A note: this ended up being half review, half addendums from me. Sorryish.
I am not the biggest fan of this one. I wish I were – Gala Darling has always been someone I’ve really wanted to like a lot but can’t ever seem to quite get around. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, where I watched it and the whole time my brain was screaming at me, ‘That might have been funny, but don’t you dare laugh’ for no ostensible reason. I can concur that something about that movie, and also about Gala Darling’s methods, doesn’t sit right with me personally, though I will say that a lot of people find it lifechanging.
Perhaps it’s because I encountered her first in the throes of being 17 and depressed out of my mind and living in a tiny town and my only real driver being to get good enough grades to study in a big city, Gala’s jewel-encrusted life seemed…not only totally unattainable, but trite. Very ‘MY PROBLEMS DON’T EXIST BECAUSE I HAVE CRYSTALS AND PLANTS IN MY BATHROOM AND I ONLY WEAR PINK AND EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND LIGHT A STICK OF INCENSE AND SNORT THE ASHES. PROBLEMS? WHERE?’ Overly optimistic in a world that, as I knew it, wanted to suck me dry. I’ve been working on those mindsets in a slower way, on the logistics of thinking more positively, but even now that I’m much healthier than I was then, I can’t quite parse where Gala’s dialogue fits into my life.
This book is lovely in a sense – I’m glad Gala is doing her, and it does work for a lot of people (the Amazon reviews hover at four stars). But a lot of things in here didn’t work for me, and more often than not, I found myself in a conversation with this book:
RSL: You have to love yourself!
Me: Alright, book, how do I go about it?
RSL: Use affirmations! Tap on it! Use the law of attraction! If you feel good, you will attract good things!
Me: I need actual concrete step-by-step advice on how to do those things.
RSL: Here’s a link to buy something else I made that will teach you how to do those things!
Me: But I already spent money on this book.
Me: Have you considered that this sends a message that self-love and self-compassion is not available to everyone who can’t afford your products? And also that this is not what self-love looks like for everybody, even people who are establishing their practice while reading your book for ideas?
I want to clarify – I’m not shitting on an entrepreneur for promoting themselves here. I am an entrepreneur, in some senses, and I understand that need for self-promotion. What I am going to shit on, however, is the fact that I have already bought into this product, and am receiving very little meaningful information in return.
Without further ado, Gala starts:
This ain’t your mama’s self-help book.
But at the same time, I don’t really get what’s new about the things she preaches – it segues in and out of a lot of different ways of being in a way that I don’t find cohesive or extensive. A lot of it seems built to almost sell other things she’s done – for instance, Gala goes on about EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique (affectionately referred to as ‘tapping’) as something she uses to burst through her blockages quickly. Instead of saying anything about how it’s actually done, we get a few paragraphs about how she tapped her inner negative beliefs and her eating disorder away. All well and good. EFT is a technique that a lot of people believe in and set store by. I have multiple problems with this.
Firstly, she’s very nonchalant about tapping away things like an eating disorder and asthma. This is not a good way to be. I get it, and good that it worked for her. I don’t think this is an encouraging thing for people who are struggling with their mental health to read. People with psychiatric disorders may be helped by tapping, but it is NOT a replacement for an adequate care plan (whatever that looks like for you and your psychiatrist). Posing it as though this can help everyone, regardless of their situation, is dangerous and irresponsible.
Secondly, instead of even a small comprehensive guide about it, she then delivers a link directly to a page on her website called Tap That, which is a digital course that you can purchase for something like $145 (I didn’t check, because it would have logged me into Paypal before telling me the price and I really didn’t want to accidentally end up paying out my month’s worth of grocery money). Bear in mind that there is plentiful information on this topic for free, and Gary Craig, the modern face of EFT, has actually done multiple public-domain Q&As and video guides. So in comparison, Gala’s statements on EFT struck me as really disingenuous – like, what, you couldn’t put a few more pages in on the very basics?
I can summarise what this book told me, and my responses to the way that information was delivered, in a (long, but not as long as the book) nutshell. If you don’t want to read this detailed summary, skip to the bottom.
- I used to have an eating disorder and hate myself (I am glad that this is contextualised, and glad that Gala has dealt with these issues so successfully. That is truly admirable).
- Loving yourself makes sense, because hating yourself is bad for you and makes you miserable (thank you, that’s why I bought the book).
- Radical self-love is treating yourself as you would treat your best friend (okay, but I don’t know how to actually go about doing that – I give myself time and space, I take good care of myself, I eat good food and spend time with good people, I meditate, I give myself creative space; my issue is thoroughly with the fact that I do these thinsg and need help understanding how to actually internalise that information, not just the knowledge that I should somehow be my best friend).
- Take yourself on dates; learn to spend time with yourself that isn’t just distracting yourself with social media and with external things (this is good advice).
- Happiness is within, and not found in any material goods (the real treasure is the friends we found along the way. I feel like I learnt this information intellectually when I was four, but it is true and also good advice).
- Meditate using guided meditations, I recommend Headspace (fine) and smile while I meditate (fine if you’re focusing on positivity, but my own meditating experience would lead me away from the striving for positivity and more towards equanimity around both positive and negative feelings).
- Use tapping to clear emotional blocks (learn how to in just six weeks with my $145 course!)
- Accept your body (how?)
- Find exercise you like (definitely a good idea, but Gala goes on about how she would willingly go to the gym five days a week – so in addition to finding exercise you like, find a pace that suits you too. Just because you like it doesn’t mean you do it five days a week or seven days a week or never have any time off from it).
- Walk tall (power posing is kind of a myth, but this will convey that you look and feel good and confident to others, which is never a bad thing).
- Get in some small wins to build confidence (my problem with this is not with the advice – it is that I struggle to aknowledge my wins as successes rather than neutrals, which makes me feel like my failures are massive and my wins are minimal even though when business is as usual, it means that I’m winning by default. I’d have really welcomed some advice here on how to make those wins feel like wins rather than ‘whatever’s, and translate to confidence).
- Reinvent yourself, if that suits you (her point here is actually about changing your name, but I repurposed that into all-purpose advice. Also, I think this is kind of bad advice and puts a lot of pressure on you to be a certain kind of ideal and feel like an impostor – my interim advice would be to see what your values are, and how you can extent those values into being somebody you want to be).
- Do the best you can (excellent. Truly excellent advice – something that’s almost oversaturated, but seldom said with the best of intentions, and I really do believe that Gala had those in mind).
- Forgiveness and acceptance is important, and it’s not easy, but it is empowering (this is nice, but I really don’t understand it, because there’s no advice on how to work on that forgiveneess or acceptance – or how any of the techniques in the book necessarily link to it. For instance, meditation does link to developing those things, but she only draws the link between meditating and being calm or positive).
- Take responsibility for your actions and thoughts (GOOD. Really good advice – responsibility and accountability are big. They’re big in the way that you grow. I wish she’d gone into how to do so more – a lot of it feels a bit blamey in the way that it’s presented, and I know it’s not meant that way, so I’ll try to do one better. Basically, you’re responsible for your reactions to all things, and that includes your feelings. If you are feeling bad about something, you can choose to take it out on somebody else and pass on the negativity, to let it ruin your whole day, or you can choose to drop it. Sometimes dropping it takes a minute, it takes saying ‘I need some time out to feel sad, and I will give myself that time to feel this and be done with it’. Sometimes it takes shaking up your routine or breaking out of it by doing something differently, listening to music, etc. Often my way through these things is to sit with those feelings and see where they come from and try to offer them love and care – I visualise the feeling and tell it it’s welcome to stay and I’ll listen to it).
- Important clarification from Gala – you’re not responsible for any abuse you’ve undergone, but don’t cling to victimhood as an identity (my interpretation of this is that you shouldn’t take your victimhood as a reason to treat others poorly or fall into negative cycles of behaviour. If you find yourself doing something you know isn’t good – picking fights with people who love you, for example – it’s up to you to stop that rather than saying, ‘But this person hurt me so I’m hurting you/myself’).
- Bring magic into your daily life, and make things special for yourself (fine. Solid advice, shakes up monotony, encourages you to treat your experiences, even ones that happen every day, with care).
- Learn to be nice to yourself – accept compliments, treat others with care, eat well, be friends with people you actually like who want you to do well (good, fine).
- Learn to experience pleasure without guilt (ooft, difficult. How? I don’t know, and Gala doesn’t tell me).
- Take note of your self-talk and your regular talk, and curb it if it’s negative – start a gratitude practice (GOOD! Solid, tangible advice! It’s actually as simple as noticing that you’re saying something and not saying it! If you notice, stop, or change it! I’d recommend this app for Gratitude journaling – I used to just keep a list on my computer but found it difficult to get to every day, whereas having it on my phone means I can take notes as soon as something good or fun or nice happens. This app does cost money and there are free alternatives, even using Evernote is a decent way to go, and you can form categories to separate your gratitude notes from your other ones).
- Use affirmations (I’m not very good at this one, but Gala’s advice is to let the feeling build inside of you, so I would suggest saying an affirmation and seeing how it makes you feel, and really exploring that feeling – if it’s negative, why? Do you have a shred of doubt about it, and if so, can you rework it into something that feels true for you?)
This is where the self-love portion of the book ends, and about where I lose interest. There’s a full section on ‘loving others’, which I can summarise much quicker:
- Make friends on the internet, don’t be picky about where your friends come from.
- Give people a chance for you to like them.
- Be nice and kind.
- Demonstrate active listening skills (i.e., be interested in someone). Ask open-ended questions, demonstrate non-verbals (nodding and ‘mhm’s), mirror their body language subtly.
- Don’t try to meet new best friends in bars.
- Try to sell hi to new people (incidentally, my method of talking to someone new is, ‘I like your X.’ Then they say thank you. Then I say, ‘So what brings you here?’ and it usually does pretty well).
- Don’t fall into a routine with your friends; constantly be trying new things and growing together.
- Make the effort with your friends, and be open in your communications with them. If someone is doing something you don’t like, flag it with them gently, because they might not mean to be doing it. If they do something that’s worth burning bridges, don’t hesitate to do so.
- Don’t be an asshole to your friends. Don’t flake or cancel – if you can’t make it, you should know in advance (obviously, this doesn’t apply to emergencies).
- Basically, making friends is great, and you’re not above it, and you never should be.
All of these things really do strike me as sensible, but they might not strike you as such. In terms of adding much advice to my life, this guide didn’t really do it for me, but it might for you.
The third section is a bit weird, and is actually the part that fits the least for me. The ‘kindness to others’ section isn’t new, but it is stuff I already live by, so I can see how someone might need it. The third section is about magic in your life. This strikes me as almost out of place in a self-help book, because it’s about manifesting, which she’s already described in a fair amount of detail already with affirmations. I also find manifesting confusing in itself, because her initial advice is that you have to do something after putting your request out to the universe, but then she says that you have to trust the universe and let it do your bidding. So, not really sure which one of those it is – I figure it’s a convoluted way to say, ‘do what you can and leave the rest’.
The gist of manifestation is to think good thoughts – practise gratitude through list-writing and get clear on the things that you want to happen to you and look for the good in the things around you (the gratitude list is a really vital tool in doing this, though. I like using my phone for listing because it means I can literally pull it out as soon as I see a dog or have a good meal. A lot of my gratitude points are good meals. Nothing is too small. Earlier I was looking for a train ticket on my phone and found myself at an impasse with someone, and we sidestepped each other, and I said ‘sorry’ and he didn’t, and for a minute I was miffed. But later when I was waiting for my train, I saw him holding his kid and spinning her around, and it was a nice way to reshape him, and I’m grateful I didn’t get to remember him as some jerk who didn’t apologise).
Gala suggests several things:
- Writing down your affirmations and getting clear in writing on exactly what you want
- Writing, ‘I am so grateful for’ the things you already have that meet that goal (in present tense).
- Act as if you already have what you want (embody whatever it is – obviously if material goods don’t suit, that’s something to sidestep for now).
- Make a vision board.
- Commit to visualising daily and to your gratitude practice.
I approve of the gratitude stuff here, and getting clear on your goals if only so that you can work out how to meet them, universe or no universe. Some of this stuff is a little tenuous, but overall it is clear and well-delivered.
The second to last chapter of this is on style. I’m not even going to summarise that chapter in bullets – it utterly perplexed me. The gist is to wear things that convey what you want to convey, to wear what you want, and to wear things that fit. I guess I understand this stuff, but on the one hand, Gala kind of treats me like I’m really capable of Just Feeling Good, and here she is kind of telling me to dress good. I’ve also never really been one for taking fashion advice, so this whole portion just sat really poorly with me – not in a grumbly way, just me sifting through it like, ‘Wha…what?’
The practical advice in this chapter is basically, dress for yourself, dress in a way that you like, but also dress for your lifestyle (i.e. no ballgowns if you’re a personal trainer) and your budget (thank god she mentioned this, I thought she never would). I just found this section totally perplexing and incongruent with all the other stuff in the book. It’s like she suddenly went, ‘Wait! I like fashion!’ – or a classic example of a writer thinking that her reader is interested in the same things she is. I am not into makeup and I’m good with how I dress, I’m here for learning how to love myself, and I’m not getting all that much out of this! Sorry!
The last chapter? Also confusing as hell, sorry. This one is about how to meet people. Summary: good handshake, eye contact, use touch sometimes (Gala doesn’t mention consent, but definitely don’t just assume that’s okay), don’t be afraid to take the lead and start conversations (this is a big ‘get over yourself’ point, because I can think of several times where I’ve been sitting in silence with someone an awkwardly long amount of time before I’m like, okay, screw it, I’m going to talk to them, and then I whip out the patented Ishani Jasmin ‘I like your X [WAIT FOR THANK YOU], so what brings you here?’) be legitimately interested in the other person and make them talk about themselves a lot. Uh, How to Win Friends and Influence People called, and it has a bone to pick with you.
Alright, that’s my giant summary over. To commence with actually reviewing this book, and not just being scathing about it: this was a surface level attempt at making me like myself. There were some genuine and good pieces of advice in here, and they are not to be undervalued, but there was so much left unexplained, so much where I had to pause and ask, ‘What is this doing here? Why isn’t it in another book? Why isn’t it somewhere else?’ – particularly the last two sections. I understand that making friends that are good for you is part of loving yourself, but at the same time, I think it should have been an extension or a second book, not in this one. I would really have welcomed a cohesive piece of work on how to Work With Myself To Love Myself – not how to work with others on it. And although style is a big part of self-image, I think that I would have welcomed more information on how that could work with your emotions, whereas it kind of came out of nowhere as though it were relevant.
Overall, I really wanted this book to be actionable. Some was. A lot of the advice was dripping in glitter with no substance. Overall, it struck me as a very white feminist piece of work. Theres nothing explicit in it to indicate that it’s not intersectional, but it doesn’t encourage that self-work in a way that someone who has to deal with those kinds of microaggressions, someone who has to undo those traumas on a daily basis would be able to use fully. To continue this half-statement-half-simile, the advice doesn’t deal with a root problem, but is almost cosmetic – things white feminism preaches like growing out and dying your armpit hair or not wearing a bra or weaponised femininity would have fitted in perfectly. Meanwhile, the rest of us are out here like, ‘Uh hey, I’d appreciate a narrative that I actually relate to being represented in the media and maybe not people stereotyping me?’
So, read this book if you’d like to read a longer and feistier version of what I wrote above. Gala is living her best life, and I’m here for that, but I’m not here for paywalling your biggest solution. There’s good in here, but maybe if you’re just learning about the concept of liking yourself for the first time. Definitely not for anyone who’s read into the topic before at all, ever. Sorry, Gala, but it’s a two stars on Goodreads from me!