Does how you look make you feel unworthy of love, satisfying relationships, a good job or true happiness?
Most of us can list at least five things that would change for the “better” if we were trim and toned. For instance:
- I’d be happier
- I’d be prettier
- I’d be popular
- I’d be more confident
- I’d finally like myself
For most of my life, I wanted to look different, and that different included being thin. Even when I got there my sophomore year of college, I was so afraid of losing my almost stick-thin status that I restricted and then overate and tried to exercise not for health’s sake but because I wanted to shed more pounds. I’d wake up to a pitch-black morning, drag myself out of my warm bed, and run from my apartment to the one-room gym a few minutes away. I was miserable. And, not surprisingly, that lasted all of one week.
Yet, I was terrified of gaining weight, because that meant that I’d be back to wishing that I looked different and I’d be less attractive, less desirable and all the happiness I supposedly gained would go away. I had created a slew of positive assumptions about being thin, similar to the above. And I’d lose all that, I thought, as the pounds returned.
You see my physical appearance ruled how I felt about myself as a person, how confident I was and what I believed I deserved in relationships, among other things. My self-worth and my silhouette had become intertwined. And that self-worth was oh-so fickle, and my self-confidence conditional, based on others’ compliments and whether an attractive, thinner girl walked through the door.
Being thin meant I was happy with myself and my self-worth was A-OK for the most part. Gaining weight meant I was a failure and accomplishments like great grades were only briefly acknowledged. I’d feel proud but it did’t do much for creating a stable and positive self-worth. More accurately, my self-worth would easily bend and fold to the wind and shake like a leaf.
Does your’s shake violently with the changing tide of your weight? Does it shudder slightly as you step off the scale, hear a negative remark, see an image in a magazine? When your self-worth is dependent mostly or solely on your shape, it can be stressful and upsetting. It can bring on a variety of negative emotions and affect other parts of your life.
But you can work on your self-worth, whether it’s constantly changing its stripes or has been hardened to the bone with your appearance and self-worth as one entity.
Improving Your Self-Worth
There’s no quick-fix for a broken self-image, for self-worth that feels like it’s plummeted. But you can take small steps to improve your self-worth. Things that take time to change are usually more meaningful, anyway.
1. Unshackle your self from your body. So if your self-worth and weight are shackled to each other (sorta like you might be shackled to your scale), release yourself from these bonds. Even if you don’t feel fabulous about your body (here are some tips that may help), there’s no reason you shouldn’t recognize your non-physical attributes and accomplishments.
What do you love most about your character, personality and principles? Are you generous, smart, witty, sweet, thoughtful? Are you a friend that everyone can count on? Do you volunteer? What about yourself makes you happy?
If you’re still iffy or need a jump-start, create a daily credit list. Write down about five things you’ve done today that you can give yourself credit for. Then think about how these actions relate to the type of person you are.
2. Consider the root of your connection. When was it that you started connecting your self-worth to how you look, your weight, your size, your shape? Was it a snarky remark at school? Something a relative said? A particular message in the media? What made you think that your self-worth is shaped by external factors, by some socially constructed image?
It might help you to pinpoint this moment and then figure out how to move on. Seeing your self-worth and shape as one is deeply ingrained within our society, so it might not be easy as pie to separate the two. But finding that moment when the link was made can help you in breaking it.
3. What makes you unique? It’s a tough question but it’s worth some reflection! As I write this, I’m racking my brain trying to think of what makes me unique. So no worries; you don’t have to think about it right away, but do give it some thought. Each of us is different and special in our own way (sounds too kum-ba-ya-ish? well, it’s true!). No two people are alike. Even twins have different personalities, ideas, senses of style.
4. What is your purpose? Derive your self-worth from doing good, from inspiring someone, from living your dreams, not from your clothing size or the number on the scale. Sure, it’s easy to say that. But once you realize what your goals are and what you’d like to accomplish, you’ll start to focus more on this and less on your thighs. Not sure of your purpose? Try these exercises to boost your brainstorming process. According to one self-esteem researcher:
“We really think that if people could adopt goals not focused on their own self-esteem but on something larger than their self–such as what they can create or contribute to others–than they would be less susceptible” to some of the negative effects of pursuing self-esteem, Crocker says. “It’s about having a goal that is bigger than the self.”
What can you create? What can you contribute to the world?
5. Fake it. Live tomorrow or the next day like you’re a highly confident person, a person whose self-worth is stable and, in fact, soaring. How does it feel? Were you in a better mood? Were you nicer, happier, less anxious? Were you able to accomplish more? Now, consider why that self-confidence, that soaring self-worth can’t become a reality. What’s standing in your way?
6. Work on your self-acceptance. Become more accepting of yourself, your qualities, your mistakes. Build your self-acceptance by being more compassionate toward yourself and focusing on the positives versus the negatives, suggests psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.
7. Give yourself the power. It’s been said over and over again, but I love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” For starters, try not to let others dictate your self-worth. Someone say something negative to you? Before just accepting it, consider whether it’s genuine constructive criticism or an offhand remark? Don’t automatically assume that anyone is an expert on you.
Another way to give yourself the power is with self-care and a healthy lifestyle. When you take care of yourself, you start feeling good every day or most days. You feel in control of your life and have a better idea of what you need. You’re able to think more clearly.
It wasn’t till a few years ago that I discovered and started appreciating the amazing benefits of working out, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep and taking good care of myself. I started feeling strong and powerful. My mood lifted, and I was able to view my self-worth more clearly. Sure, cultivating a genuinely positive and stable self-worth may seem like a struggle at times but it’s a worthwhile one and you’ll get there!
Is your self-worth dependent on how you look? What has been helpful for you in building a more positive, and less fickle, self-worth? How have you become more accepting of yourself?