Friday, 10 January 2014

Why Is Self-Esteem So Connected With Body Image?

I had a phone call from a lovely lady at Woman's Hour this week asking if I'd like to contribute to Monday's show on self-esteem and physical appearance. Unfortunately I'm attending the funeral of a close family friend on Monday morning, but I emailed her my thoughts on the subject and I'm reproducing them here.

I think that for a lot of women our self-esteem is hugely influenced by our appearance because we’re constantly told that it’s the most important thing about us. We get bombarded with messages every day that tell us that it doesn't matter how intelligent we are, or how funny we are, or how much time we spend looking after orphaned puppies; none of that matters unless we fit our society’s standards of attractiveness.

We see it in news reports where female politicians are ridiculed for their dress sense, or where the contents of their speeches are ignored in favour of what colour shoes they’re wearing. We see it in sport where female athletes are criticised for not being attractive enough instead of being praised for their athletic ability.

I personally don’t meet the standards of attractiveness that society has set. My self-esteem is very dependent on how I feel about my body for the simple reason that people don’t shout abuse at me on the street because I don’t like The Lord of the Rings, or because I don’t do the washing up as often as I should; they shout abuse at me because I’m fat. I’m always aware of my body and my appearance because people don’t let me forget it.

I've tried to lose weight my entire life and it hasn't worked, so instead of changing my body I’m working on changing my mind. Every time I look in a mirror I compliment myself, I don’t criticise the appearance or clothes of other people, and I’ve started to dress in clothes I like instead of clothes that hide me. Since I started thinking like this my health (mentally and physically) has improved beyond belief.

I still do things like dye my hair and wear make-up but now I do it for the fun of it, not to make myself look younger or thinner. My body is intrinsic to my sense of who I am, and the only person who gets to dictate what I look like is me.