I recently got a message from a reader asking “What do you do when you have horrible self-esteem?”
Self-esteem has become this holy grail recently I find. It’s the fix-all, and people spend hours trying to build up girls’ self-esteem but often it just doesn’t seem to work. Don’t you find sometimes that it just gets annoying when everyone keeps saying things like “you just need to love you for you because you’re just as good as everyone else! You’re beautiful, you’re talented, and you just need to open your eyes to that!”? Because I do.
I’ve never been one for self-esteem. I don’t really think it’s important, personally. Real talk, here: I’ve struggled with self-esteem since I was 12 years old, like most girls, I believe. Personally, I think that self-esteem has stopped meaning “thinking well of oneself” and started meaning “I think I’m better as that person or at least as good as her, so I have worth.”
Self-esteem is shown in messages like “Real girls have curves!”, which are meant to bolster the self-esteem of bigger girls, or “Boys like blondes, but men like brunettes!” That, though, isn’t self-esteem, it’s esteem based on others. Our idea of our sense of self has become a definition of how we rank compared to other girls.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you’re athletic. You still have value, and that’s where self-love comes in, not self-esteem.
Self-esteem is how you think about yourself–self-love is how you treat yourself. I didn’t find real healing and wasn’t able to truly accept not only who I am but how I look superficially until I started purposefully loving myself this last year or two. Honestly, I went from a pretty big wreck to someone who is actually pretty good with herself. I don’t get frustrated about my appearance anymore, and if one of my shirts looks better on my roommate than me I don’t take that personally. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but it was to me. It was a huge transformation. And here’s how I did it.
Treat your body like it is precious for an instant self-esteem boost!
If you had a gorgeous, cashmere sweater from Italy you wouldn’t shove it in a regular load of colours with your sweat pants and t-shirts, would you? No! You hand wash it, in lavender soap, and let it air dry. You spot-clean whenever you spill something on it so that it stays clean and fresh, and you’re careful to not just throw it on the ground when you take it off at night.
Treat your body with the same respect! This semester, I started taking a bath once a week with bath salts and oils and bubbles and facials and it’s wonderful. Your body does so much for you–it gets you to and from class, it carries your tension and stress all day, and sometimes it just needs a break. I like to do this Saturday morning, so that the weekend starts with me completely relaxed and fresh.
It’s amazing, when you start treating your body like something that is good and beautiful and worthy of care you start feeling so much more comfortable in your skin. You smell nice, you feel clean, and your skin feels awesome.
Fuel your body–self-esteem involves appreciating your needs.
I think that often when we get caught up in the self-esteem/self-doubt battle, we start with our weight. Yep, I’m going there.
The number one thing girls complain to me the most about is their weight. Too fat, legs are too big, their arms aren’t toned enough. And I’m pear-shaped–so I definitely get it.
But food is not the enemy here. Often when I felt badly about myself in the past my first response was to go on a diet so that I could maybe lose 5 pounds and feel better about myself. It never worked though, surprise surprise. Because you know what happens? You don’t lose the five pounds, and you hate yourself, or you lose it and then gain a pound back and hate yourself again. The enemy is the mindset that it is me vs. my body.
So instead of going on another crash diet, listen to your body! Are you sluggish and tired all the time? Maybe you’re deficient of something! I’m very anemic (yay genetics), so if I get really cranky and want to chew on ice I start to eat red meat more. Over exams, I started getting really bad headaches, and after I started drinking green smoothies for breakfast they went away! I guess some vitamin was deficient or something. Are you hungry? Grab a chicken and avacado sandwich instead of a bag of chips. Fuel your body so that it can help you do what you need to do. When your body has everything it needs, you’re in a better mood, don’t feel sick, and have more energy. It’s enough to change your whole mindset.
Put your body to work
We are made to be active! Humans were never made to sit for 8 hours a day, but we do! So get up and move. Find something fun to do that’s active, whether it’s biking to class or going rock climbing once a month. When I’m at school, I lift at the gym every other day and I love it. I miss it so much in the summer when I don’t have a gym membership, to be honest. I hated it at first, but when your body is finally able to be pushed and make gains you start to see yourself in a completely different way. For me, my legs have always been a sore spot for me since I’m pear-shaped, but now that they are getting stronger I honestly don’t mind that they’re not skinny, because they can do things. I can squat double what I could in October, and run faster than I could in August. It also helps that I found a guy who helps me keep track of my progress, which leads me to my next point:
Surround yourself with positivity
Girls have a habit of obsessing together.
This is what we call “fat-talk” in psychology. I’m going to make this really easy:
It’s one thing to honestly talk about what you can do to improve how you look/dress/smell/anything, and another to obsess. For instance, the girls at my house did Insanity together last year because we were all feeling a little unprepared for swim-suit season. It was really fun, and a great time, other than all the crying and all, but we didn’t spend hours talking about everything we wanted to change. And that’s why it was healthy and fun.
Find friends who will encourage you to make positive changes but won’t obsess over their own flaws or allow you to ruminate about yours.
Remember, it’s your body, and God gave it to you
In the end, we’re all going to die. It sounds morbid, but it puts it in perspective.
Not only that, in 40 years we’re all going to have wrinkles. In 10 years most of us will have stretch marks from having kids. Beauty is not permanent, but your body needs to be able to take care of you for years to come. So respect the gift that God gave you. Treat it well, and learn to show it love even if you don’t always like it. Trust me, it’ll make a huge shift in the way you see yourself.
What do you think? What helps you love yourself?