The Illusion of Self-Esteem


I was walking into my local taco joint for my weekly ritual of taking advantage of taco Tuesday before heading to night class. My Tuesday nights are always concluded with rock climbing, so I was in gym clothes, not trying to impress anyone at taco Tuesday, night class, or the rock climbing gym. As I walk up to the cashiers to claim my carry out, I hear a group of boys my age calling out, and quite conspicuously,

“Six…no, wait, seven!”
“No definitely a six.”
“Yeah, six.”

They were very obviously doing what many of us do, though I’d hope the majority is more discrete about it. They were rating a girl in the restaurant. I can say with almost complete certainty, based on timing and evident stares, that they were rating me. I was fuming. I was mortified. I was a whole host of negative emotions based on the comments of a group of boys I knowingly would never come across again.

“How dare they rate women, me, based on how I look right before going to the gym. Clearly I’m not going to look my best. I’m a solid seven, right? Why would they only give me a six?! If they saw me at the bar last night I bet they’d give me an eight. That’s vain, maybe I am just a six… I shouldn’t care what they think. I have good self-esteem, I don’t care about their opinions. It’s the principle of the matter. Women are insecure as it is. Men like this are the reason we have image issues and self esteem problems. Men like this are the enemy.”

This was more or less the inner monologue occurring as I secured some hot sauce and hit the road. The truth of the matter was that I cared very much. I thought I had a healthy sense of self and in no circumstance could a man, or woman for that matter, make me feel bad about who I am. “I am a secure, well-adjusted young woman who doesn’t define herself based on how others see me.” Yeah, ok, keep telling yourself that, girlfriend.

Self-esteem is the biggest sickness that society and modern psychology has taught us. Or at least that’s how my professor began his lecture that night. How relevant to my encounter just hours before. I’ve always believed I have a healthy self-esteem. Not as low as some of my friends, not too high that I’m conceited or narcissistic. But what does that even mean? It means, when I compare myself to other people, other women, classmates, colleagues, etc, I think I measure up just fine. Self esteem is constructed by ourselves based on how we measure up to other people, a global rating if you will. The people with low self-esteem don’t think they stack up. It’s a social construct and it’s total bullshit. Instead we need to be practicing unconditional self-acceptance, according to my professor.

Unconditional self-acceptance means just what it says. No matter what, unconditionally, you accept yourself. You are a flawed, fallible human being, just like everyone else. You have strengths, you have weaknesses, you mess up, and you succeed. That doesn’t make you any better or any worse than everyone else. Write down five things you dislike about yourself, then five things you like. The former is far easier, isn’t it? The negative things are based on how you compare yourselves to others for the most part, aren’t they? Well stop it! We define ourselves, our “self” based on things that are constantly changing. I challenge you to practice being accepting of the person you are in this moment. Practice accepting the things you perceive to be negative about yourself along with the things you perceive to be positive. Quoting Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” You are enough, and if you start accepting yourself, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find others will, too.