By Lauren Chantrell
I know how it feels to have low self-esteem. Trying to explain why it is that every time you look in the mirror you find something wrong is like smacking your head against a brick wall. There’s no way to explain the feelings or thoughts- they’re just there. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel unhappy about the way I look and I don’t remember the last time I got through a day without feeling ‘chubby’. To a lot of people, having a poor body image and constantly worrying about the way you look is vain. But it’s not. It’s not an intentional thought process, negative thoughts can be provoked by something as stupid as a photo on Facebook or by something more personal, like name calling. It’s a horrendous feeling to be constantly unhappy with yourself and a lot of people are very good at hiding it under smiles and bravado. I constantly say I’m happy with the way I am and I act like my low self-esteem doesn’t bother me at all, but eventually it does.
In recent months, I’ve chosen to surround myself with positive role models who are vivacious, voluptuous and don’t give two hoots about what people say about their appearances. I love people like Tess Munster who just stick it to the people that try to bring them down. I tried being like that, I decided not to care what people thought because at the end of the day, if they have a problem with what I look like, then they’re probably not the sort of people worth knowing. But it’s incredibly difficult. I’m not massive, but I’m also not exactly petite. I’ve come to realise that I’ll never be a skinny minny, but it’s very hard to be happy in yourself when there’s always someone who feels the need to make comment. While the comments may initially pose themselves as concerns, that concern very quickly reveals itself as criticism; and therein lies the problem. Once you’re over the media, the fashion and the photo-shopped beauties of the world there’s always someone who drags it back up and makes it hurt all over again.
People think that problems don’t exist if you can’t see them. The best way to describe having low self-esteem is like having a wound that heals very slowly. The cut is created by something small, like a feeling you already have about yourself. Over the years of bullying and feelings of inadequacy, the cut gets deeper and deeper. With everyday that passes without comment, or teasing, the cut starts to heal very slowly. It can get to such a good place that the wound is almost closed, but then someone makes a single ‘comment’ and it’s opened up all over again.
I can only speak from personal experience, but I can promise you one thing; no matter how many times you tell someone they aren’t fat or aren’t ugly, they won’t hear it if a single negative comment is made. When you have low self-esteem, the only thoughts that cling to your memory are the bad ones. Positive comments are null and void if they are accompanied by criticism. It might seem harmless, but saying ‘It’s only because I care’ doesn’t give you free reign to insult someone’s appearance or weight (whether it’s with good intentions or not). For example, if you wouldn’t care if I was massive and you’d love me all the same, why keep making me feel bad about it? When I ask if I look ok, why not just say yes, instead of pointing out that you think I am too chubby for leggings?
I don’t remember when I started to feel bad about the way I look, but I would hate to think my 9 year old sister feels anything like how I do. But she does. I’ve heard her friends talking about weight and teasing her about her tummy. Like me, she’s a little heavier than her friends at school and she feels that she’s different. I sometimes wonder whether my own issues have rubbed off on her unintentionally. And if that’s the case, I feel terrible. I tell her to ignore the other girls because she’s worth more but in a society that favours appearances over talent, (why are the Kardashian’s famous again?), it’s hard to ignore the pressure to ‘fit in’.
There is no real solution to ‘mend’ someone’s self-esteem, but there are ways to make things better (or to try to nip it in the bud before it takes hold!). It’s our responsibility to avoid passing our hang-ups onto the next generation. As mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends, teachers (the list goes on), we need to show that there’s more to life than dieting and being ‘skinny’. Let’s teach people that it takes more than the way you look to be successful in life. Stop criticising yourself; if not for you, then for the little girl or little boy that might be listening- a child is like a sponge and they’ll soak up all that self-loathing. Who cares what size jeans you wear ? (Denim hates everyone).
Finally, I think the key thing is simply to THINK. As a child you are taught “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”… that’s rubbish – broken bones heal, but hurtful names cut a lot deeper and take a lot longer to mend. I don’t mean to sound cliché but before you can help someone, the first person who needs to heal is you. If you don’t love yourself and your own body, how can you possibly be expected to get someone else to love theirs? It’s hard, I still haven’t done it, but if you need a little encouragement then there is some truly inspiring poetry by Mary Lambert called ‘Body Love’. She really gets to the heart of esteem and it’s definitely something worth listening to , even if it’s just so you know you aren’t alone in your feelings.
Lauren Chantrell is a final year English and Creative Writing student at MMU. As well as writing her own blog womble.wordpress.com, she is also an avid crafter and lover of all things homemade.