Monday, June 9, 2014

A Note on Loving Yourself & Why Self-Esteem is Just Kind of Whatever

One of the most popular - and cliched - topics among personal style/lifestyle bloggers is self-esteem issues. I think that because we have our photos all over and talk in-depth about how fab our life/wardrobe is, we're perceived as having some perfect awesome life and ridiculous amounts of self-esteem. Therefore, the need to make a single blog post about our points of low self-esteem seems necessary. I don't think that I've ever dedicated an entire post about this. I've made myself very vulnerable on my blog before - talking about being raised by my mom, my relationship with a heroin addict, and trauma that shaped my teens - but I've never just come out in one single post talking about my feelings on how my self-esteem affects my life. Mostly because I find vulnerability in the way you feel to be much more powerful and significant than vulnerability in the way you look. We all have self-esteem issues when we look in the mirror. Do we really need to talk excessively about it?

I think that low self-esteem is sort of a whatever issue. I've definitely gone through a lot of times in my life where I've had ridiculously low self-esteem. I had acne for years and would actually make a point of not leaving the house - not going out with friends, not going to parties or other functions - because I was so self-conscious about my painful cystic acne. I still get zits now and then and, trust me, they definitely put a damper on my day, but they don't keep me from being myself and loving myself for who I am. When I was younger and my acne held me back, it was because I let it hold me back. I put so much of my self-worth in my skin that it kept me from loving myself.

I didn't really start to appreciate myself (or the way I look) until after my skin cleared up. For the first time in about 6 years - and the first time in my teens - I was able to look beyond the horrendous painful growths under my cheeks. Even very recently, when I'd get a breakout during my cycle, I'd focus so much of my energy on that one spot. I'd attack it - and attack myself for having it - and it's such a worthless argument. I live with the scarring of my acne every day and have quit warring against that so why did I let myself voraciously fall apart over a single spot or two?

We're so obsessed with the way we look because it's the only way that people get to know us with just a glance. It's what we perceive to be the indicator of whether or not this person is worth talking further to. And it's such a stupid thing because seriously, when was the last time that you thought, "That person is too ugly for me to talk to" or "That person has too much acne to be a good, decent person." Never! I've never once held myself back from getting to know someone based upon their skin or their hair or their weight. So why have I obsessed so much over the fact that I think everyone else in the world will reject me if I go to work with a spot on my chin?

I think the worry stemmed from a feeling that people will think that I'm unclean, or that I'm juvenile. That I don't take good enough care of myself. And that doesn't actually represent who I am as a person, so I obsess over fixing it - I want my appearance to reflect the person that I am on the inside. The root of low self-esteem is worrying that people will reject us from the outside and not give the rest of us a chance.

Today I was reading a short interview with Lorde in Nylon magazine. I love reading interviews with Lorde because she's so candid. She openly calls out people for touching up her skin and has declared acne a normal issue that, yes, she deals with and that no, she isn't ashamed of. In this particular interview, she mentioned that her hair looks best when it's unwashed and dirty - just don't smell it or touch it. I laughed at this - our hair is obviously very much alike. I pride myself in going weeks without a proper shampoo. It gets more and more unruly with each missed wash, and I love it for that. I've been with men who try to run their hands through my hair, only to very much regret it. A lot of yanking and tugging and me wincing in pain goes along until they get their hand free and simply pat my locks and never attempt a sexy hair ruffle again. As I read Lorde's interview and thought this over in my head, I felt very at peace with my hair. 

I often see girls with perfect ringlets or rad afros and just hate my weird, non-uniform, lackluster curls. They tend to do whatever they want, sometimes laying straight and limp and sometimes balling up into frizz, but always a mixture of the two throughout my hair, leaving me with a weird jungle look rather than sexy curls. But there's something beautiful about the way my hair naturally does its own thing, lush with natural oils and forming odd springs and waves and spirals as it so pleases. I can flip it from side to side, I can let it blow out in the wind, I can stuff it under a hat. Sometimes I braid it, or put it in a huge bun on the top of my head, the size of my head. It's a pretty wonderful thing, even if it isn't always perfect and even if I do have curl envy from time-to-time.

Regardless of my sometimes low self-esteem about my hair, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I wouldn't trade it for perfect ringlets or a big sexy perm of beautiful, pillow soft curls. Would I still be myself without my hair as it is? Sometimes I straighten it - a weird vacation from myself. I look in the mirror and I'm someone else. I'm a British pop star. I'm a mod '60s magazine model. I'm not myself. And it's very uncomfortable to not be myself, honestly. On occasions when my hair is straight, I actually miss myself. I become homesick for me. Not for my hair, but for me.

Part of the reason I am so attached to my hair is because it's the best indicator of the type of person I am. It is wild, it is all over the place. I playfully toss it from side to side, letting it fall wherever it wants and do its own thing. Even more than how I dress - and most certainly even more than the condition of my skin - my hair is the best representation of who I am on the inside which is really the most important part of me.

Just as I've learnt to love my hair, I have learnt to love myself. Yes, it has some to do with the self-esteem I built after my acne cleared. I felt confident to talk to strangers, I felt like someone could actually love me. It was a very material thing, but it was a step towards better understanding myself. But loving yourself is less about self-esteem and more about what you are on the inside. I have so much appreciation for my hair not because it's pretty (or something) and not because it has hordes of middle-aged women with stick straight hair clawing over it with envy. I have this much appreciation for my hair because it's the closest thing to representing myself that I physically have. When people see me, I hope they see my hair and get an idea of who I am.

The first step to loving myself was gaining self-esteem in the way I looked. The first step was, admittedly, having clear skin. I said that I believe self-esteem is sort of a whatever issue, and I stand by that, but would I have been able to love myself without that first bit of self-esteem? Maybe, maybe not.

But I don't think we need to talk excessively about self-esteem. Having self-esteem and loving yourself are not the same thing, though they may be linked for many people. To me, self-esteem is about being able to leave the house in the morning. It's about being able to talk to a stranger - or even a friend. But loving yourself is about being your own best friend. It's about not caring what other people think. It's about being proud of the person that you are - not because you have the approval of someone else, but because you appreciate yourself.

Now that I love myself, I am getting to the point where I want other people to love me for that as well. I have some friends who seem much more interested in me for very mundane reasons - the way I look, how I dress, the music I listen to, the movies I watch. These are friends that I'm neither close with nor that I call upon when I need companionship. It has become very important to me that people love me for who I am on the inside. For my hair, you could say. For my ability to be wild and crazy, to flip from side to side and settle no matter where I am. To go unwashed for weeks at a time but always stay in form. I want to be loved for how I love myself, not for how much self-esteem I have. Love goes deeper than esteem. It never wavers and it never fails the way that esteem does.

I'm trying to obsess less over how I look. In the past several months, I have found myself not caring about spots. When I get them, I put tea tree oil on them and just think, "Whatever, it's not important." I try not to put too much value on my weight, I think less about how I dress. For years, I let these little things weigh on my self-esteem, blocking me from loving myself. Instead of spending hours tearing myself up over a break out - or how thin I am, or how I don't know what to wear - I flip my hair and remind myself how much love I have for myself. I think my hair is the last bit of self-esteem I still cling to. Whether that be low or high self-esteem (it fluctuates from day to day because sometimes I have bad hair days), my hair is the last material piece that I cling to, letting it upset me from time to time in a (probably) unhealthy way. 

But all that really matters is loving yourself, not having self-esteem. Maybe you have to have self-esteem as a first step to loving yourself (such as I did), but if you value self-esteem for too long, you're going to take away from being able to love yourself. You're going to put too much value on material little things that don't matter - material little things that don't last long - and cheat yourself out of a sustaining, all-encompassing love. I let my hair weigh on my self-esteem more than I'd like it too - like I said, it's the best representation of myself, so I obsess over it more than I'd like to admit - but it never stops me from loving myself. If I let my appearance - and my self-esteem - drag me down so much that it detracted from my self-love, then I know that it would be time to re-examine my life. 

For me, it was a journey from hating myself, to gaining self-esteem, to loving myself and letting go of a bit of that self-esteem. I think self-esteem can be a dangerous thing. It fluctuates too much. It is greedy and foolhardy. Include it in the journey of loving yourself, but don't put everything you have into it. Love yourself more than you esteem yourself. It'll be a much healthier, more fulfilling relationship. In the end, self-esteem is just kind of whatever.


  1. I love love LOVE this post & I hadn't ever really thought about self-esteem vs. self-love that much before, but you make a really valid point. I guess self-esteem is just easier for most people to obtain, being based on appearance, which is why it fluctuates just as easily. It takes time and a lot of work to build up to really loving yourself, making it stronger, I think. I also really liked the bit you mentioned about having some friends that like you for "mundane" reasons. I hadn't ever thought about that either, but I realize now that a few of the friendships I used to have were sort of like that. It's fine to like someone because they like the same things you do, but being someone's friend means seeing past that, because a person is so much more than their favorite things, right? I just adore your blog, you always have such fun and insightful posts. :) I hope you're well!

    1. Hey Anon! Thanks for the lovely comment. I wrote this late at night & was concerned that no one would understand my point. There's definitely a difference between having self-esteem and loving yourself, and it's definitely something that other people can pick up on and take from you, too. I find self-esteem to be so distracting and actually sort of a negative thing if you put too much value into it - just like those friendships can be a negative thing if value is put on matter of esteem rather than love. I'm glad that you understood what I was blabbing on about, and that it got you thinking! Thanks again xxxxx

  2. I just found your blog and I'm glad this is the first post of your I got to see! You seem like such a sweet and down to earth person! (Not to mention absolutely gorgeous!) I think women and girls need more people like you to look up to - people who are confident with who they are and how they look. Such a healthy perspective! :)

    1. Hi Indy! Thanks for coming by the blog, and thanks for your lovely comment! I feel the need to talk very frankly on my blog as social media has made people so self-editing, but not in a good way. We hide beautiful, vulnerable pieces of ourselves and it alienates people from feeling connected. I think you'll find a lot of that frankness on my blog! xx


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