Self esteem, confidence and the concept of beauty.
I’m sure most people have heard the phrase ‘Beauty is only skin deep’, a phrase firstly recorded in 1613 meaning that beauty is superficial. It’s possibly one of the most well known quotes about beauty, and is often meant to make people feel more confident as the more ‘important’ things lie within.
This is a bunch of bulls**t.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I do not think beauty is the most important thing. However, I’m practical enough to know that unfortunately the world flavors the physically beautiful, and that ‘beauty’ changes from place to place, and person to person. People use this quote to imply that no one cares about beauty, when in actuality, it’s very very cared about. Being ‘beautiful’ means you’re perceived as healthier, you’ll live longer, you’ll be paid more and you’ll succeed more at job interviews and competitions (even ones where beauty isn’t meant to me considered) . Even babies prefer beautiful people. Beauty is important. Beauty is, for lack of a better word, attractive. People want to be beautiful, and people want to be around other beautiful people.
Instead here is a quote that I think is far more powerful, and more meaningful:
I think that it’s important to change how we talk about beauty. I was watching a poetry video recently where the speaker was explaining how she refereed to herself as ‘fat’ and her boyfriend immediately responded by saying “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful”. The implication here being that fat isn’t beautiful. It’s a fabulous poem by the way I highly recommend a watch. Whereas, I believe, there is no one set way of being beautiful. Beauty is found in all shapes, sizes, colours, ages and styles. You have to be willing to see it though.
I hate having my picture taken. I’m not a naturally photogenic person. Most ‘natural’ photos of me are comically laughable because I have a very expressive face. I have high cheekbones, but as I have become older and gained weight I lost my sharp jaw line so I often look like I have double, or triple chins. I also have very pale skin and my circulation means I bruise and mark easily so if I don’t have make-up on I can look sick, tired or like my skin is sore or scarred. To summarise, I don’t take a typically ‘attractive’ photos.
HOWEVER, I like to blog. I like to take pictures. I want to have pictures with me in. Either for my blogging or for my own personal collection. Photos make me happy. They give me fond memories and remind me of things I want to remember. But I often cant see beyond how much I hate how I look in photos. I hate it so much that my family never tries to take my photo anymore because they know how genuinely upset it makes me. I can be happy and enjoying myself and if I then see myself in a photo, and I’m sad. I’m self conscious. I’m embarrassed that I’m not the standard of beauty I’m expected to be.
But nowadays, I’m far happier with my photos. I’m no more photogenic, but my photos no longer make me sad. This change happened because I decided to pretend to be happy, I pretended to be confident. I faked it. And now I can either enjoy the photo because I remember how happy I was at the time the photo was taken, or I can laugh at how funny I look. I’m able to do this, because the people I know and love would never think less of me because I take a bad photo. I’m lucky because I don’t have thousands of trolls scrawling through my photos, commenting on how I look, and lets be honest I doubt I ever will. But I find it inspiring to see genuinely famous people talk about how the deal with comments on their photos, I love seeing influencers demanding to have un-airbrushed photos published and I enjoy seeing the ‘blooper reel’ so to speak from their photo shoots; the photos where I suddenly think “Wow. These guys take photos just like mine”
This semester I’m teaching a class called “practical skills from performance” and part of this class is using performance skills to teach practical workplace skills for any career. One of these skills is self-confidence. So many of my students talk to me about how they hate having to speak in a group setting, in class or otherwise, because they’re so afraid of being wrong, being laughed at or being the centre of attention. South Korea as a society places a lot of value on visual appearance. This means that many feel constant scrutiny and pressure. So for this class, I offered the same advice that I want to offer you here today. Fake it, until you make it.
Until it becomes real, pretend to be confident. Pretend like you know how smart, capable and valuable you are, and that’s what people will see. How you see yourself, is often so much smaller and more derogatory than how those around you see you. Mental health and mental well being affects everyone, and low self-esteem and low self-confidence can lead to mental illness (or be a sign of existing illness) In South Korea 47.9% of 1,648 young people in their teens and 20s reported low self-esteem. 91.1% of 475 job seekers in Korea suffer low self-esteem, and the process of seeking, applying for and being rejected for jobs leads to mental and physical illness.
This isn’t just a South Korean issue. One Netherlands study(1) involving adolescents reported that low self-esteem was closely related to depression, hopelessness, and suicidal tendencies. Another study(2) conducted in New Zealand indicated that levels of global self-esteem significantly predicted problem eating habits, suicidal ideation, and multiple health-compromising behaviours in adolescents.
Ultimately I’d like to say this. Almost everyone suffers, or has suffered from, low self esteem in their lifetime. No-one feels beautiful, capable and confident all the time. The most confident person you know, probably has a side you have no idea of. I’m saying this not to make you feel all equally as bad, but to unify everyone in the knowledge that you can be just as confident as you aspire to be. As Frank Sinatra sang, “you can be as brave as you make believe you are!”
Now, please excuse me, but I’m going to take some pictures with my friends.
(1) Mann, M., Hosman, C. M. H., Schaalma, H. P., & de Vries, N. K. (2004). Self-esteem in a broadspectrum approach for mental health promotion. Health Education Research, 19(4), 357–372.
(2) Mcgee, R., & Williams, S. (2000). Does low self-esteem predict health compromising behaviours among adolescents? Journal of Adolescence, 23, 569–582. (2)