Dear Pope Francis,
Today, I’m getting real: I struggle with self-esteem. By no means do I believe that I am the only woman or girl who has struggled with this, but today, I’m feeling brave enough to declare it from the rooftops of LTP.
I have struggled with my self-esteem for as long as I can remember. I remember being teased for my weight in elementary school, feeling like the odd ball in my friend group for most of junior and senior high, and generally never being sure where exactly I fit during university. I remember that no matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I wore the right clothes, had the right school supplies or hung out with the right people.
The funny part is that I don’t think anyone actually noticed that I was so self-conscious, except perhaps my mom, whose shoulder I’d cry on when I felt left out. I worked very hard to create the façade that I was un-phased by marching to the beat of my own drum, even though deep down I wanted nothing more than to fit in.
If I wanted to fit in so desperately, then why didn’t I start wearing brand names, lose weight, and change my interests? Because, the one thing I had drilled into my head is that I am unique. One of my earliest memories is of my Oma (grandmother), telling me that I was her favourite Lauren because I was exactly that, her Lauren, the one who loved to write on the type-writer and walk in the woods and eat home-made bread with butter and sprinkles. My parents encouraged me to do what I loved, whether that was write stories, dance or go to youth group. My mom taught me to respect my body by dressing modestly and wearing clothes that were comfortable and looked good on me, not simply because everyone else was wearing them.
I think the cruelest part of the self-esteem cycle I went through was that I consistently tied my self-worth to what other people thought of me. The fact that I wrote was awesome when I won an award for it, but on the day of the band concert, I was lame because I couldn’t sing or play an instrument. I had accomplished a personal goal to lose weight before prom, but the fact that I didn’t have a date completely overshadowed my accomplishment. It was cruel because no matter what I did, I would never be able to please the people around me, but I had tricked myself into thinking that being able to sing or having a date would please the people around me and that would make my life infinitely better.
Every woman I have talked to about this, has shared some experience of feeling inadequate and/or a time when she had low self-esteem. When I listen to their stories, I hear echoes of my own struggles, although the events, characters and settings are different. Between my own experiences and listening to others’ stories, I have learned that there is no magic pill or booster shot that ‘fixes’ a self-esteem ‘deficiency’. It is something that I continue to struggle with. I still wish I could have more friends, be thinner, and wear brand name clothes.
But these things are still tying my self-worth to external factors. Self-esteem becomes a numbers game: if my number of friends is greater than your number of friends, then I win, or, you have a boyfriend, well, I have six best friends, so I still win. This isn’t self-esteem though; this is one-upping another person because I am insecure. Self-esteem radiates from inside, it’s not something that I can hold in my hand, smooth on my face, or paint on my nails. Self-esteem is something that I’ve had to work at, faking it until I made it. I marched to the beat of my own drum, because I didn’t like the beat that other people were playing.
Self-esteem came as I slowly (very slowly!) stopped trying to do things because other people said it was cool, and started genuinely accepting that I was doing the things that I needed to do in order to take care of myself and accomplish my goals, like writing because it’s as natural for me as breathing, or keeping up with diverse groups of friends because I genuinely enjoy their company. When I do these things, I decide my self-worth, it’s not tied to something external, an ideal that is always changing. It is something much deeper than that, it is grounded in the core of who I am, and flows out into all aspects of my life.
I have also come to realize, that self-esteem is not something that I will ever completely possess. No matter how confident I seem, there will always be days when I need to fake it. The trick is to remember that those days will pass, and that there will be days when the self-esteem is genuine.
Feeling pretty good,