To Any Young Woman Struggling Against Low Self-Esteem

To Any Young Woman Struggling Against Low Self-Esteem May 29, 2011

Dear Any Young Woman Struggling Against Low Self-Esteem:

There are two kinds of low self-esteem. One is the fairly constant, low-level sort that throughout any given day makes you feel awkward, embarrassed, or acutely dorky about all kinds of things you’ve said, done, thought, and been.

The other is the darker, uglier, more pervasive, cutting-yourself kind.

The first and easily most important thing to realize about low self-esteem is that every single person on the planet, no matter how happy, healthy, and successful they might seem to be, falls somewhere on the low-self esteem continuum between Dork and Dark. Where any given person at any given moment happens to fall on that continuum depends upon what’s just then going on in that person’s life. But nobody escapes low self-esteem. Some people have learned better than others how to pretend like they don’t suffer from low self-esteem, but if you trust anything in this world, trust that they do. They have to. Constantly battling low self-esteem is like having bones and body hair: it’s just part of being human. Everybody drops their drawers and then sits awhile in a cloud of their own stench; everybody roots around in their nose for boogers; everybody spends an inordinate of amount of time playing with their own genitals; everybody is a crazed ego-maniac; everybody is hounded by the fear that anyone will ever find out what they themselves are deeply convinced of, which is that they’re nowhere near good enough.

If you’re human, then, as much as you’re anything else, you’re a crapping, nose-picking, self-obsessed masturbator prone to low self-esteem.

Them’s the rules. They change for no one.

And do not let the media persuade you otherwise, try though it does every single moment of your life. Understand that 95% of the media you experience is designed and presented to you with one purpose in mind: to make you feel like if you had what The Stars have — their charisma, their talent, their charm, their looks, their inspiring effervescence, their haircare products — then you’d be more like them, and so infinitely more pleased to be you than you are. (Literally) selling you on that single point is what media does; that’s what media is. Delivering that message to you is the entire reason the vast universe of media exists at all. Because that’s the only message that will get you reaching into your purse for the only thing media really cares about at all.

If you weren’t constantly being shown who you could be, you might be content with who you are. And then what would you buy?

Pffft. A content consumer is no consumer at all.

So media makes sure that never for more than three moments running do you forget how beautiful and smart and wonderful you could be, if only you’d [insert here product or service you’re supposed to buy right this minute].

And it’s all pure [curse word]. No celebrity in the world is any happier, fulfilled, or emotionally balanced than are you, your mom, your dad, or anyone else you could point to. The Stars just seem awesomely together and fantastic, because: A. they’re (usually) extremely good-looking — which of course has zero to do with the quality of their character, and everything to do with a completely random roll of the genetic dice — and people (designed, as we are, to worship and adore) are forever confusing beauty with virtue; B. they’re surrounded by trainers and handlers and coaches and PR people and make-up and wardrobe and hair and graphics people whose whole job it is to make sure they come across as unaffected, charming, and wise; and C. when the spotlight is on you as you’re being widely adored for how talented and wonderful you are, the natural thing to do is feel and act humble, gracious, kind, centered, fabulous, and cosmically attuned.

You know how you are if in front of people you’re accepting some kind of trophy or ribbon, or whatever, for something you’ve done. You get all … sweet and humble and kind of shy and … winning, basically. Same with celebs. You see a movie star chatting on one of the umpteen zillion TV shows whose whole purpose is to feed the media machine of which they’re part, and you think, Wow, that celebrity is really humble, gracious, kind, centered, fabulous, and cosmically attuned. And for that little bit of time you see them on TV, they are those things. But that’s because they’re on TV. Once those set lights are turned off, and those celebrities are back in their normal life, the same way turning off your TV puts you back in your normal life? The you can bet every penny you’ll ever make that before long they’ll be farting gas that could drop bark off a tree, throwing temper tantrums that would embarrass a psychotic two-year-old, and spending endless hours online, obsessively reading what anyone anywhere is saying about them.

Because they’re people. So they can’t help it. They must.

And celebrities are especially that way. I mean … everybody has horrible gas, but the truth is that no one is more likely to be more psychologically kadoinked than is a celebrity. Because a celebrity’s entire paradigm for being a normal human is completely thrashed. All people want everyone to love and admire them; again, that just comes with being human (what with our being first and foremost social creatures, doncha know). But if you’re ever been in a position where it almost seems possible that everyone actually does love and admire you (because of something you’ve done that makes people feel good about themselves, which is the sole reason anyone in showbiz ever really becomes famous)?

Then, man-o-man, did you ever get pushed out of a helicopter right over Crazyville — where the population then consists solely of dazed you, and the cadre of people around you whose living is directly tied to you being famous.

And that is one awful place to be.

Always pity the celebrity; he or she resides in a special, uniquely shiny hell.

Pfft. Now I’m feeling like a loser because this post has grown way too long, and I haven’t even started to say about self-esteem what I want to.

My dad and teachers were right. I do talk too much.

Now I’m going to have to go overeat.

Which’ll end up giving me terrible gas.

Ahhhh … the cycle of life.

It’s so gross.

Anyway, next time I’ll continue on the theme of self-esteem. [And so I did: please see Young Woman: This, Finally, Is Your World.] Please join me if that’s something that interests you.


P.S. I suppose this goes without saying, but in case: All of the above also applies to young men. Or to anyone, for that matter. We’re all stuck together on the Low Self-Esteem Express.

P.S.S. I might never again blog about anything but self-esteem.

P.S.S.S: That said, I’m not quite finished with my reflections on the Biblical notions of hell, which I’ll return to in mega-short order.

P.S.S.S.S.: The reason I interrupted my series on hell is because Kim Stephens, who writes the blog Teen Parent Cafe, wrote me to say, “Hey John! Would you accept requests for blog posts? I think your writing shows an exceptional capacity for empathy, particularly where women are concerned. What do you think about a series of articles on women and self-esteem? I think you’d find that would resonate with a lot of your readers. (My daughter still has some empowering passages from Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How To Defeat Each One of Them tacked to her wall.)” So I wanted to get this right out, because .. I dunno. In case.

P.S.S.S.S.S. While the effects that our media has on the self-esteem of so many of our young people is caustic and deeply problematic, it’s not the sort of thing that tends to lead to the kinds of ongoing, severe depression referenced by commenter Melanie below. That much darker side of the low self-esteem continuum is one I’ll certainly address in an upcoming post. That’s a whole other can of problem.

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  • Wonderful wonderful wonderful!

    So you’re saying, my fame and celebrity is actually only a prison in which I am living? Aw, darn. And I was in SUCH a good mood.


    This is great, John. Looking forward to Part Deux, too.

  • Solid gold as usual. In fact is is so much so that we need a set of solid gold dancers to highlight how awesome this post is. Cue the disco ball.

    Seriously as one who has dealt with the darker side of self esteem for far too much of my “young” life, I appreciate the reality check.

  • Thanks, Kim and SD, very much. (And sorry for awakening you to the awful trap of your life, Kim.)

  • Stephen Dias

    Good piece. Don’t tell me your ‘model’ has low self-esteem.

  • Did I use the word “model” in there anywhere? If I did, I sure can’t find it. I hope I didn’t!

  • haylestales

    i think you’re providing a great foundation so when you do launch into the ‘self-esteem’ bit…we’ll (the reader) be able to connect the dots and follow along.

    ground work is important. i’m looking forward to what’s coming next.

  • Don Rappe

    I look forward to this topic.

  • Don Rappe

    Perhaps a reference to the lovely young woman whose picture is gracing your article.

  • Add to the mix growing up in an ultra-religious environment where young girls are told they are twice as bad because because the Woman sinned first and got all of humanity into this mess.Years ago my cousin was beaten by her husband on their wedding night as their pastor had counseled him to keep her in line because as a woman she was more prone to temptation and sin. ‘Cuz, you know, Eve.

    I wish I was making that up.

    I remember teasing and taunting from young boys that gave me the message there was something wrong about being female. I took all the statements over the years into myself and truly believed I was ‘less than’. I used to think people made me feel bad; in fact, no one can make you feel anything.

    Self esteem is just that. Nothing and no one can give it to you or take it away. Esteem can only be granted to you by you.

    Funny that self esteem has been the focus of my running discussions with the Lord this week. Spending most of my life as a shame-based person, I am learning in interactions with others that I can decide that I am who I think I am, not what they’re trying to tell me. It’s going to take a lot of practice.

  • Rocco


    Love this. Looking forward to more!

  • haylestales

    “I remember teasing and taunting from young boys that gave me the message there was something wrong about being female.”

    oh my goodness…YES. so validating. thank you!

  • DR

    A friend of mine (a very conservative Christian) just blogged about privacy being a breeding ground for sin. My heart broke. Her kids don’t even get to lock the door when they go to the bathroom. And she’s wonderful, she really is – but her fear of sin and the *pressure* she feels to not screw her kids up, make sure they are obedient and trusting in the Lord are almost myopic to the point she and her husband don’t know how to balance all of the other things we know about kids needing a healthy amount of practice to fail and screw up to become better.

    It struck me how difficult a job parents with faith have, not just understanding our own but the pressure of raising children in ways that we can manage our own needs, our own failures – I can’t imagine ever doing it, I’m not mature enough but it was so interesting in light of this wonderful series.

  • I read this last night because I was tired and feeling pretty good because I’d just had steak. I’m still feeling pretty good, so my usual meloncholic tone which would be so appropriate here might not be up to snuff.

    I’m not terribly obessesed with celebrity – I mean, sometimes, when I’m waiting for my local station to run “The Simpsons” I’ll have the channel tuned to TMZ – which is not the kind of show I usually watch, but it’s wafting noise as I am on the computer reminds me that celebrity only really means that there are vultures eager to tear you down – even *more* people watching and waiting for you to mess up than normal. Oh, I’d love to become a famous author someday, have my fantasy works read ’round the world. I like to joke that I’m trying to “become the next J.K. Rowling,” – but, at the same time, I think if I actually achieve something like that, I may pull a J.D. Salinger and dissapear off the map just so I don’t have to deal with the loads of stupid. Then again, I love the Internet and disscussion and deal with loads of stupid on any forum I go to, so, maybe I’d grit up and take it.

    My self-esteem issues? Are numerous. I am bipolar, after all, which means I have problems ingrained deep in the gray matter. That’s the definition of a mental illness after all. It’s partially by birth (looking back, there were signs of it in my childhood and I have reasons to believe it’s genetic/in my family), but it was really driven home by being the “weird kid” – not fitting in with peers, being the butt-monkey at school, not being able to make friends/having friends I’d made betray me, the expectations of the adults in my life (seriously, my parents pegged me as the “smart one” of the family and their “last hope.” I was fed all kinds of things like how I’d be successful). And there you go.

    The bipolar (not known until I was 26) really put a damper on that “success” thing – I mean, when you “feel too much” and can’t keep down a job because of your tendency to go into panic mode upon dealing with difficult people (such as bosses, clients/customers) and you can’t handle stress in general, and you come from a blue collar family who couldn’t afford to give you the “right” education — well, sometimes where you end up is where you start. And then the world makes you feel bad for it. Because you don’t have money. Because you don’t have a super-high education.

    Or just because your interests are not “worthy.” I’ve found out from bitter expeirence and others I’ve known – if you get an art degree, you might as well paint loser on your forhead. Art is not nearly as respected in the “real world” as it was when you were a kid.

    There are lots of factors to the self-esteem killers out there. The world’s celebrity obession is just one facet.

    Maybe the fact that we all have problems are doubts are why we all tell ourselves fairy tales about who we are, then turn around and make other people feel bad for their own fairy tales.

  • melanie

    As one who has been on the way darker side of low self-esteem for most of my life, to be honest, I have a hard time relating to this blog post at all. When you combine a closeted lesbian with an extremely misogynistic environment growing up, it’s hard to imagine low self-esteem being about nose-picking and farting. Many women are literally raised to believe they have no purpose or future without a male mate, whom they must obey in everything. We are raised to think that everything “feminine” is inherently bad, while everything “masculine” is good, BUT any female who shows interest in any of the good masculine things (or god forbid is even good at them) must be an abomination. Tried starving myself to death for a few years. Did the whole self harm thing before I even knew it was a “thing” which other people did- I literally had decided that I could survive in life without killing myself if I physically punished myself through burning or cutting b/c at least in my own head I’d know I had paid the price for how bad I was, and would continue to pay as often as needed. I was shocked my freshman year in college to learn that anyone else had ever done such a thing too. Yes, now I have mostly come out of those horrible dark places of my soul now- my options in life became a choice between a path of hiding who I am (which I knew would end in death, one way or another), or accepting myself as a lesbian and moving on with life from there. So, not saying this is a bad post, but I cannot relate to this at all, to the point of hardly being able to read it.

  • What a deeply moving testimony; thanks for sharing it, Melanie. I should have been more clear about the distinction between the more common kind of low self-esteem to which I’m here generally referring, and grueling ongoing sort of self-hatred and depression of the sort you’ve suffered. I meant to indicate at the beginning of the post that I was basically starting with the “Dork” side of things and would move on the Dark, but I really never made that clear. Let me go do that now. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I’m awfully sorry for what you’ve had to suffer at the hands of so many who’ve understood so little.

  • micki7

    I have to admit, much of this post didn’t quite hit the mark. Young people, particularly women, are not that concerned with their burping, farting, and the fact that everyone does. It’s much deeper and more pernicious the way society (both secular and faith based) creates unrealistic goals and demands almost impossible results. It’s deeper than the systematic undermining of body image. It is a very real hate that is more and more popping up its ugly head with increased domestic violence, demeaning portrayals in movies and television, as if for a woman to be a normal size or actually have the audacity to get old, and by old we no longer mean one’s “50’s” we mean 30, and for a kind of winking at music/art (is it really art?) that glorifies using women merely as objects of male gratification whether sexual or through violent fantasy. The world has become a very dangerous place for little girls, for women of any age. Even in the Church, women are held up to an almost impossible standard, and treated as inferior and insignificant except as a “womb with a view”, as evidenced by the emphasis on attention to the wellbeing of fetuses, but no real regard for the lives of women.

  • melanie

    Thank you for the clarification 🙂 I do look forward to your continuation on this subject. Misogyny in many cultures, ours included, is in some ways so ingrained that it is often overlooked completely. Many think that since the whole feminist movement and with more women in the workplace in higher-level jobs, even in male-dominated industries, that the concern for women’s rights is now out of place. In some corners of our society it is not so problematic, but I would say in a majority of Christian circles it still pervades to the point of being an integral part of the culture and social structure. Unfortunately, even many women promote misogyny, not recognizing it for the evil it is, because it is that ingrained. I believe misogyny is also at the root of homophobia, which is perhaps one of the reasons Christians are so unwilling to acknowledge it…or even look it up in a dictionary to add it to their itty bitty vocabularies. I read in one of your other posts that you think Christians are hardest on gay men b/c of the emphasis put on the male’s role, but think of it in terms of misogyny- I think this explanation actually fits a lot better. Misogyny creates the utmost in contradiction for a good little Christian girl…always look good, but not TOO good (aka slutty). Be a great cook/house keeper, but be mindful that such role pales in comparison to the man’s role in the household. Be physically fit, but not masculine. Be nice and sweet, but don’t flirt (can’t let any guy think you’re asking for it now…). You have to have a man, so settle for one who will take you before you get too old (like, you know, 25). Have babies young, but make sure you’re prepared to be the best mother/wife/career woman. No matter what a woman does, there is something weak, bad, or inadequate about it. Is it any wonder that women are killing themselves with diets, cutting, drugs, etc?

  • Yes, exactly, all as you say. Again, I meant only to START with this; tomorrow (if I can finish it in time) I’ll speak more specifically to the range of things you’ve here so well articulated.

  • I recently saw Dr. Aric Sigman (someone who has had good and bad press about his work) and he talks about the power of the media and how television is damaging our lives. He spoke about the effect that role models have on women – in tribal cultures for example, women will rank themselves against their fellow young women to get an idea who they are likely to marry. In so called “modern” cultures, the role models which women rank themselves against are not the people whom they know or see walking down the street… they are the thousands of images of very thin, very busty, very beautiful (air brushed and made up) women who line our streets (on advertising billboards), our magazines, newspapers, television shows etc. If they looked around, most women are actually nice and curvy – just the way the majority of men like them to be!

    From the studies Dr. Sigman talks about, almost all men don’t have this problem – they don’t rank themselves against their peers or against the men with a six-pack they might occasionally see in the media.

    I’m not sure it’s as simple as having more men stand up and say – we like our women to look and feel real, but it might help! So here goes…

    I like women to look and feel real! They don’t need to spend 3 hours in the bathroom making themselves look nice, although I do appreciate it when they do!

    Oh and a last thought – I’m pretty sure you’re right about the rich and famous – I’m sure they are probably more insecure than the rest of the people – but as you say, they have the team around them making them feel good…

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Isn’t it supposed to be “P.P.S.”, etc.?

    I will now commence to feel good having affirmed my self-esteem in pointing out what I presume to be another’s error.

    By the way, I second Mr. O’Neil’s sentiments: An elongated sack of bones is not at all an ideal, attractive figure, and I wouldn’t be interested in a woman wasting too much time in front of the mirror.

  • cat rennolds

    psssssssssssssssssssss it’s funnier this way.