When you hear the words ‘self esteem’ what comes into your head? Maybe it’s a dismissive “load of old nonsense”, or perhaps it’s “I have more now than ever before”, or much more poignantly maybe your first thought is “I’ve never had any and maybe now I never will.”
Apparently February has been designated as ‘Self Esteem Month”, so we’ve been running a competition in our Super Troopers group asking what gives our members a self esteem boost in their lives. And very, very interesting have been the responses, ranging across childhood experiences, educational attainment, second chances, hobbies and pastimes, the importance of close loving relationships and finding new challenges as we age.
It’s apparent that self esteem matters greatly whatever your age. And, as we were brought up not to get ‘too big for our boots’, it’s a particularly interesting one for our generation, born to parents who would probably have scoffed at the idea of ever ‘blowing your own trumpet.’
My personal relationship to self esteem falls quite neatly into two parts. The first half of my life was a struggle as I attempted (and failed) to live the life mapped out for me (qualifying as a schoolteacher and getting married) and feeling badly about that failure. Happily, from my late thirties, the point at which I abandoned the blueprint handed down by the expectations of both society and my parents, I’ve lived my life much more on my own terms. As a result my self esteem has flourished to the point where, today, I can finally say that, most of the time anyway, I feel good in my own skin.
Andthat’s the definition of self esteem which makes most sense to me. It means being happy with the way you look, with the quality of your relationships and with the daily rhythms of the life that you lead. Clearly if the opposite is true in any of those areas, then your self esteem will take a battering.
Dressing in clothes that I love, which flatter my body shape, helps to boost my self esteem
For some, the rot starts early with experiences at home and at school which have been a blight on the rest of that person’s life. “As a child I was shy and fat”, “at school I was bullied”, “I’ve a lifelong tendency to hold a bad view of myself” were the sad reflections of three of our Super Troopers.
2. Educational Achievement
I was a child in the 50s and a teenager in the 60s when there was still a strong prevailing attitude that education for girls was a waste of time. Passing or failing the 11+ exam for entrance either to grammar school or the local secondary modern was seen as a marker of intelligence. Did you know that many more girls passed the 11+ than boys at that time, but many more boys than girls went to grammar schools?
3. Societal Expectations
Like many people of my age, I married at the age of twenty-two. I gave little thought to the implications of this and my parents were thrilled that I’d found a suitable man and ‘settled down’. I was qualified to teach and did so until my first daughter was born, but then it was expected that I’d become ‘a stay-at-home mum’. My self esteem plummeted as I chafed against this role as a wife and mother that I felt entirely inadequate to fulfil. I will ever be grateful to the feminist movement in the 1970s which gave voice to some of that frustration and helped me to plot a way into a different future.
4. Feeling Physically Unattractive
As a female, feelings of self-worth are often bound up with how you look. I absorbed the message as a young teenager that I had a ‘huge backside’. This was the the era of the androgynous Twiggy, who had no hips and, unlike me, very slim legs. This led to around thirty years of binge-starve dieting and a physical self-loathing which I gradually overcame in my early forties when I finally made peace with my pear-shaped body.
So, certainly in my experience, it’s possible to grow in self-esteem as life moves forward in different directions. I loved reading the posts about self esteem from the Super Troopers because they confirmed my experience that ‘it’s never too late’ no matter how far you have had to come.
Later Life Achievements
For me and for several STs finding out that we weren’t so stupid after all has made a huge difference. I went back to university for four years from the age of 34 and gained a first class degree. The Super Trooper who was bullied at school got to the top of her career ladder, passed all her professional qualifications and now does ‘lots of Open University courses’. Another accepted the early marriage and the fact she didn’t complete her A levels by going on to work in a bank and libraries and passing her driving test at the age of 37. Another gained an M.A. in Design and Digital Media aged 50 with no prior degree and someone else became a Justice of the Peace (a magistrate) with 4 ‘O’ levels to her name at the age of 40 and went on to become Chair of Adult Couts and an interviewer for new magistrates. And finally, one of our STs achieved Grade 7 on the piano in her forties and another trained as a counsellor in her fifties and is still working successfully as a therapist.
For many of us, part of our sense of self worth comes from our children and grandchildren
Rescued by Relationships
There is no question that some of us have eventually been given a sense of self worth by significant people in our lives. When I finally found a career that I loved at 38, someone told me that I was ‘getting too big for my boots.’ I was mortified, but was then saved by a very special person who said “maybe you just need to get a bigger pair of boots - you are allowed to grow, you know!” One entry for the competition nominated her husband of 44 years who had rescued her from a bad childhood, during which she felt ‘worthless, ugly and stupid.’ For others it’s their children and grandchildren who now supply that sense of achievement. One ST remarked: “When I look at my two adult sons, my heart swells with such pride. They are amazing young men, both from different fathers. Both husbands cheated on me, and both left us never to contact their boys again”. And for many, grandchildren are the source of pride, with one Super Trooper commenting that looking after her grandchild twice a week ‘makes me feel needed again.’
Looking Good and Feeling Good
I find it ironic that I like the way I look at 74 much much more than I did at 34! Once I’d thrown away my scales and accepted that my basic body shape was fixed, I started to see a different person in the mirror. Now, if something doesn’t look good on me, I blame the garment not my body. I also took up exercise at 69 and now feel physically strong for the first time in my life. I loved the comments we got saying ‘I now follow a healthy diet and I feel really good’ and ‘I was brought up to believe that certain things were ‘common’. But I have rebelled and now enjoy non-cerebral things like make-up and pop-music’. I also know from countless posts, especially during the pandemic, that self-care in the form of putting on makeup and wearing something nice or, as one ST commented ‘getting dolled up and pretending to go out’ has been a life saver for many of us stuck at home with only zoom-friendships for company.
For many, building self esteem is a work in progress, especially if you started from a low point to begin with. Ask yourself why you are allowing something or someone who affected you years ago to influence how you feel now. Think of how you would treat a very dear friend who is feeling down. You’d show them extra love, think of ways to cheer them up and probably tell them how special and important they are to you. Now I want you to look in the mirror and see that very dear friend reflected back. And say, out loud, “I accept you as you are, you are important to me and I love you.” And then go and put on a really vibrant lipstick and live the rest of your life as the fabulous person you are.
Join us in March for another popular Makeup Magic Monday event. This month Sally and Tricia will be discussing beauty dilemmas and how to solve them! So if you're troubled by rosacea, hooded eyes, sparse brows, or any other dilemma, come along and discover the remedy!
I feel like a 'tiger mother'. At 32 I was left with no money, dead husband, baby (but no family) and no visible means of survival. One thing saved me, education. So I did have a 'way out'. Invest in a good education for your children, they may not want it when they are 5 or 15. But when a good education comes into it's own is when everything else is gone - your education cannot be robbed from you.
Reading Tricias comments, all I could think was oh yes, yes, yes - that was me- some incredibly identical experiences. And yes, I came through it all and feel very happy in my own skin now, the only downside being I don’t see my wonderful grown up children and grandchildren as often as I would like as they live abroad and I miss them terribly. I don’t usually subscribe to lifestyle blogs, but these are so relatable and relevant and good to read. Thank you
I was bullied at School and eventually I turned on the bullies. Chased them down the stairs and threw a bowl of water over them! They never went for me again. My Dad was very proud and told me all ways stand up for yourself. Bullies are cowards. Mum thought I was terrible and should have just accepted that they were unkind to me! I realised Dad was right, Mum had all ways had people be unkind and hurtful to her and she just put up with it. My Dad was attacked at 87 by 2 boys with broken bottles. He threw his shopping trolley away and squared up to him in Boxer crouch. He had been a boxer in the RAF. They realised they had made a mistake and threw the bottles down and ran away. Dad picked up his shopping trolley and got his shopping and walked home. So I have all ways told any girl or woman that is being bullied. You are the strong one, they are weak because they attack you to try to make you less strong. You have to stand up and say I am not being treated like this any more. Then leave the relationship and find someone who is kind. Kindness is the best thing anyone can have.
Your comments so true Tricia. I failed the 11 plus which to the education authorities said I was basically thick. After an office job (shorthand/typing) and getting married I was expected to be a stay at home Mum. In later years I did a two year Social Studies course through Cambridge University Adult learning which passed and went on to qualify as a reflexologisy so I had a brain after all!