I was chatting with a friend earlier today about how hard it is for us to graciously accept compliments. When handed comments like “Gee your hair looks nice today” or “that colour sweater is great on you”, we almost always follow up with a detrimental response like “really?, I need to get my roots done” or “This sweater would look better on me if I lost 10 pounds”.
Women, much more so than men, are severely judgmental of themselves, especially physical appearance, and this constant need to better ourselves is ingrained from a very young age. It’s called self-esteem, or rather it’s a lack of it.
There’s a song from the nineteen seventies called, At Seventeen, sung by Janis Ian, that summarizes the sad reality of a young woman’s self-image. She alludes to happiness being only for the pretty girls; those less endowed with beauty are left to fantasize – they are, in her own words, the ‘Ugly Duckling’. The truth is most young women see themselves as the ugly duckling, even some of the pretty ones, because they don’t feel pretty.
As children we suffer the taunts of other children, and sadly, often the harsh criticisms of parents and elders who have no concept of the effects of their words. Our teenage years are the critical, formative years where our self-esteem is most developed and most tested. This is when all criticisms are taken with extreme sensitivity, i.e. the knife cuts deeper and leaves more lasting scars during these years. Some withdraw into themselves, avoiding social situations, some are fortunate enough to endure mingling with peers without feeling inadequate. Many suffer in silence, wishing they could feel the confidence the other kids do, watching them with admiration and hiding behind their loneliness.
It’s no surprise that advertising plays a key role in self-image. Young women look at models as the goal of what the perfect woman should look like; bone thin, pale faced, and pissed off (why do these run way models always look like they’ve been sucking a lemon? You make thousands of dollars for a 2 hour photo shoot and you can’t crack a smile?)
When you shop for any clothing that fits the current trends, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that fits someone who weighs more than 100 pounds, which probably eliminates 95% of the population. These models we see, these scrawny, emaciated ‘perfect people’ are not without flaws. Every blemish and wrinkle has been dutifully camouflaged thanks to lighting, cosmetics, and camera touch ups. And that beautiful young couple without an ounce of fat on their bodies, scarfing down a burger and fries in the commercial……you can bet within seconds of the camera shutting off they’re in the nearest bathroom inducing vomiting before they should, God forbid, gain an ounce. Advertising creates images of physical perfection that cannot be sustained in a healthy balanced society.
I remember the song, At Seventeen, and like most girls, I saw myself as the Ugly Duckling, because I was far from perfect, but we don’t talk about it, girls. We just work to improve ourselves….. for a lifetime.
We dye our hair, pierce our ears, apply our make-up, wax our legs, pluck our facial hair, affix false eye lashes, and cram our ‘healthy’ bodies into all sorts of apparatus that promises to mold our blub into a thing of beauty, but at the end of the day we didn’t need to, because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder – we just need to reign the beholders expectations…. back into reality, and that starts with our own self-image.
Love your look, flaws and all. Look at others with generosity; a well delivered compliment costs nothing and goes a long way in building anothers self-esteem. And start young; build up our children. Let them know from a young age that they are smart and beautiful and valued for all their attributes. And be vocal about the sincerity of advertising – the perfect male/female doesn’t exist. (And if they did, who’d want them? Living with perfection is a lot of pressure, not to mention the maintenance!)
Throw out Snow Whites magic mirror, toss the scale out the window, and focus on loving yourself, just as you are, because when you love yourself, you look good, and when you look good….you feel great!
You’re beautiful. Pass it on.
3 thoughts on “Self-esteem”
Nothing to add. You’ve said it perfectly. I hope many many teenagers read this.
Audrey Hepburn had a wonderful observation: “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness.” Yes let’s hope that the younger generation will think more along those lines.
Another great read!