‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’
This is not some quote I found on the internet, neither are these some wise words of a former teacher or mentor (although they could have been) and unless you think too that Barbie movies are timeless, then you might not remember this line from one of her movies – Barbie in Princess Charm School (2011). Though, since I’m not here to talk about my grown-up appreciation for Barbie shows, I have to say that this is one of my favourite lessons that I have learned from them, and one that I still need to remind myself of at times of feeling overwhelmed or pressured.
When I first heard this line, I was amazed by how much it spoke to me. Yet, even when I was inspired by it, I was confused as to what it meant exactly. A few years ago, when I was only in high school, despite having a clear vision of what I wanted to do in life, I would be comparing myself to this classmate, or to this relative, checking their social media, and letting feelings of disappointment downplay my small wins compared to their extravagant and seemingly successful lives.
While some called it ambition and others restlessness, for me, it was the constant task of taking care of my demanding, exigent self-esteem.
So where does a Barbie movie fit in all of this? It was in the first time I have decided to take that small piece of advice. I was in my gymnastics class, which I hated more than anything in high school. Doing body rolls was not my biggest strength, as I had always felt insecure and overly conscious of my performance in front of the persistent eyes of the coach, and the judging looks of my classmates. Still, I was set that, for once, I was not going to let that get to me, for I’d had enough of feeling inferior for this one thing that I didn’t excel in.
‘So what if I flunk it? What if some snickers behind my back? It surely is not going to be the end of the world.’
And it wasn’t. My forward roll was surely not the best, but unlike the many other times, I stood up tall and I looked at the coach in the eye. ‘Not anymore, I’m not going to feel inferior.’ I let my eyes and my body speak for me, and it felt rewarding, empowering.
Obviously, that little revelation from a Barbie movie was only the beginning of a far more complex, yet enticing journey of self-work. After years of trial and error, I was able to find the ‘perfect’ remedy that maintains my peculiar self-esteem. Made with three main ingredients with a savoury add-in, I was proud to have finally have found the perfect combination that not only protected my self-esteem but also required constant practice to master.
A big spoonful of self-compassion
This is probably one of my favourite ingredients to look after my self-esteem, and I have been regularly including it in my routine. Aside from educating myself about it from one of its pioneers, Dr Kristin Neff, and creating a playlist of my favourite meditations of self-compassion, this practice has proven to be one of the kindest and most constructive ways for me to restore my broken self-esteem.
For instance, it turns out that, most, if not all, the times where I had the hardest time meeting all those high and unrealistic expectations I set for myself, I had been especially the harshest on myself when I failed to realise them. However, when I got familiar with the practice of self-compassion, I’d hear things along the lines of: ‘What if this was happening to your friend, would you behave the same way?’ and that alone had an immense effect on me.
Indeed, it seems that while the world may be cruel, our closest friends may betray us, and our parents may be too expectant of us, we are the only ones who can truly hurt ourselves. At the end of the day, we are the only ones who know our weakest points, and while we can try to be immune to everyone’s judgements, there is surely no escape from the way we see ourselves.
So why not be kind to yourself?
A cup of mindfulness
I had always wanted to escape reality, and I had always wanted to be in places other than where I was. Even as a child, I’d be playing role plays of a future bride, or mom – traditionally – but little did I ever question whether those defined me. In fact, my teenage years were a constant denial of the idea that the present moment defined me. Back then, the present moment meant more of those gymnastics classes, more of those sleepless nights to keep a good grade, and only a few hours for my hobbies. It also meant not having a best friend, nothing but me and my book on my breaks, and a lot of social interactions but little to no meaningful relationships. The present moment back then was not where I wanted to be.
Hence, when it comes to preserving my self-esteem, exploring mindfulness had a big impact on the way I have started to perceive the future, the present, and eventually my self-worth. By saving five to ten minutes of my time every day to meditate, and be aware of my surroundings, I’d begin to feel a whole new revitalising energy in my body, one which made me feel part of a big whole, grateful for where I was, and eventually, accomplished, and more conscious of the small challenges that I have overcome. It was life-changing.
A medium spoon of self-awareness and a pinch of constructive self-talking
In reality, how well do we really know ourselves?
Think of when you like someone, and you really want to get to know them, don’t you try to listen to them? Don’t you give them your whole time and attention to know what kind of person they are? And how about when they make a mistake? Don’t you at least want to give them a second chance? Well, if you are ready to do that for someone, why don’t you do that for yourself first? Trust me, your mind has a lot more to say than just endless chatter about worries and plans for the future or regrets of the past, and if you give it another chance to understand it and reflect on your thoughts, it may surprise you.
Assume nothing, but strive to find a balance between your points of strength and weakness. Chances are, there are more things to give yourself credits for than you thought!
Personally, after so much researching, and the many attempts to find the most fitting set of habits that will improve my self-awareness and self-talk, I recommend repeating affirmations every day, expanding your emotional vocabulary and setting a journal dedicated to express your feelings more accurately as one of the most efficient ways to become better in tune with yourself.
Lastly, it appears that the journey of maintaining self-esteem is never-ending. As social media’s impact on public opinion only seems to amplify as days are passing by, and the fact our brains can only handle so much stimulation at once, looking after our self-esteem and developing the skill of setting smart goals for ourselves proves more urgent today than ever.
Also by reminding ourselves of our own authentic missions, we can face these hurdles head-on while protecting and preserving our integrity, and who knows? Maybe the revelation we need most right now is by coming back to simpler things that made us happy once – like a Barbie movie.
Imane Benseddik is a graduate from Rabat, Morocco, with an interest in mental health and well-being.
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