How do you develop positive self-esteem?
Puberty can be a challenging time of life. Your shifting hormones may contribute to moodiness, acne, and a whole new physique. Suddenly, you seem taller than you were the day before, your pants don't fit, and your gymnastics coach suggests you try basketball. Someone who used to be your best friend has developed a whole new personality to go along with her whole new body, and you're not sure you like her anymore.
In a previous section, we talked about how change can create stress and feelings of anxiety. These feelings are very normal. Your life is changing very fast and you are faced with many choices and situations that may feel overwhelming at times. How can you best handle this stress? How can you feel your best in the midst of physical and social chaos?
Taking Care of Your Body
The best place to start feeling your best is to take care of your body. Although your body can survive a lot of abuse (think of prisoners of war or even marathon runners), it functions best with the following elements:
- Balanced diet
- Good health habits
Figure 8.1 Your body needs the most foods from the groups at the bottom of the pyramid and the least from the top.
How Does What You Eat Make You Feel? Keep a journal for a month and see how you feel. Increase sensitivity to how your body feels and reacts to outside influences and internal functions.
There is a lot of truth in the saying, “You are what you eat.” What you eat affects how you behave, how much energy you have, how your hair and skin look, and your body shape. Your body is growing and developing so much right now that it is especially sensitive to the food you eat.
Eating right, however, can be a challenge when you and your friends meet after school at the bakery, the pizza parlor, or at the mall and enjoy foods high in fat, calories, and sugar. That's OK, if you balance these snacks with other kinds of food during the day. Every snack and meal doesn't have to be perfect, but your daily intake should be balanced.
As Figure 8.1 shows, you will feel best if you eat most of your food from the bottom of the food pyramid and the least from the top of the pyramid. In addition, if you start paying attention to how you feel after you eat, you can learn to listen to your body and eat what it needs (cravings for certain kinds of foods) and in the quantities it needs. Listening to your body requires a lot of trust and willingness to take control over how you feel. But once you do, you will notice a big difference.
Numerous studies show a direct connection between physical activity and
- heightened mood (feeling happier),
- increased energy levels,
- improved immune system response,
- reduction of stress,
- overall feeling of accomplishment and control.
Becoming more physically active doesn't mean you have to join a team, or even play sports. It means adding some form of exercise to your daily routine-for example, walking or biking to school instead of driving. It could mean taking a dance class, aerobics class, or even a weight-lifting class. It could mean taking the dog for a walk or using stairs instead of an elevator. Whatever you choose, at whatever level, your body will benefit and will, in turn, help you feel your best.
Who Are You? What are the five most distinguishing characteristics you see in yourself? What five characteristics might others select about you?
Good Health Habits
Besides good nutrition and exercise, what else helps you feel your best?
- Rest and sleep-Getting enough sleep will raise your energy level, reduce stress, and improve your overall health.
- Good personal hygiene-Keeping yourself clean will help you feel more fresh and energetic and will help keep viruses and bacteria away.
- Regular visits to the doctor-Annual visits to the doctor not only can make sure you are healthy, they also provide you with an opportunity to ask questions about your growth and development.
- Looking your best-Grooming, posture, and even ways of communicating, such as smiling more often, can improve your sense of attractiveness. To feel your best, you need to recognize and accept the range of your attractive qualities and highlight them.
In addition to what your body needs, there are a number of things your body doesn't need. Your body works best without chemical-altering substances such as drugs, alcohol, and smoking. These substances do change the balance of all your systems, the operations of every cell, and the way you feel. Abuse of these substances is frequently linked to low self-esteem, or how we feel about ourselves.
Beauty from the Inside Think about a girl at school you consider very attractive and think about a boy at school you consider very attractive. For each, identify three behaviors or personality traits in addition to physical attributes that make these individuals attractive. Are the traits different for boys and girls?
Psychological Health-Developing a Positive Body Image and Strong Sense of Identity
Taking good care of your body will help your body look and feel its best and enhance your body image.
Body image is how we see ourselves in our own mind. Adolescents, because they are changing so quickly, are very conscious of body image. They may spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, partly to keep track of body changes, and partly to see how they look.
Body image comes from our natural features and what we choose to do with them-for example, how we cut our hair or use makeup or tone our muscles. Clothing also enhances our natural features. Certain styles and colors may appeal to you for one reason or other and help you create the image you want other people to see. Clothing can make you feel like part of the crowd, or set you apart as an individual. Clothing, as well as a new haircut or starting an exercise program, can also make you feel good about yourself by accenting an attractive feature or part of your personality.
What is beauty? In the Maasai culture, the longer the earlobes the more beautiful the person is considered. In some cultures, a long neck is a sign of beauty. Around 1700 in America, plumpness was a sign of physical health and beauty. Today, in this country, magazines show youthful, athletic, thin, and beautiful men and women-who never have acne.
As you can see, beauty can be many things. In every culture around the world, people are aware of the distinctions between those who possess those traits that have been selected for beauty and those who do not. But also in every culture, physical beauty is only one of many important traits in making up the person.
Attractiveness, however, is much more than how you look on the outside. It is also a function of how the outside elements work with the inside elements, such as your personality. Have you ever judged a person by his or her appearance only to change your mind after the person started talking and moving? Your opinion can change both ways-someone who is beautiful may not seem quite so attractive when rude remarks or a negative attitude surface. And someone who at first appears quite ordinary may turn out to be extraordinary when a certain disposition or sense of humor is added.
The Messages You Send Next time you are in a crowded place, or even at school, look around at people and ask yourself, “What messages do people send out about themselves and how they feel about themselves by virtue of what they wear and how they use their natural features?”
How can you improve your overall attractiveness? Look at other people to see what you find attractive. Then ask yourself, what is it about that person that makes him or her attractive? You will find that attractiveness can be many things and different things in different combinations. Simple things such as posture or facial expression tell you a lot about people. You might try changing one aspect of yourself and see how people respond to you.
Adolescence is a good time in life to try out new looks, new activities, new and healthy foods, new clothes, and even new friends to discover what you like and don't like, what you're good at and not so good at, and what makes you happy. Developing a strong sense about yourself-who you are-improves your outlook on life and helps you feel your best.
Activity 8-1: Healthy Bodies and Feeling Good
Feeling good about ourselves is important, but it isn't always easy. Sometimes we try things that aren't healthy in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Sometimes we are misled by images that we see around us. In this activity you focus on positive and healthy ways of making yourself feel better about your image and your appearance by creating an ad campaign called “Healthy Bodies and Feeling Good.”
- Activity Report
- Old magazines
- Construction paper
- Markers or crayons
- Props brought in by students
Step 1 Your teacher will divide the class into teams.
Step 2 Each team represents a different advertising agency. You are competing for the right to produce a public-service advertising campaign called “Healthy Bodies and Feeling Good.”
Step 3 First, conduct some research by reading the text. What are healthy ways of building self-esteem and improving your body image? What are negative or harmful ways of changing yourself? Record your data on the Activity Report. Use additional sources if you wish.
Step 4 Next, examine magazine ads to see how the bodies of men and women are frequently shown. Are the body images healthy? Are they extreme? Are they realistic? Are they unrealistic?
Step 5 Now make a plan. Outline an advertising campaign to promote healthy bodies and good self-esteem. How would you handle it? Would you just give the facts? Use scare tactics? Show improvements? Remember that you have to show truly healthy bodies, not unrealistic ones. How can you make reality seem attractive? How can you warn people about the dangers of trying to maintain an unrealistic or unhealthy body style? Write down your plans in a way that will convince the producers that you understand how to make people listen and learn.
Step 6 Complete three sample ads to show the producers. Choose from the following categories:
a. Poster or billboard
b. Magazine or newspaper ad
c. Radio jingle
d. Brochure or pamphlet
e. Television commercial
Step 7 You will perform any jingles or commercials and show any written or drawn ads to the producers (your teacher and fellow students)!
Do you believe in the underlying story of “Beauty and the Beast”? Why or why not?
“I don't think it's an awfully easy thing to discover you're yourself and nobody else can be you and you can't be anybody else. It's sort of lonely.”
Your Feelings of Self-Esteem
We've talked about some of the many changes that occur during puberty, including your changing body, your changing feelings about your body, your feelings about being male or female, and your feelings about attractiveness. All of these feelings come together to form an image of yourself. As we discussed earlier, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, or how you value yourself. Your self-value or self-esteem is based on many factors, including your feelings of attractiveness, your feelings about your body, your feelings about your personality, your feelings of accomplishment, your values, and your feelings about your interactions with people around you. It is also the result of family life, your ethnicity, social class, achievements, and other influences.
Self-esteem comes from how you feel about yourself as you are, compared to the self you wish to be. For some people, there is a big gap, and that gap bothers them. For others, that gap doesn't matter. Some people set realistic expectations for themselves and have a better chance to succeed than those who expect the impossible and evaluate themselves by that standard.
During this time of so many changes and new questions, it is important to think about your self-esteem and how it affects your behavior. Positive self-esteem can provide a lot of strength and confidence to stick to your decisions, pursue your goals, or to be more giving and sensitive to others. Negative self-esteem may result in putting yourself down, limiting your options because of fear of failure, or shutting people out of your life.
In developing positive self-esteem, it is important to take an all-inclusive approach. As you evaluate yourself, look beyond what you see in the mirror and include your many skills and natural talents. Remember that attractiveness comes in many shapes and sizes. Do you have a friend who you think is really attractive-because of the whole package, not just because she is pretty-her looks, her personality, and her actions, all working together? You may wish you had long, thick, black hair-but you do have enthusiasm, kindness, and a knack for numbers and computers.
I Like Myself Because. . . Write down three attributes that you really like about yourself. Do others see those same positive qualities in you? If not, why not? What situations or environments might highlight those qualities?
You can change or improve many aspects of yourself. For instance, maybe you wish you were more outgoing and less shy. You can work on becoming more outgoing in many ways. Perhaps you start by identifying situations in which you feel more comfortable: and self-expressive and learn to increase the number of situations like that in your life. Or maybe you identify what makes you feel uncomfortable or less communicative and try to minimize those kinds of situations. Whether you work on these self-improvement tactics alone or with the help of someone, there are many examples of ways to work on a “weakness” and improve your self-esteem. These kinds of changes are those that you can control.
I'm Not Crazy About. . . Think of one or two qualities that you do not particularly value about yourself. Do others also recognize this weakness? How might you be able to improve on this aspect?
Have a good friend and a casual acquaintance each list three positive things they think about you. Are the views of the good friend the same as those of the casual acquaintance?
However, there are other characteristics you cannot control. Maybe you really wish you were good at sprinting, but you find that as much as you train and practice, you can't get your speed to improve significantly. If this ability is outside your control, you can turn your attention to something you can improve. For example, maybe you are a better endurance runner. Or maybe you are a talented artist or musician. It is important to recognize those changes that you can control and those that you can't.
Often the characteristics you can't control are genetic or biological. For example, maybe you are happy about the changes of puberty-you like the fact that you are taller or the fact that you are gaining some weight and filling out. Or, maybe you are having a hard time adapting to these changes. Try turning your attention to an important element of your life-developing your natural abilities, doing healthy things to enhance how you feel and look, and behaving in ways that you value.
“I really wanted to know if they felt like me. Sometimes I thought that some of the kids I knew and kinda knew, didn't feel the same way about things that I did. I don't mean they didn't like the Mets or anything like that, but they didn't feel sad about things that made me feel terrible. And things that made me happy sometimes didn't make other kids happy.”
-Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff
Walter Dean Myers
With all the changes during puberty, there is probably going to be a certain amount of self-consciousness or anxiety. Different parts of the body may grow at different rates or at different times, and it's natural to feel curiosity or concern about the final result, or even the process! Often boys worry about not being tall enough, or girls may become preoccupied with their weight. It takes time to adapt to and feel comfortable with the new developments in you. Positive self-esteem built on your whole self, not just how you look, will help you accept these changes in puberty more easily.
Next Time I'll. . . The next time you find yourself “dwelling” on yourself, turn thought to action.
- Do something positive for yourself.
- Or do something positive for others.
Keep a list of the actions you take.
Ultimately, you have to accept yourself, including your body. It is true that as a person who is still growing, you do not even know what ultimate size or shape you will take. It is also true that what you look like to a considerable extent depends on you and how you take care of yourself. But there is a limit to your ability to change yourself. To be healthy and happy you must therefore accept who you are.
What makes people shy? Do you think shyness is biological (and therefore genetic) or a learned social behavior? What can you do about shyness?
Activity 8-2: What Makes You Special?
Sometimes it's easier to focus on what is wrong than what is right. Many people find it difficult to give or receive a compliment, but we all need to know that we're appreciated and that we appreciate others. Now is your chance to let people know what you like about them.
- One set of blank note cards for each student
Step 1 Write a brief note to each of your classmates, telling something that you appreciate about each of them. Some notes will be easier to write than others will. Comments could be about something the classmate has done for you, something you saw the classmate do for someone else, attitude, behavior, a positive change you've noticed, a neutral comment, the person's “style,” sense of humor, hard work, and so on. The following rules apply.
a. All comments must be truthful.
b. All comments must be appropriate.
c. No teasing or put-downs are allowed.
d. You must fill out a note card for every classmate.
Step 2 You do not have to sign your note, but if you wish, you can put your name on the back.
Step 3 Turn the notes in to your teacher, who will distribute them.
Step 4 When you've had a chance to look at all the notes written to you, think about what your classmates have said. Is there a pattern to what they see about you? Is it a pattern that you like? Does it agree with your image of yourself? How did reading the notes make you feel?
In your last journal entry you focused on the positive things you already are. Now add to this by writing about the kind of person that you would like to become. Think about all aspects of your life as well as how you relate with others.
- What are three things you can incorporate into your daily life to improve how your body looks and feels?
- What does “you are what you eat” mean?
- What are three elements of good health habits?
- How do self-esteem and body image work together?
- What are some ways of building self-esteem?
- How does taking control of your life relate to self-esteem?