Do You Have a Positive Self-Image?
From J.k. Rowlings
Let me share a wonderful quote with you, and then we’ll set about tackling this issue of self-image.
“I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones. I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny….a thousand things before ‘thin.’ And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking Chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do.”
The first time I read that quote I howled with laughter. Once the fun of “Chihuahua flatulence” had worn off, I decided this is a subject that needs to be written about. And so I shall!
I was a runt in school. I stood a lofty five feet two when I entered high school, and there I remained, in all my shortness, until after my sophomore year, when suddenly I grew seven inches. I was convinced, those first two years of high school, that if I could only grow taller, the other kids would accept me and even (crossing fingers) like me.
Later, I was convinced that if I dressed like them, and combed my hair like them, and talked like them, then I would be accepted.
I had not yet discovered the secret.
As a Teacher
Imagine my surprise, as a teacher ten years later, to discover that things had not changed all that much around the schoolyards of America. There were still kids desperately trying to keep up with the “in crowd,” and failing miserably, and because they were failing miserably, they themselves were miserable.
Imagine my surprise to discover, ten years after that, the same was true.
And ten years later the same was true.
My teaching career spanned from 1978 to 2010, and despite the changes in society, and the norms that spawn from it, there was always that constant societal malady of poor self-image among students.
They came from good parents and they came from poor parents. They came from riches and poverty, support and neglect, love and abuse. Poor self-image had no boundaries. It was a true democratic illness, infecting the young and the old, unmindful of sex, and that is still true today.
Do you have self image issues?
A Definition to Work With
Webster defines self-image as:
“the way you think about yourself and your abilities or appearance”
Taking this definition a bit further, we find that self-image may consist of three different types:
- Self-image resulting from how the individual sees himself or herself.
- Self-image resulting from how others see the individual.
- Self-image resulting from how the individual perceives others see him or her.
A complicated topic for sure, for none of us lives in a bubble. We cannot avoid outside stimuli, and we cannot avoid our own minds. Am I too fat? Am I too skinny? Am I attractive, intelligent, weak, a coward, ugly, and on and on we go, and where it stops, nobody knows?
How many of you reading this have self-image problems? In other words, how many of you have a negative self-image? There is a poll to the right of this section. Feel free to be truthful and cast a vote.
Is this normal? Do we all see ourselves as less than, or lacking, or comparing poorly? And by whose standards do we judge ourselves? Do we not live up to our own standards? Do we not live up to our friends’ standards? Do we perceive that we are falling short, or are we really falling short, and does it make one damned difference?
Would You like to Hear a Horror Story?
No, I’m sure you wouldn’t, but I’m going to share one with you anyway.
I had a student….let’s call her Trish. She was a gorgeous young woman when I taught her in high school. I’m not just saying that. All the teachers thought she was stunning. High cheek bones, beautiful figure, flowing golden locks, she had it all.
But she couldn’t see it.
Trish was convinced that she was too fat, so she set out to correct that imperfection.
End of horror story.
At the age of twenty-two, Trish died from difficulties stemming from anorexia. She had basically starved herself, and her system shut down, and the world lost another wounded member of our human race.
Would you like to hear another?
Let’s call him Steve. He was a loner when I had him in middle school. Likeable kid but a loner nonetheless. Nothing changed in high school. Steve had several friends, but none terribly close. For the most part he spent his days and nights writing powerfully dark journal entries and playing video games.
On a bitterly cold night in January, Steve hung himself in the garage and died.
His journal was filled with entries about how stupid he was, how ugly he was, how unloved and disliked he was.
Steve was twenty-one when he decided that death was an improvement over life.
So Where Does Poor Self-image Come From?
A tough question for sure, one that has been debated for centuries, but most experts agree that poor, and positive, self-image is greatly influenced by the type of childhood we have. Several factors can lead to a poor self-image during the childhood years:
- Being harshly criticized
- Being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused
- Being ignored, ridiculed, or teased
- Being expected to be perfect all the time. People with low self-esteem were often given messages—from parents, teachers, peers, or others—that failed experiences (losing a game, getting a poor grade, etc.) were failures of their whole self
This is not a complete list, but it definitely points to factors that play a huge role in determining how we will see ourselves in later years. And of course, this leads to the following reactions as we grow older:
- create anxiety, stress, loneliness, and increased likelihood of depression
- cause problems with friendships and romantic relationships
- seriously impair academic and job performance
- lead to increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse
So What Do We Do About It?
There are no easy answers. The self-help gurus will tell us that we must learn to love ourselves. We must learn to talk to others about our negative feelings, and we must surround ourselves with supportive people who will foster our growth and reinforce our positive attributes.
All well and good, but certainly easier said than done.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that, while in high school, I had not yet discovered the secret to a positive self-image.
I’ll be glad to share it with you now. It may not make some of you happy, and it is, again, infinitely easier to write it than live it, but here it is…..
Happiness is an inside job, and so is self-image.
It begins by walking to the nearest mirror, looking at your reflection, and stating in no uncertain terms that you are every bit as good as anyone else….not better, but certainly not worse. It begins with understanding the most basic of truths, that God don’t make junk.
I have no easy answers to this problem of poor self-image. I am just a simple writer with no training in psychology. Still, I know that a change of this magnitude does not happen unless we want it to. We must give our silent approval to change, and we must be willing to be the instrument of that change.
I cry for those who do not believe in themselves, because at one time, I was one of them. I ache for those who can find no happiness in who they are, because at one time, I was one of them.
You hold the key. You can either use it to unlock your potential, or you can leave that key hidden and remain a product of distorted thinking.
It begins with you.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)