Self Esteem Demystified

Are you fat? Are you thin? Are you short? Are you too dark? Are you too “White”? Do all these attributes define you? 

These attributes can be a constant source of insecurity in our very “image conscious” society. I, personally, used to be thin, even though I would like to think of myself as having been svelte! Being around my buff friends and girlfriends, my thinness used to cause me a lot of insecurity. I imagined that I would become a hunk once I got “big.” However, the problem was that when I started lifting weights, I found it very hard to reach and cross that line to ultimate happiness. Every time I would reach my goal, the happiness and self-esteem goal shifted. This happened for years until I realized that it’s easier to focus only on what you can control. Your height, getting bald, your IQ, skin colour, how you were raised, and the list goes on and on, can’t be tamed. They will always remain constants.

One of the major reasons people flock to gyms is for weight loss, in pursuit of improving their self-esteem. It’s not surprising that one lady in a nutrition workshop I was conducting showed obvious disappointment when my opening words were, “This is not a diet. This is not a weight-loss program. Above everything else, this is not a weight loss exercise program.”

Her response was instant, “I came here to lose weight, Steve.”

My usual response is “Would your life change if 10kg of weight dropped off you right now?”

Her automatic response, supported by the entire class of nodding heads was, “It will improve my self-esteem.”

Self-esteem isn’t real. It’s a mental construct. It is not tangible and that is why simply telling someone to improve their self-esteem isn’t very helpful.

Most women wanting to lose weight relate it to their frustrations with dating and happiness, always blaming it on their weight. Regardless of whether this is the case, more often than not, the advice they get is usually, “Men don’t care about weight, they care about self-esteem. So you should stop worrying about your weight and try to be more confident.”

Many people don’t see the world for what it is, they see it for who they are. Weight loss, dieting and exercise are associated with being thin, svelte, good looking people. If you don’t look like them, you are declared a persona non grata and a failure in the world of aesthetics. The absence of these aesthetic qualities makes one feel less worthy. We have come to believe that self-esteem is as potent as your heart or brain, but is it? Protection of our self-esteem is encoded in our DNA as self- preservation. This leads to many people engaging in either positive behaviour (kindness, selfless service of others) or negative behaviour (chasing titles, money) at high cost to other areas of their lives.

Does higher self-esteem lead to more happiness? Does it matter how it was built? If self-esteem is built on extrinsic achievements, what happens when achievements like getting or having your dream job, qualifications or car are lost? If happiness is the sole purpose of losing weight, what happens when you gain the weight again? When your thin-ness equals your quality of happiness then chances are some other areas of your life start suffering. If your value and worth is pegged to your weight, does it mean it drops with weight gain?

Given the inability of the majority of us to manage our weight, are we just weak-willed slackers or narrow minded losers that focus on weight loss to cover up failure in other areas of our lives? My take is that most of us just lack strategy; our priorities are wrong and we are always last on our to-do list. We should focus on balance and understanding of energy as a singular denominator in the success of our daily endeavours and believe that this will automatically change us psychologically and physically.

My approach and that of our Wellness Centre is based and built upon the following four pillars:

  •  Physically energized through exercise and proper nutrition.
  •  Emotionally connected to our inner and outside world; conscious strategy.
  •  Mentally focused – through clarity and power of singularity in task performance.
  •  Spiritually aligned to purpose; cause beyond our immediate self-interest.

These 4 pillars lead to a fully engaged, energized, happy existence. This leads to the long term sustainability of a high or positive self-esteem. Self-esteem is like a well-built house. The foundation has to be strong. The values that your self-esteem is built on determine how happy and content you become. Self- esteem built on some inferior material, like sawdust, doesn’t last. It’s like buying a new car or that Gucci bag to “be” happy. Long lasting self- esteem and happiness can only be attained by building a strong foundation, a brick house, based on values that encompass self-love, respect of self and others, kindness and adding value to society.

Article by Steve Mululu from Estrogen Magazine