Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

WARNING: There’s a silent killer on the loose. Preying on fat girls all over the world, it whispers to them, affirming their darkest fears and convincing them that their deepest insecurities are all 100% valid and that no matter how they try to improve their lives none of it matters because at the end of the day it doesn’t change the fact that they’re just…not…worth…the work. Despite efforts to banish this murderous beast, it can’t be stopped. The media writes about it, experts raise their voices against it, but in the end it’s proven itself such a powerful foe that it can stop those it haunts their tracks. What is this foul force, you ask? I’ll tell you, but you have to promise to keep your wits about you. I’ll say it’s name, but you MUST NOT SCREAM. It is…

Low Self-Esteem.

Wait…where are you going? Why aren’t you shaking uncontrollably and nearly weeping? Where’s all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, huh? I just told you the number one cause of all weight related suffering as reported by millions of people in countless chat rooms and weight loss blogs and you can’t even muster up an appropriately terrified or sullen expression in return? Aren’t you scared of it at all?

Hmm. Me neither. Try as I might, I just can’t figure out what all the self-esteem fuss is about. Which is odd, given the almost reverent tone that is so often attached to discussions about the relative level of it each of us possesses and how that impacts many of our decisions, both food-related and otherwise. We’ve come to believe that having it in abundance is necessary for success in this world, and that not having enough of it is the reason for so many of our failures. If we just had a little more of it, we might believe that all the hard work it takes to achieve our goals was really worth the effort. If the world was nicer to us, we’d like ourselves more and if we just liked ourselves more, then we’d believe that we deserved the best life has to offer. We could have better, richer, fuller lives…but tragically, our Low Self-Esteem just won’t allow that to happen.

Forgive me, brothers and sisters, but I just drew the bullshit card from the deck—and I’m throwing it down on the table.

Just what is self-esteem anyway, how did ours get so low, and where do we get ourselves some more of it? After some intensive research (consisting of five minutes of googling) I’ve found that the concept itself is pretty simple. According to Merriam-Webster, self-esteem is defined as ”a confidence and satisfaction with one’s self”. At face value, it’s a wonder that everyone on earth isn’t bitching and moaning about not having it. None of us are confident all of the time, and only the most tiresome among us is consistently 100% satisfied with themselves and their lives. But amongst Fat America, self-esteem levels seem to be much lower than the norm. And the truth is that I understand why.

Make no mistake; it’s tough to be fat in this world. There are days when it takes all your energy to simply exist in a society that doesn’t understand you, often openly reviles you, and certainly isn’t built to handle you. In a world that reduces our weight to the result of a character flaw, I can see why so many of us lack confidence in ourselves, and how every failure we’ve had in managing our obesity chips away at what is left. I believe that, for many of us, it can erode away our self-esteem and leave us feeling less powerful than we are.

But I also believe that we often use our lack of self-esteem less as a reason for our honest and earned weight loss failings than we do as an excuse for not really trying at all. It’s one thing to genuinely suffer from a deeply wounded sense of self-esteem, and another all together to repeatedly call out that same phenomenon as our Achilles heel. In my mind, it’s the classic Catch-22: People who are truly crazy don’t know they’re crazy--and it seems to me that people who suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem generally don’t walk around talking about just how low their self-esteem is.

I understand self-loathing. I understand moments of self-hatred. I even understand reaching out within our unique weight loss community for reassurance that our darkest moments don’t define us, for someone to tell us that the worst we see in ourselves isn’t the core of who we are. I’ve been there, and I am so grateful for this community and the mirror that I’ve found within it. But I sometimes think that because we’re so willing to offer up bravos and affirmations touting our intrinsic beauty and goodness to each other in the name of building up our confidence that it can sometimes be counter productive. It’s a way to artificially fill up our self-esteem meters with kittens and rainbows and warm fuzzy intangibles instead of recognizing that it’s called SELF-esteem for a reason. It’s not something we’re born with a bank of as our birthright or that other people can give us, but something that we have to work for. We earn it each time we make a choice that honors our goals, and each time we pick ourselves up after we stumble. And the more we earn, the less willing we are to give it away to the next person who wants to take it from us.

Motivational speaker Ron Brown said something at a dinner I attended a few years ago that’s stuck with me ever since. Looking into the audience he pointed to someone near the stage and said “If I come over there and knock you out of your chair, that’s on me. But if I come back tomorrow, and you’re still rolling around on the floor, that’s on YOU.” There’s only so much good that we can do by standing around and telling each other that we’re good enough, and strong enough, and pretty enough, and talented enough to get up off the floor when we’re ready to…but sooner or later we have to quit rolling around and get back in the chair, even if it means that no one tells us what a great job of sitting back down we did.

Let’s continue to build each other up, to offer a hand to those who need it—but remember that affirmation is a partnership: One of us offers a hand, the other one reaches up and takes it. Let’s encourage each other to look within ourselves for what we want so desperately to believe—that the hard work is worth it. And so are we.


  1. New Site, Same Sara!

    I dig them both!

    Keep it coming!

  2. Awesome post!!! I totally join you in throwing the BS card.

    And I am sooooooo happy you are on blogger now. I have put a link on FDR so that I will know when you post.

  3. Hi Sara

    Glad to see you here at Blogger :-)

    You've done it again! I agree so strongly with what you've written about building up our own self-esteem, especially when you say "the more we earn, the less willing we are to give it away to the next person who wants to take it from us".

    As ever, you've hit the nail on the head. Our struggles are worth continuing, picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off to start over, because WE are worth it.

  4. I just found your site through your AMAZINGLY well written comment over at Jack Sh*t. I will be following you now! You inspire and you can spell correctly. I'm hooked. :)

  5. I just love this post Sara. It's kind of funny because I just figured this out recently. Self-esteem comes from within us, not from other people. I'm 54 and just got it.

    I think I'm all caught up on your posts now. I didn't realize you'd been posting so much lately. Somehow I missed you were on blogger so I wasn't getting your updates.

    Only sad thing about being all caught up on your posts is that now I have to wait for the next installment. :)

    Btw - if you haven't considered writing as a profession, you need to really thing about it. Maybe you already are and I just don't know it. But you are one damn good writer!