As an infrequent reader of the self-improvement genre, I can only assume there are certain cliches that must be adhered to when penning the books. Such cliches, I assume, include a description of rock bottom, a decision to change, and steps to take in order to head in that direction of a different life. Gala Darling takes those cliches, incorporates them, and expands them with her charming and enthusiastic voice narrating a self-help book that could convince most that all hope is not lost for them.
Darling, an author, speaker, and teacher, wrote Radical Self-Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dreams after surviving depression, self-harm, and an eating disorder that left her feeling worthless. For nearly a decade she has taught radical self-love to women struggling to transform their lives, utilizing select techniques and tools to achieve their goals. Besides this book, Darling’s writing has appeared in media outlets such as The New York Times, Teen Vogue, New York Post, Cosmopolitan, and others. With her writing, instruction, and encouragement, Darling is responsible for helping millions of women fulfill their mission and pursue life without fear, but with love for themselves and the world around them.
Radical Self-Love is divided into three sections. The first, “Loving Yourself,” deals with letting go of negative thoughts about body, appearance, and position. She lists ways to combat radical self-loathing by learning to appreciate and get in touch with the self. Darling suggests #radicalselflovedates, on which the individual does a fun activity alone, with just her thoughts to accompany her on an enjoyable excursion. It’s important, she advises, for the best relationship a person has to be with his- or herself, before he or she can embark on any other relationships. This leads into the second section, “Loving Others,” where Darling discusses forming bonds with friends and lovers, and how to maintain healthy relationships. She explains it isn’t reasonable to have only one or two people with whom we go through life with, because it simply isn’t reasonable that one or two people could give us everything we require from outside ourselves. She also warns against forming “friendships of convenience,” instead suggesting going out and finding friends with whom there is an actual connection. This extends to forming more personal relationships with lovers, and finding someone who doesn’t complete the other, but rather makes living richer. Darling closes the book with the last section, “Daily Magic,” in which she writes about the many ways a person can infuse life with wonder each day. Some include surrounding ourselves with inspirational objects or building a vision board for the future. She suggests trying a new wardrobe to reflect the changes happening inwardly, offers tips on maintaining conversations with strangers, and lists the mannerisms one performs in social settings that spell success.
Gala Darling is keen on the “visual”: faking it until making it, imagining the future, manifestation. Manifestation refers to “meeting the universe halfway,” so to speak, by working toward dreams, thinking about them so thoughts can become actions, and waiting patiently for the universe to supply the opportunities to pursue different paths. This can be achieved by surrounding ourselves with objects of inspiration: pictures, books, images of what the future could be. Darling suggests looking towards successful people and building on what they’ve achieved (as she puts, “why try to reinvent the wheel?”) Basically, her book revolves around the idea that “if you can see it, you can do it.” An idea I am sure plays a central role in many self-improvement books.
The self-help cliches are fleshed out and expanded in Darling’s books in ways I found intriguing, as she had a unique take on some suggestions I had not thought of. For instance, her suggestion to reduce social media perusing is understandable enough; after all, how many times does it have to be said that burying our faces in our cell phones keeps us from developing healthy relationships with people? However, this is not the stance Darling takes. Instead, she suggests that getting sucked into our phones distracts us from loving ourselves. Social media and the internet keep us from being alone with our thoughts and thus keep us from fully understanding who we are. I was intrigued by this idea, because it was one I had not heard before, and one I recognized as all but true.
Similarly, the cliched “rock bottom” is lit with a new light, in my opinion. What Gala Darling describes as her bottom is reminiscent of what millennials today refer to as the “quarter-life crisis.” It is that feeling that there is no path to success, or that there are multiple paths, and no way to walk them. Darling’s bottom is accompanied with depression and an eating disorder, telling her, not only that she doesn’t deserve to feel happy and loved, but that if she were happy and loved she would not be interesting. This, again, is something that I personally haven’t seen spelled out as such, but recognize it as true; Darling’s fear, spoken to her by her depression and eating disorder, was that happiness would hurt her creativity. It isn’t a far leap to think this is true, when so many well-known creators have struggled exponentially; it can almost seem like a prerequisite to be an artist of any kind is to suffer. Darling challenges this notion by revealing how much more creative she has become in her changed life, full of radical self-love and happiness, and I think that is something that needs to be said more often.
While there are numerous positive aspects of the book, there are some disagreements I have a few of the suggestions Darling put forth. For instance, her suggestion to “smile even when you don’t feel like it” bothered me because it reminds me of the advice to “grin and bear it.” This, in my opinion, is not a healthy expression of feelings; implying that a smile should grace our faces even when we are sad or angry places a taboo on those very natural emotions. We need to feel sad and angry without thinking it damages our psyche. No one is saying wallow in self-pity, but a healthy expression of negative feelings could lead to a more vibrant happiness.
Darling also paints the process of transforming one’s life with broad strokes. At times, the vision seems so broad as to leave a sense of openness that, while all encompassing, can seem too general. The only instances where Darling’s book seems grounded in specifics are when she is discussing her own past and her path to a better life. For her readers, she offers very basic advice that may or may not even fit for each person’s struggle; it may not be so simple to just create a visions board and smile and believe in one’s self. While it would be unreasonable to ask Darling to address all of the individual problems and paths in one book, it would be interesting to see them tackled in future writing, with more details incorporated from those she has already helped.
All in all, Radical Self-Love does what a self-help book it supposed to do, and it does so in a very compact, matter-of-fact tone; the book left me optimistic and excited to work towards a better life, confident that I can achieve anything. I would recommend this to anyone struggling in that space between now and the rest of their lives, and see what kind of changes can be brought by Darling’s words.