Next week, I have been asked to speak to a group of middle school girls about body image and self-esteem. Lately, these buzzwords have gained momentum in our culture, a culture laden with false narratives and inaccuracies about value and self-worth. Many expert responses to this narrative, while encouraging, often lack depth and therefore do not resonate or connect with their intended audience. So I knew my words had to be carefully chosen, intentional, and authentic. In other words, they had to come from the experiences gleaned by traveling down a dark and winding road called self-actualization.
Self-image is simply the story we tell ourselves about who and what we are. Our stories define our self-esteem, (the manner in which we evaluate ourselves), and our self-worth, (the belief that we are loveable and valuable despite how we evaluate our traits). To make things more complicated our stories are usually co-written by those around us, people who may have the best intentions, but are likely struggling with their own confusing falsehoods. Add to the fact that human nature is inherently geared toward the negative for survival purposes, and it’s no wonder we are sometimes left feeling insecure and at odds with the world. All of these elements perpetuate the inaccuracies of our true selves; this leads us to internalize and criticize ourselves, generally culminating in some kind of unwanted behavior. In some, this may mean eating disorders, drug abuse, and in extreme cases, suicide.
So what is a girl to do? The first and most important step is to be present and not unconsciously respond to stimuli. Life is not about what happens to you, but how you respond to life. Being present allows us to analyze our behavior; it helps us assess our feelings and thoughts, and allows us to take a much-needed breath or two. Frankly, it is the most powerful tool in the box. The next step is to realize that we have a choice to rewrite the script. The words we choose to use, the ideas that we embrace about ourselves are ultimately up to us. We are not what others say we are unless WE choose to embrace it and believe it. We are no longer fighting saber tooth tigers; we are fighting against ambiguous texts, simulated fantasies on social media, and trying to adhere to the impossible task that we must be all things to all people.
What is my suggestion to these young girls? Instead of trying to be something…just be. Be your imperfectly perfect selves, work hard, be honorable, and stay humble. Don’t worry about being good or being right. In fact, don’t worry at all. Have faith and fear not, because fear will hold you hostage. Be brave and explore the paths less traveled. Do hard things. In fact, seek out things that make you afraid and uncomfortable and do them. Then you will begin to see what you’re truly made of. We are not confined to a future that has yet to be written. Our destiny and fate can change from moment to moment. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Because for better or worse, what you believe, you will achieve.