Self-esteem; a concept that carries so much weight.
One that emerged out of a society saturated in self-criticism and in need of a cure.
It began as a buzz-word and evolved into a world wide movement, taking over the ethos of many companies. Its importance is continuously being promoted through countless lyrics in the music industry, advertisements across all social mediums, and global campaigns held solely for it’s purposes.
But why? Why is it so important? Why all the hype around self-esteem?
Although there are innumerable advocates promoting healthy self esteem – helping people understand the benefits and how to effectively achieve and maintain a healthy self esteem – there are just as many people who are doing the exact opposite.
And that is where The Links Counselling Service comes in. We decided as counsellors of many young adults, we wanted to be amongst those that are championing healthy self esteem, but not merely from the side lines. Our belief is simple, the health of your mind matters, and in a society that continuously bombards our minds with negativity, mostly unconsciously, it’s our job to be on the front line fighting for the minds and self-esteem of our young people. And so, “#BeMe” was created.
Our aim for our program was to help our young girls not only understand and appreciate the importance of self esteem, but also be able to effectively implement change in their lives in order to gain and maintain a healthy self esteem.
Being at an impressionable age we know it is terribly important for our young people to have the tools to be able to filter through what comes their way. Did you know you are bombarded with 5000 advertising images everyday, whether you like it or not? They could be anything from batteries to bedding; boobs to breakfast. We looked at different advertising images, were the age old saying was applicable, “Sex Sells” and got the girls to mull over how they felt this was impacting their self-esteem. With magazines, scissors, and their own perspective at hand, we wanted them then to visually present their understanding of their self esteem, and what they believed the effects the media has on it – positive or negative.
However, unlike advertising, where we don’t have much say about what and when we encounter things that impact our self esteem, our own personal social media sites our somewhat different, and so we looked at the concept of our “Online Self”.
Everyone in this day and age is sure to know about the wonders of Photoshop. “Colour-correct this. Retouch that. Pinch her here. Crop him there. Now add some definition to every inch of skin showing.” You get the point. We’re constantly being shown images that are verging on unrealistic, never mind digitally enhanced. Does Kim Kardashian actually have a waist that tiny and a bum that big? Maybe. But because of the over use of programs like Photoshop, nearly all images of celebrities and the like are questionable. However, the alarming fact now is that it’s not just celebrities anymore. It’s not just images found in glossy magazines and advertisements on our screens; it’s easily accessible and readily used by anyone with a camera on their phone or laptop on their desk. “Filter this. Brighten that. Make your eyes look more blue. Your lips more pink.” Instagram. Pinterest. Tumblr. Pick a site. And then pick a filter.
We challenged the girls, asking, “Could you post a photo on social media and not put a filter on it?” “Would you be happy with yourself if your post only received a certain amount of “likes” or “hits”?” “Can you tell the difference between an image that’s been digitally tampered with or not?”
This concept of what’s reality and what’s not can be incredibly harmful to your self esteem as you’re being shown something that’s false, but at the same time you’re being told it’s what you should be striving for.
Self-esteem is something that is affected by external influences, yes, but it’s also up to us to take control and look after the body we’ve been given. It’s scientifically proven that exercise makes you happy and makes you healthy. Because your body plays a big role in affecting your self-esteem, at the beginning of every week we would have an intense 30minute work out to promote our belief, “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.”.
Looking after yourself isn’t just physical though. Your body is the vessel that houses your mind and your soul; two things of great importance too. Through the medium of using Art as Therapy, we taught the girls affective and fun ways to look after the emotional and mental aspects of their lives.
Although it’s important to take responsibility for each part of yourself it’s vital to have a network of people around you that have a positive influence, because “You weren’t born to be an island.” Additionally, I’m sure you’ve heard it said before, “You are the friends you choose”? There is definitely some truth to be taken out of that for sure. The, sometimes, subtle persuasion we can feel from our peers can be both detrimental but also necessary for positive growth. Because of the critical role relationships play in our lives in relation to our growth as a person we thought it important to make this a key discussion point with the girls attending #BeMe each week. However, the conversation was not merely focused on how others have the power to influence us, but also, how we have the power to influence others. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in our own insecurities, the state of our own “self-esteem” that we forget there are simple joys to be found in being a source of encouragement and maybe even inspiration to those around us.
All in all, in a world that forces so much negativity upon us, in an innumerable amount of creative ways, we want to be the voice that empowers young people to know that they have the power to choose. They have the power to disregard the negative and choose all that will build and maintain a healthy, positive, life-giving, self-esteem. And they have the power to choose to spread that positivity around.
By Ruth Weir