This one is a biggie for me and a subject I’ve been nervous to write about for fear of being judged, oh the irony. Growing up during my teen years I noticed that I never felt the same pressure as my peers to conform to a certain look, style or fashion and I wasn’t overly concerned with fitting in. In all honesty I was focused on my grades. As I became interested in boys I still had mouth full of braces and as long as I got those A’s I wasn’t really too fussed.
It’s only since being in my 20’s low self-esteem has become an issue for me. Whether that’s because I’ve naturally put on weight through growing into a woman or the ever growing online pressures that weren’t present in my younger years, I’m not sure of the cause. I come across as a confident person, and I don’t exactly make sure I blend in. I have loads of tattoos, I’ve had stupid coloured hair and I’m definitely not shy, I’ll talk to anyone. In my job I regularly walk into a room with my head held high and confront a sea of a strange faces eagerly awaiting me to publicly speak at them for 2 hours. The 30 pairs of unfamiliar eyes fixated on my face don’t intimidate me or distract me from what I’m there to do. It’s when I’m alone with myself and my own thoughts that I become critical. It’s like there’s the Zoe that faces the world, the facade, and the Zoe who feels small but only privately, who isn’t all that happy with herself. And she can be so mean;
“You’re fat, your teeth are horrific, that weird bump on your nose is ugly, look at those spots, ew stretch marks, hello bingo wings, your hands are masculine, your voice sounds weird, they’re quite some thunder thighs”
Who does she think she is?! Some days I can rationalise that these thoughts are unhelpful, subjective and not necessarily true. I make a conscious effort to be kinder to myself and accept that no, I’m not perfect and not only am I making efforts to improve my lifestyle and health, but that being perfect is a completely unrealistic and unobtainable expectation. Other days I believe them. It’s not only looks that feed into low self-esteem though. Looks are superficial and whether it’s a good day or a bad day, I am aware that these do not define me as a human being. What really gets me is when that toxic parrot on my shoulder is whispering into my ear that I’m a failure, I’m under-achieving and I’m not where I should be in life. Imposter syndrome sets in (particularly in a professional setting) – the belief that I’m a fraud, I’m under-qualified, no idea what I’m doing or talking about and someone is going to find out and expose me. In reality it’s absolute bullshit, I am damn good at my job but despite me knowing this deep down I can’t believe it.
The media is an easy target to shoot blame at but I believe with just cause. We are bombarded with images of ‘celebrities’ who are given a god-like status, are seen as pinnacles of society and ultimate life and image goals to many. But it’s so unrealistic. Not only do they have the money and resources to enhance their looks but it’s not reality. Do we see them chilling out at home in their pants with greasy hair picking fluff out their belly buttons? Absolutely not. Having said that I’m not bashing celebs, if I had that much public exposure I too would want to put my best self forward.
In my opinion social media has a lot to answer for. There are apps that regularly pop up claiming they can ‘beautify’ you, improve your looks etc. I used one such app as an experiment for your viewing pleasure and I was ASTONISHED at the results, take a look:
The images on the left are unedited photographs of myself that I was fairly happy with. WELL NOT ANYMORE! Annoyingly I much prefer the doctored, ‘beautified’ versions on the right which is ridiculous. If I’m honest I found this hilarious and I can take these results with a pinch of salt but what about the millions of impressionable young people being exposed to this? The mass media is saying “hey you’re not good enough look at what you’d look like if you were.” It’s dangerous, irresponsible and absolutely infuriating. And the change is visible within society. If you saw me at 14 years old I was truly a child. 14 year old ‘kids’ today know how to contour their faces, they can walk in heeled shoes and are conscious of their development. I read somewhere that if an alien landed on Earth and had only studied humans through magazines and and our media, then they wouldn’t recognise what all these 2 legged creatures are parading around.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s true, however this doesn’t prevent societal pressure from influencing what the beholder perceives to be beautiful. If we go back in history the ideas and perceptions of what is attractive have changed so drastically. In the 17th – 19th century women of the rubenesque era were larger ladies who were voluptuous and plump and this was gorgeous! This body shape was a sign of health and fertility. Lillian Russel was a highly celebrated actress and singer of the time and weighed 200lbs/91kg at peak of her fame about a current day UK size 18 (see below). In contrast the ideal masculine form was to be slim and effeminate with a pinched waist as this was a sign of wealth. It wasn’t until the late 60s when Twiggy rose to fame that thin became in.
What really is self-esteem and how do I improve it?
Self-esteem is how much we like and respect ourselves as people and it’s important to remember that our worth as people is not defined by how we looks but who we are. It’s not conditional on our professional or academic achievements, or on our dress/waist size but on our values and how in line we are with them. Think about the people you love and what you value about them – is it how they look when they get up in the morning or is that they make you laugh, love you and are nice people. We rely too heavily on what others think of us to validate our own self-esteem but ultimately you are responsible for taking care of it. Learning to have self-compassion is a challenge but most definitely possible. We all engage in negative self-talk and like any habit it can be difficult to break, so start off slowly. Think about things that go well in life. For me I’m proud of myself that I look after and maintain a horse. I rescued him and without me today he wouldn’t be alive. But it could be anything! You might manage to keep on top of laundry, you might get your child to school every day, you might hit that grade you wanted. It’s about acknowledging your appreciation for the small stuff and building on it from there.
To end, I’m going to post 2 pictures of myself, how narcissistic! I’m putting these here to prove to myself that I can feel great. One of these relate to feeling physically confident. One is of me now as I’m writing this at 10pm. I have no make up on, dark circles round my eyes and my hair needs a wash. It might not be a picture you’d want plastered over the internet but it’s going out there to show that I can feel good about myself because of my values and who I am, not just for my shell. Until next time…