Too many of us today struggle with low self-esteem – the perceived lack of our positive traits and the focus on our assumed “weaknesses”, that we are inherently not good enough.
Based on our experiences in life and the messages we’ve received since birth, we form a set of beliefs about ourselves, which may or may not be accurate.
And some of us have received more negative messages than others, based on our gender, race, class, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and all the other things that make us a part of who we are.
And all of us have received some negative messages when we fail to reach impossible social ideals or stay within the narrow boxes of what’s acceptable.
All of this combined often leads us to question how lovable we are, how important we are, and/or how competent we are.
In other words, we often internalize the messages we’ve been given.
Sometimes we receive these negative messages so often that we absorb them and they become ingrained into our sense of self-worth.
At some point, sometimes we become unable to differentiate between the person that people say we are and the person we truly are.
So we question even our right to exist as our authentic selves and then spend a lot of time and energy trying to be somebody else in order to be okay.
And That’s Where Feminism Comes In
Once we discover feminism, we can use it to change our self-perception changes. We can:
- Take the negative messages we’ve received about ourselves and think critically about where they’re coming from.
- Understand that what others say about us is not necessarily the truth and that we have the power within us to form our own truths.
- See how these messages were created and perpetuated to keep us in our place, wherever that may be in our society that is built on elitism and domination.
- Identify how we are socially and sometimes even physically punished when we stray too far from the “ideal”.
- Hear the shaming, blaming, and judging and see that it doesn’t mean that it is not about us, that there is nothing inherently wrong about us. In fact it often more points to what the person shaming us is about.
- Realize we are all just human beings, struggling to make it in this world that holds us to impossible standards and narrow boxes while wanting to authentically express ourselves and live our truth.
These are all things that feminism can help you see.
So when it comes down to it, feminism and healthy self-esteem can be inextricably linked – embrace the former and you improve the latter.
Much advice has been given on how to improve one’s self esteem, but with feminism, we can take it a step further.
We can reassert our worth as humans and our value to society as a whole. In other words, we can rediscover and embrace our true selves for the world to see.
How to Improve Your Self-Esteem – Feminist-Style
1. Identify the negative self-talk and where it’s coming from.
As mentioned above, once we’ve heard that we’re not worthy for so long and for so often we begin to believe it ourselves. It’s time we identify this negative thinking and recognize that the messages we receive are not always absolute truths.
Ask yourself where these messages came from. Was it from classmates when you were growing up? Your family? Your first girlfriend or boyfriend? The media?
Often the ones creating these messages do so because they want to make themselves feel better, because they are trying to climb up higher on the social or patriarchal ladder in a society that often perpetuates trampling on others to get to the top, or they were just repeating what they’ve heard others say so to them so many times.
Usually these messages have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
And once you recognize that these so-called notions of who you are came from outside sources and not from within yourself, you’ll be one step closer to finding your own inner truth.
2. Discover your own truth.
Sometimes we spend so much time living how society dictates we should live and doing what society wants us to do that we forget who we truly are or what we truly want for ourselves.
With feminism, we realize that what society tells us is not the truth. With this new information and perspective, we can unscramble our scrambled sense of self and reclaim our lives.
Spend some time thinking about what you really enjoy in life and what strengths you possess as a person. Whoever you choose to be and whatever you want to do is completely up to you.
So while it may sound cheesy, when we reclaim ourselves, we are able to reclaim our lives and our future.
3. Believe that you have inherent self-worth.
Back in the ‘90s, the show Saturday Night Live featured a character named Stuart Smalley who hosted a self-help show and constantly reiterated the personal affirmation, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggonit, people like me!’
Although presented in a silly, tongue-in-cheek context, the idea behind the phrase is a valuable one – remind yourself of your inherent self-worth and you will eventually come to recognize it for the truth it is.
And when those negative thoughts rear their ugly heads (and they will), remind yourself that they are not the truth.
It might help to start a list of all the things you like about yourself and your strengths and refer to it when you’re feeling down. So when you hear those negative false thoughts negative pop up, you can immediately counter them with some positive true thoughts about yourself.
This way of countering negative thinking and developing positive thinking patterns is a practice of cognitive behavioral therapy. It has been very effective in changing negative thought processes in those who have utilized it effectively and consistently.
4. Talk to others about what you’re going through.
Often we blame ourselves for the issues we’re facing and so feel too ashamed to talk about the struggles we experience. We think no one will understand, that no one has been through a similar situation before.
This is most definitely not the case! There is always someone who knows what you’re going through and who is willing to help.
And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a therapist—reach out to friends or find a support group. Once you know that you’re not alone in your struggle, it becomes easier to cope with whatever’s troubling you.
5. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about or interested in.
Feminism helps us see that we’re not alone in the challenges we face since there’s a complex system of domination and elitism that we all interact with in different ways.
Feminism encourages seeking out others who are going through similar challenges and getting involved in creating change that goes beyond our personal lives to benefit the community and society.
A good way to do this is to volunteer doing something to help others or get involved in activism. Choose an issue that has personal meaning to you—whether that be working with children, the poor, or others who are disenfranchised.
6. Read books/watch movies with strong feminist characters.
The mass media plays a huge role in shaping our perception of what’s considered “normal” and important. Often movies and TV shows project a reality that is very disconnected from the average person’s life, and it only serves to make many of us feel inferior.
That being said, there are lots of movies and books out there that portray the positive, more feminist and progressive aspects of society.
So instead of watching mindless dribble about rich, beautiful people doing mundane things (Real Housewives, anyone?) that only serve to make us feel inadequate, try watching movies and reading books about people doing good things for themselves and others—like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken, who literally goes to the end of the earth to rescue his daughter from a prostitution ring. Or Tina Fey’s hilarious account of her rise to comedic fame in Bossypants.
When we read about people doing good for themselves and others, it’s easier to believe that it’s possible and follow their examples.
7. Speak your truth.
In addition to letting others dictate who we should be, we often let them dictate what we say as well. Sometimes we will stay silent about issues we believe in or avoid standing up for ourselves so that we don’t rock the boat.
But in doing this, we are shamed into silence and our emotional realities are dismissed and minimized – by ourselves or by others.
Once we are in touch our true selves, we can speak out loud and proud about who we are and what we want in life—our goals, are experiences and how we feel about what others say and do to us.
It’s a powerful way to start transforming the story about our lives and how we experience who we are.
8. Be yourself.
We often act in ways to meet some social ideal or to avoid straying too far from the box we’re put in and risk ridicule.
But as we get in touch with our true selves (which is a continual process), we are able to and need to live as our true selves.
So while it may sound very after-school special, it’s true. Embrace who you really are, and don’t listen to what others try to detract from that or make you into someone you’re not (i.e. the “haters”).
Look inside, not outside, for affirmation. When you find yourself acting differently because you’re afraid of what other people might think or say, check in with yourself about what’s going on and make a choice about how to act.
These are just some ways feminism can be utilized to improve self-esteem.
How have you drawn on feminist concepts to discover your inherent self-worth? Share in the comments below.
Shannon Ridgway is a Contributing Writer to Everyday Feminism from the great flyover state of South Dakota (the one with the monument of presidential heads). In her free time, Shannon enjoys reading, writing, jamming out to ’80s music and Zumba, and she will go to great lengths to find the perfect enchilada. Follow her on Twitter @sridgway1980.
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