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Rachel Falb holds up two drawings of her by Ashland University students or instructors.

ASHLAND – Over the last few years, a movement promoting self-love has blazed across social media. While “self-love” is a phrase most people have heard by now, the idea may still sound perplexing, uncomfortable or daunting. What does it really mean, and where does a person even begin?

Rachel Falb, known within the Ashland community for her eccentric style and affectionate spirit, has spent most of her life exploring these very questions. Surrounded by houseplants and vintage decor in her downtown apartment, she sips tea and shares tidbits of wisdom she has collected through the years.

“You can't just love yourself. As easy as you wish that it would be, it's just not that simple. It's embarrassing,” Falb said.

For some, the term “self-love” may feel shameful because it invokes thoughts of narcissism or pride. Looking at the movement’s core purpose—to treat yourself like you would treat a friend—can help to overcome that discomfort. 

“Love isn't necessarily always healthy in a relationship, even with yourself, but it is more self-compassion that we should have,” Falb said. “It feels more intentional. It feels more kind to yourself.”

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Art created by Ashland University student or instructor.

Practicing self-compassion is second nature to Falb, who realized as a child she needed to focus on becoming someone she herself liked. At school, she was bullied because she was dressed differently from her peers for religious reasons.

“I started realizing they're not going to like what I'm wearing anyway or what I'm doing anyway, so I might as well just do what I want,” Falb said. “Although it was embarrassing and hard a lot, it felt really good. I could go to sleep knowing that at least I like myself.”

Despite religious restrictions, Falb found ways to express herself with clothing and loved fashion from a young age. “If I was going to wear skirts, I was going to wear really extreme skirts and be very eccentric,” she said. “It was going to be an art form.”

After graduating from high school, Falb worked in the beauty industry for over a decade, from hair salons to doing hair and makeup for photoshoots and fashion shows. Eventually, she grew overwhelmed from witnessing the unrealistic standards people set for themselves and their harsh self-criticism.

“This is why I got out of working in the beauty industry,” Falb said. “I was constantly trying to break down people's standards of what they wanted to look like, and that really started to weigh on me.” 

“People say, 'I want to look like this. Make me look like this.' But you're not that person. So, you're going to look different. That hairstyle or that makeup isn't going to look the same on you.”

“I felt very exhausted by seeing how much people were hard on themselves, and when they didn't feel pretty enough, they didn't know if they liked themselves. I think I was helping with that, but I realized I needed to take a break.”

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Self-love bracelets from Fig & Oak, where Falb works.

Falb left the beauty industry a few years ago and now works for Fig & Oak, a give back shop in downtown Ashland where a portion of every sale goes to charity. She also sells vintage clothing, maintains her cosmetology license doing hair for a few friends and family and models for Ashland University’s art classes and a couple of local photographers.

For Falb, the recent cultural shift toward embracing self-love has been encouraging. “I feel so much more empowered in this place that I am now because there are so many more people,” she said. Among these people is Amanda Rusynyk, co-owner of another downtown shop, Madame Bagnabit.

“Rachel is one of those people who genuinely shines so bright that she warms every person she comes in contact with,” Rusynyk said. “She is probably one of the most genuinely accepting people I’ve ever met.”

Rusynyk notes Falb’s confidence has inspired her to love herself also. “I am a person who often struggles with confidence, and Rachel has been so helpful to me just by being herself,” she said. “When you see someone being their full authentic self, and loving themself, it helps you feel safe and encouraged to be yourself too.”

One obvious shift recently has been seeing more inclusive models. Falb said, “I think there's so many brands now that actually are promoting (authenticity). There's models who have (vitiligo) and models with amputations and models who show our cellulite, our rolls, our gray hair and no makeup.”

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Rachel Falb and Amanda Rusynyk, co-owner of Madame Bagnabit

Diversifying ads in this way rejects a set standard for “beauty,” instead offering representation of real people and bodies. “Honestly, we're tired. Enough is enough. I don't want to have to worry about what I look like to you. It doesn't matter what you look like to someone else,” Falb said.

Rusynyk feels Falb is a great example of this, too. “When you see someone look at their own body and celebrate the parts that society tells us are flaws, it helps you to be OK with your own flaws and appreciate them in a new light,” she said.

“(Falb) embodies body positivity because she really leans into accepting and loving herself fully—the pros and the cons,” Rusynyk said. “In doing so, she is able to also accept everyone else as they are.”

Internalizing messages of self-acceptance can be very challenging, even when the words make sense. For anyone first starting out with building confidence in themselves, Falb advises to take it slow and begin to face the hard things in your life. 

“If you have an insecurity or if you have something that bothers you, write that down. Acknowledge it, first off, then think on why you have an issue with it. Why do you feel this way?” Falb said. “Get your journal out. Think back, way back, go back further—think of things that trigger you because of that, and think of why that bothered you, and just write it all down.” 

“Usually, things are childhood traumas that we haven't really faced or worked through,” Falb said. “Once you find out why you're a certain way, there's release in that. Instead of just being a certain way, or feeling weird about something, you find the reason behind it. It's kind of comforting."

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Falb with her fiancé and his daughter.

Falb also strongly emphasized the importance of time spent alone and getting to know yourself. "It's good to get a new perspective on who you are and check in with yourself,” she said. “Even just five minutes for yourself. Everyone needs something from you, but you need you.”

One way Falb builds trust in herself is through keeping small, simple promises to herself without the risk of feeling like a failure by not following through with something major. She recently vowed to dance every day, and she has, sometimes even dancing in the store while she works.

Staying physically active is also important to Falb. In addition to dancing, she loves roller blading, yoga and occasionally going to the gym. She feels very connected with nature and spends as much time as possible outdoors. “I'm a big stretcher,” she said. “You feel so good breathing and just stretching." 

For parents and other mentors of children, Falb shared how she encourages these ideas in her fiancé’s daughter.

“I try to teach her to write when she's angry because for me, that really helped,” she said. “And mantras. Just look at yourself in the mirror and actually see yourself and be embarrassed, but tell yourself that you're beautiful, and you're smart, and you love yourself and that you know you're doing the best that you can.”

Falb will continue sharing her insights about self-compassion on social media and in everyday conversation because the way people view themselves is fundamental to mental and physical wellness, and she believes these conversations need to be normalized.

“We really don't love ourselves because we're not taught how to love ourselves. We're not raised in that society. It's not a class at school. That should be a main class. Who are you? What does it mean to be you? How do you feel? What do you do with those feelings?” Falb said. “These kinds of things need to be talked about. And they just aren’t.”

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Art created by Ashland University student or instructor.

A small step toward building more self-confidence can be to simply get a little “funcomfortable,” stepping out of one’s comfort zone in a fun way, to help with personal growth and confidence, too.

“Maybe you don't have to be as extreme. I feel like sometimes because I'm so extreme, maybe it might help people,” Falb said. “I'm comfortable and good at the (Ashland University art modeling) job because I'm so extreme. Maybe it makes people feel like, oh, if she's that comfortable, maybe I could be a little more comfortable.”

“It could just be something little for you, like maybe wearing that lipstick that you feel looks silly for a day, or maybe wearing some fun socks under your dress pants. Push yourself a little bit to expand, because I think that's how we grow.”


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