Self-Esteem-The Definition

Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. The survival-value of such confidence is obvious; so is the danger when it is missing.” (Simon & Schuster).

My Personal Struggle

It all started for me at the age of ten. Concerns about my weight and shape consumed my days. I remember judging myself very harshly, yearning for the beauty ideal, and feeling pressured by my peers who seemed thin and blithe. I thought that if I achieved that ideal, I, too, would be considered attractive, popular, and happy. I went on my first diet when I was only ten years old. I saw the diet ads on television and believed dieting would be the solution to my biggest burden and biggest problem; my weight. At ten, I had already experienced the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness and thinness are one of women’s most important assets. I obsessed trying to achieve this goal through poor, dangerous nutritional choices, and sometimes, harmful behaviors*. That age marked the beginning of a daily struggle that turned into a 30-year consumptive diet cycle in order to be thin.

* I was not at risk. I was just a normal-sized child according to health standards.

The Reality

Dangerous and unrealistic “ideals” regarding slimness, beauty, and even masculinity are on the rise. More and more teenagers of both genders feel extremely dissatisfied with themselves and their bodies. Many adolescents feel overwhelmed trying to live up to these unrealistic body ideals marketed to be as true. And as this issue were not alarming enough, preadolescents nowadays are also feeling the pressure from the media, the internet, television, and let’s not forget, the ubiquitous social media.

However, the shocking truth is that the vast majority of children wrapped up in this pressure to be perfect, have an ideal body weight and are not at any risk.

According to the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, girls are more prone to having low self-esteem issues. In fact, “Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members.”

The Vicious Cycle

Unhealthy feelings, thoughts and behaviors that come up around children with low self-esteem, often go unnoticed or undetected. With time, this low self-esteem can deepen because it is a thinking disorder in which the child/teenager views himself/herself as inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent. Once formed, this negative view of self permeates every thought, producing faulty assumptions and ongoing self-defeating behavior. What is shown is not what is felt, and what is believed is rarely shared.

Children rely heavily on external factors as indicators of acceptance and popularity. What they see and what they hear is what they deem to be true. Sadly, many of them do not share their feelings with other people; they just act upon them, because often, children with low self-esteem, view things from a black and white standpoint.

Unfortunately, for children with low self-esteem, a negative body image is not the only correlation. Self-defeating thoughts and behaviors often carry into adulthood, which in turn, become a vicious cycle. And even though it is often about weight, a girl’s self-esteem is more strongly related to how she views her own body shape and body weight, than how much she actually weighs. However, many other things can also prove to be dissatisfactory like height, hair, body parts, eye color, teeth, and color of skin.

According to the National Centre for Eating Disorders, the media helps to promote certain feelings in both females and males;

  • Ads persuade females that wrong eating habits are right.
  • Girls feel as if they don't have what everyone else has.
  • The media makes girls think that those with ideal body images have perfect lives.
  • Males feel that they must have six-pack abs, acne-free faces, tall height, and toned arms
Getting stuck on any negatives does not promote or contribute to self-worth and high self-esteem. In fact, according to research sited in Pediatrics, Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics correlated having low self-esteem with depression, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. They also suggested that having low self-esteem makes children more susceptible to a variety of destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol addiction.

I was bullied and picked on. My nick-name was Shelly-Belly. I hated it! I loved sports but avoided practicing any because I did not feel thin enough. As a result, I spent many hours alone in my room where I felt safe. My parents thought I enjoyed my time alone. I didn’t!

High Self-Esteem

Children with high self-esteem are realistic; they know and accept themselves whole-heartedly. They hardly compare themselves to anybody else and do not strive to be someone they deem to be better. They feel secure in themselves and feel positive about their body. They are content around friends and do not consider the need to search for more. They are in control and have a positive outlook on life. They usually set realistic goals and see life as satisfying. They tend to be optimists and are always ready for the next challenge.

What you can do

There are many things you can do as a parent to instill positive self-esteem in your child;
  1. Be a positive role model. Your child will notice what you do for yourself and how you value yourself.
  2. Ensure that comments and feedback are constructive as opposed to negative and critical. Negative comments and jokes, regarding your child’s body image, can contribute to the problem. On the other hand, compliments can be empowering!
  3. Explain the advertising business and the fashion/beauty industry so that they can discern between seeing and believing.
  4. Be a partner of proactive change. Get involved and do healthy activities together.
  5. Support your child’s interests and pursuits even if they do not parallel yours. Value their uniqueness.
  6. Pay heed to any changes regarding your child’s habits and interests.
  7. Promote healthy family habits with regards to food and exercise.
  8. Do not use food as a reward nor as a punishment.
  9. Do not compare your child with other children.
  10. Encourage communication. Ask questions. Show interest. Be open.
  11. Treat your children fairly, that is, be consistent when enforcing rules and limitations.
  12. Be realistic with your expectations as a parent.
  13. Do not live vicariously through your child’s life.
  14. Respect should run both ways.
  15. Provide unconditional love. And keep in mind, your child will never get too old to hear the words, “I love you!”
Children will go through their ups and downs, highs and lows, through various stages of their lives. There will be times when self-identity will be put to the test; when children, especially teenagers, will struggle to find their own individuality and where they fit in the world. Awareness is key! You know your child best; therefore, you know when behaviors change. Do not ignore, explore! Continue to be a catalyst of positive reinforcement and continuous support.

Self-esteem can be positively influenced and strengthened at any time. As Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”



“The Influence of Childhood Obesity on the Development of Self-Esteem”, by F. Wang, T.C. Wild, W. Kipp, S. Kuhle and P.J. Veugelers, Statistics Canada, research article, Jun 2009.

Childhood Obesity Foundation of Canada,

“The Art of Living Consciously”, Simon & Schuster, 1997

Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2010

PEDIATRICS Vol. 105 No. 1 January 1, 2000

The Canadian Obesity Network, http;//


Shelly Elsliger, PPCC
Educator, Speaker, Coach, and Founder of Skinny Mirror Coaching