I set up Tough Cookie because I spent well over 10 years hating myself. For some reading this that might not sound like a long time, but when you consider that I’m only 24 and I started when I was 11 you can see why in relation to my life as a whole this is significant – it’s pretty much 50%!
A few years ago I started changing things for myself. I realised that I was never going to love my life (or myself) if I continued, and without at least a little appreciation for who I was, I wouldn’t be happy and achieve the things I wanted to achieve. So slowly but surely I started to make small changes – changes which eventually snowballed until I reached a point of what I like to call ‘semi-self-acceptance.’
Now this doesn’t mean I’m ‘better’. It doesn’t mean that everything is great inside my head now. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have body dysmorphia or struggle with how I look. But it does mean that I am no longer imprisoned by my own self-hatred. It means I can live my life day to day and manage the negative thoughts I sometimes have about myself. And it means that if I can, you can too!
From those small changes I developed my ‘Golden Rules’ to help people in similar positions to me to develop better self-esteem. I talk about these in Tough Love (in fact, the book is filled with tips like this) but for the purpose of this blog I wanted to condense the things I’ve learnt and use every day down into a few simple steps you can follow to help you on your way to semi-self-acceptance.
Comparison is single-handedly one of the WORST things you can do to yourself. It’s a great way to destroy your self-esteem, as generally when we compare we do so to find some sort of fault in ourselves and a positive thing in other people.
It’s likely you’re making comparisons with others without even knowing it. Staring longingly at a celebrity’s abs in a magazine, feeling jealous of your friend’s hair, looking at other people’s skin because you feel as though yours is bad.
Firstly, you’ve got to be aware of what you’re doing before you can combat it, so try to pay attention to yourself when you’re feeling bad and see whether that’s because you’re feeling negative about what you have because of something ‘positive’ somebody else has. Then when you find yourself doing this remember one thing you like about yourself (more on this in a second). You might feel as though there isn’t anything – but there will be one thing, however small. If you’re struggling to do this, then removing the trigger that causes you to compare may be a positive step to take – and this could be reading trashy papers, trawling diet sites or social media.
Avoid social media
Social media is toxic for a number of reasons. Generally I have come to hate the concept of it and the behaviour it encourages – from a mental health perspective and in a personal capacity. It’s exacerbates insecurities and . But where self-esteem is concerned it can be especially harmful.
I understand that for some people, cutting out social media is like chopping off a limb. And by ‘avoid’ I don’t necessarily mean you have to cut it out completely – not if you don’t feel you need to. But you really need to be honest with yourself here. Does social media add something to your life, or does it take something away from you? Does it make you feel inadequate? Does it encourage you to focus on everything you don’t have and forget about the qualities and good things you possess?
Social media is filled with images of ‘perfection’. It’s designed to help people boast about themselves and their lives. You’ll rarely see things shared and loved which are ‘ugly’ – i.e, less than perfect. Where does that leave those of us who aren’t ‘perfect’ then? Don’t forget that what you see online isn’t reality. It’s a carefully-constructed version of reality which is 100% going to make you feel bad by comparison.
I found myself constantly comparing without even realising it, feeling as though I couldn’t stop. I was almost addicted to scrolling through Instagram and twitter, following models and ‘hot girls’ accounts, hoping that through looking at the images and links I could better myself, I could look and be like them. Obsessively
More on why I quit social media for better self-esteem here.
Assess potentially damaging situations
I know when I am going to be in a position which may trigger my insecurities. But we can’t go through life avoiding everything – even if we want to. Some situations I will actively avoid if they serve no purpose other than to make me feel bad (I stopped attending modelling castings for example), but for those which are unavoidable (or things I should definitely be present for) I have to put protective measures in place to help me to cope in case I feel bad (thinking about a positive thing I like to counteract comparison when I’m going to be in a situation which causes me to compare, reminding myself that beauty is subjective, remembering that often what we see is fake and manufactured if I’m watching a movie or a television programme I would normally avoid). If you suffer social anxiety because of body dysmorphia also remember that it’s never as bad as you think it is – and you may even end up feeling better after you take a leap of faith.
Don’t give a shit about what other people think
This one’s hard – I know that. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that happiness is never achieved through trying to please others. You life and worth should be based on doing the things you love with people you don’t fear judgment from – but unfortunately social media and other modern-day social conventions often make us feel as though our lives are lived for the approval of others. Whether you’re being bullied or constantly worry about how you come across to others, remember that their opinions really don’t matter. Enjoy being you and work on being comfortable in your own skin without compliments and approval from other people.
Find something you like
This has been really helpful for me on my own journey to better self-esteem – and although you might at first think (just like I did) ‘what the hell is there to like?’ actually you’ll find something. And once you find one thing, you open the door to others.
I started aged 17 with my nails. I always got compliments on them – they were long and strong and square – they looked artificial but they were all mine. At the time I thought that was all I had going for me, so when a friend asked me: ‘tell me one thing you like about yourself.’ I thought long and hard and came up with my nails.
Aged 21 I (finally) felt able to change my mind over my thighs and my arse – parts of me which had been a big problem for me for ten years. Aged 23 I felt able to stop weighing myself. Now aged 24 I don’t feel as anxious about how I look. Starting with something so small as my fingernails actually helped me on my journey to self-acceptance – or at least semi-self-acceptance – so choosing one thing you like as a starting point can be really valuable.
You can see that my journey wasn’t an overnight change of heart. It took me a while to accept myself (mostly) as I am. But starting with one thing allowed me to consider others – and over time this snowballed until I came to love parts of myself I never thought I would.
Stop monitoring and weighing yourself
Throw away the tape measure, the weighing scales, the calipers. Stop scrutinising yourself and basing your worth on a set of numbers. When I had Anorexia I spent a long time in the mirror or just staring at myself to see whether I was ‘thin enough’ yet. Weighing myself had become a way to obsessively monitor myself but also to feel better or worse depending on whether I achieved my goals. This started with the diets I went on aged 12 and finished only a few years ago when I realised that my obsession with weight did nothing to benefit me mentally or physically. I always looked the same, even when my weight fluctuated dramatically. The only thing that made me feel different (usually bad) was the number on the scale, so I ditched them. You can read more about why I stopped weighing myself and why here.
Ready to get better self-esteem? Need help implementing the Golden Rules? Take a look at Tough Love here.