A few weeks into my internship at Microcosm saw me standing at the checkout with an armful of books and zines, all by the same author. I had been assigned to proofread Faith G. Harper’s newest book, Unfuck Your Intimacy, the week before, and had come out of the project with a level of respect and new understanding that, I’ll be honest, I was not at all expecting. What can I say? I was a skeptic of the whole self-help genre. I tend to picture dusty hardbacks with cover photos of smiling middle aged people dressed in the latest 90s fashions; books for people with vastly different experiences than my own.
Dr. Harper’s work nothing like that. In a good way.
The first zine I read from my new haul was Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself Instead of Striving for Bullshit “Self-Esteem”. This was partly because it was just on the top of the pile, but mostly because I had overheard my coworkers talking about how everyone should read it and thought, “Hey! That probably includes me!”
The zine, at its core, is about being kind to yourself. Sounds simple, right?
But what about when you fail that big test, or don’t get that project done on time at work? What about when you’re writing a book review for your publishing internship, and you keep rewriting the same sentence over and over? (I don’t know anything about that last one.) It might get a little harder to find kindness for yourself in those moments.
That’s where this zine comes barging in, kicking down your front door with its no-bullshit honesty and then sitting you down on the couch so you can work that shit out.
Right off the bat this zine tears into the concept of good self-esteem as the end-all goal.
In Dr. Faith’s own words, “Self-esteem has become the buzzword. And where we focus so much time, energy, and resources. And we fail at it. And then perceive ourselves as failures. Because it’s an unwinnable game.”
Does that sound harsh? Maybe. But as someone who gets frustrated if I’m not amazing at everything the first time I try it, the statement rings true. And it’s a refreshing truth in a sea of messages telling us to define our self-worth by our accomplishments.
The zine goes on to define self-compassion, and then breaks that concept down into a model. This is usually where I start to tune out in self-help books (there’s jargon and a graphic with arrows pointing at nothing), but Dr. Harper’s relatable writing actually managed to keep me engaged. Reading this zine feels like you’re sitting in Dr. Harper’s office, talking with her. It’s an accessible writing style, and makes a complicated topic a little less overwhelming.
Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Harper is not afraid to ask difficult questions, and I often found myself flipping through the zine to reread sections pertaining to questions asked later on. Questions like “How does your self-criticism impact your relationship with others?” show up in black activity boxes throughout the zine, and they are not pulling any punches. Yikes, right? There are some big questions for a 34 page zine, but damn if they didn’t get me thinking.
And that is my only real complaint with this title: it’s 34 pages. I’d like more content. I want a book, like Unfuck Your Intimacy or Unfuck Your Brain. I suppose that’s a good complaint to have–and one that might be expected with a typically short medium like a zine. There are references for further reading at the end, but I think I would miss Dr. Harper’s way of writing. Maybe that’s just my self-help bias shining through.
Self-Compassion is a no-nonsense zine, from an author who truly seems to want you to be the best you can be. This is highlighted on page 25, where Dr. Harper writes, “The driving force of striving for self-esteem is fear… Self-compassion, instead of being driven by fear, can be thought of as driven by love.”
This is a zine for anyone afraid of making mistakes.
We could all use a little more self-compassion.