. I 100% believe Dr. Ford and her testimony, and that is where it can be hard to discuss. I believe her from listening to her testimony. I believe her because she has nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing this. I believe her because statistically, it is SO rare for someone to lie about this. Because there are others that have come forward. Because her accounts bleed truth. Because I have been through something much less traumatizing but still wrong and I absolutely remember it in so many ways, but others are foggy. I too never told about it, and this man is a Christian leader and school teacher. But I look at his family and feel for them so I don’t. And because I know what others would say about it. If I thought kids were in danger, which I don’t, I would absolutely tell. If he was running for a high up leadership position, then I would tell. And I’m sure I would go through the exact same thing she is. It is all so familiar to me, to my friends who have been through worse. I have also seen his reaction before- the way he acts and it turns my stomach because I’ve seen that response and blaming pulled in the exact same way with someone I knew was lying because I knew the truth. So with that said, looking at it from the fact that she’s telling the truth, then Kavanaugh could have stopped all of this by not abusing her in the first place. He could have admitted his wrong doing and not brought this out publicly and refused the Senate nomination. If he was innocent, he could have agreed to an FBI investigation. I do not find him innocent in this at all. However, his family, oh my goodness my heart hurts for them. I so hope he does what’s best for his family and protects them. He has a lot of power, and he has the power to protect them, of that I am sure.

      So yes, we disagree on some things, but I believe we agree on more. Thank you again for taking the time to respond. This kind of conversation, this listening, and hearing our hearts is what is needed. This seeing each other and seeing the care, that can come down both sides politically is what is needed. I see that in you. For me, it is not all about politics… I can’t say generalizations about “conservatives” even when I disagree because I love many of them. And I hate hearing generalizations that are similar about “liberals” because I am more on that side and know so many kind, compassionate, and loving ones. I have not seen this from you and so appreciate it. Thank you for your respect and for starting this conversation.

  • Reply Debbie Lester September 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Whitney, thank you for being so kind in your response. I was a little anxious about sharing, but I know you and I think you are one to value other’s opinions and still be able to stand your ground. I think a lot has to do with coming at this from different perspectives. I feel for anyone who has been violated in anyway. I have had a recent incident with one of my mom’s doctors who gets in my personal space and touches me. It’s always annoyed me and creeps me out, but a few weeks ago that was it! There was nothing flirtatious in anything he was saying, just medical talk, but it was more personal than he should be and rubbing my leg, arm, and then cheek and going for my neck (no one touches my neck) I finally drew back. My brain was shouting “fight or flight? fight or flight?” I told mom we were not going back to him. Was it all innocent? Was I to blame too because I didn’t say “don’t touch me?”. I’ve been verbally violated many, many times by one person and it’s horrible too. So, I’m not trying to make light of what happens to victims of any type of violation. It just shouldn’t be done. Period. But just like being on a jury in a heated trial, you’re going to have different opinions. I’ll have to call this one a “hung jury”. And I said, if I’m wrong about her, then I do apologize. But I just feel so badly for his family. I wish everyone could sit down and talk with respect and share their feeling and be understood without being hateful. I just pray that God will do what He always does, and be in control for whatever His purpose is at this particular time. Love you!

    • Reply whitneyleighcarlson October 1, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Debbie, I am SO sorry you went through that. That doctor knew exactly what he was doing and should never have even put you in that position! It is completely confusing and scary to know what to do. You did absolutely nothing wrong. I am sure he has done this before. I am so glad you are not going back to him. Thank you for engaging here, love you!

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