The Webster’s dictionary’s definition of beauty is “a quality that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind due to sensory manifestation or a spiritual personality.” In certain parts of Asia, beauty is characterized by having pale skin. In West Africa, beauty is being overweight and in France, it is being tall and thin. To 77 percent of women studied in an international study conducted by Dove, beauty is simply unattainable.
The Dove research team also reports that 90 percent of the women studied in the US and UK were feeling depressed about their appearance and 76 percent of them developed eating disorders as a way of handling negative emotions.
With society’s growing obsession with mass media and body image, it is no surprise that women are feeling self-conscious. However, an unhealthy collective obsession does not necessarily have to become a personal obsession. Although self-image may be vulnerable to a variety of external influences and suffering through low self-esteem every once in a while may seem inevitable, you are more powerful than you think.
Own your brain; take control of your thoughts “The fundamental thing to know about self-esteem is there are two selves, the self that is being esteemed, or not being esteemed, and then there is the esteemer, or non-esteemer,” says John David Hoag, Neuro-Linguistics Programming (NLP) Practitioner.
A crucial step in improving one’s self-confidence is to recognize the roots of negative thoughts. An NLP exercise called Triple Description allows an individual to evaluate his/her thought process through the eyes of an observer. By asking participants to describe their inner selves (both the esteemer and the esteemed) as a foreign observer, the participant is better able to separate these two contrasting selves and focus on the positive aspects he/she feels is being suppressed by low self-esteem.
“Humans are very good at assembling the personality of others. Even as children we’re modeling adults, modeling peers, things that influence us, what we see on TV. We may actually have a part inside of us that isn’t really us,” says Hoag. “It may be saying you’re this and you’re that and how come you’re not what you should be. The important thing is to identify that part and externalize from others.”
Our thoughts and beliefs are extremely powerful. In fact, cancer patients with positive attitudes have been proven to respond better to treatment, thus demonstrating the influence replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts has on the mind and body. Confidence may be the key to happiness, health, and success.
“It’s been said that mankind is a mapmaker. We make maps of the world in our mind that we respond to because we don’t have direct access to the world. Our map of the world is based on our senses and our senses are filtered on the way in by our beliefs and perceptions,” says Hoag.
Since the way we perceive the world often determines our happiness and opinions of ourselves, choosing to have a positive outlook on life can greatly affect our mood and self-esteem. Easier said than done? Fake it. When you find yourself putting yourself down, give yourself double the compliments, stand up tall, and walk with a purpose. Although the human brain is a powerful tool, that’s just what it is, a tool. Eventually that same mind that was fueled on negativity will allow you to believe yourself when you alter your negative thoughts into compliments and self-confidence will develop.
The “feel good” effect of independence When your happiness relies on someone else, you’re essentially setting yourself up for disappointment simply because all types of relationships have ups and downs. It’s the nature of human interaction. As cliché as it might sound, in order to achieve contentment with yourself, you must become your own cheerleader.
“There is an interesting thing that people do called projective self-referencing, which is when I have this belief or fear that others view me in some negative way, so my brain projects this out to someone,” explains Hoag. “These people will self sabotage themselves at work or in school because they believe they’re not worthy and they get in their own way.”
The problem with worrying about what others think may seem obvious; preventing us from achieving our dreams/desires, constantly feeling distressed, and making decisions we otherwise wouldn’t wish to make. But Pew Research also found that more economically independent women considered themselves emotionally independent and, not surprisingly, happier than other women.
Dagney McKinley, photographer and author of “Dog Sledding The Rockies,” suffered from low self-esteem for most of her life until she found happiness from her new career/life as a National Park volunteer and wildlife writer/photographer.
“At some point in my childhood I came to the conclusion I wasn’t lovable. I learned that becoming sexual was a way to get attention but I was never able to have a healthy emotional relationship,” says McKinley. “I still struggle with bouts of seeing myself as I did as a young woman - awkward and shy- but I have pushed myself to work and accomplish goals that balance my life and I have grown. I have worked as a dog sledding tour guide where I found unconditional love with the 125 dogs. I know that I deserve love and that I am lovable.”
Find the determination to love yourself Dagney McKinley attributes the turning point of her life struggle with self-esteem to the day she began hiking and volunteering with the National Park Service.
“I found when I was in the woods there was no one to judge me except myself. I was finally able to see who I really was instead of seeing what I believed others saw in me. I grew strong physically and I learned to like myself,” says McKinley.
Similar to McKinley’s story, yoga instructor and 2011 American Idol contestant Devyn Rush found respite from her negative self-image by developing her passion, and therefore, developing contentment with herself as well.
“My mission in life is to combine song-writing and yoga to build emotional self-awareness, proprioception, and awareness of others in children/adolescents,” shares Rush, who developed low self esteem as a child often bullied in school. “One lesson yoga instills is to view an object without giving it meaning, to take in your surroundings without judgment. Yoga makes people strong physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
McKinley and Rush both agreed that doing what they love helped them overcome external pressures and build self-confidence. However, you don’t necessarily have to build a career out of such an activity to benefit. Trying out a new hobby can be beneficial in finding balance in life, especially for those looking for a new perspective and/or lifestyle. Spending more time doing things you enjoy may very likely aid you in finding positive aspects of yourself that can be used to silence negative thoughts in addition to, of course, simply making you happy.
“I am a healthy, incredibly happy person and I attribute all of it to having found what works for me to build my self-love,” comments Rush. “[Yoga and song-writing] both allow me to answer the question, ‘how am I feeling right now?’ It is such an amazing gift to know how to figure out the answer.”
- VERED HAZANCHUK