Self-image shouldn’t be everything

Self-image is so important to people that there is a multi-billion dollar industry to help create it. I was recently acutely reminded of that. I’m visiting a friend who lives in North Hollywood, Calif., and she dropped me off at “Hollywood and Highland”, the focal point of the Hollywood tourist area. Within two minutes I walked past Darth Vader, a storm trooper, Marilyn Monroe, Captain Jack Sparrow, a Wookie, a character in a red skin-tight action-suit with an “i” on it, and a woman in a very low cut black sequined mini-dress. After my pleasant surprise, I realized that these folks were working the people on the streets. For a generous tip, one could have their picture taken with them.

Now why would one do that? It could just be for fun, or it could be to boost one’s self-image. “I’m cool, because I’m here next to Marilyn Monroe.” Self-image is the idea, or mental image one has of oneself. It’s who we think we are. It includes our body image, how we think we look.

Hollywood is famous for its “beautiful people”, whether they were born that way, or created the image of themselves that they wanted through plastic surgery, implanted eyelashes, diet and exercise, hair dye, clothing choices and the like. We all know it’s not real, but self-image is a big part of self-esteem, and we all need a healthy sense of self-esteem. We need to respect ourselves and know that we matter.

During the pre-teen and teen years the body becomes a kind of surprise. Facial features grow. Our noses and jaws get bigger. Second teeth are crooked. Some boys get Adam’s apples in their throats. Our shoulders widen, and so do hips, if you are a girl. We get taller. Our hair may change texture and color. And of course our sexual parts develop. It is a period of difficulty for many, as we want to fit within the standard of “what’s beautiful” for our community, and as we’re growing, things don’t always develop equally.

Have you ever seen a four-month old German shepherd’s paws? They’re huge in proportion to the puppy, but the dog grows into it. When I was about 14, my cousin kept pointing out that I had the “Marshall nose,” which was rather large. I became self-conscious about it until I was about 40, when I realized that my nose wasn’t big in proportion to the rest of me. But for 26 years my self-image was a little tarnished in the nose department.

On the other side of the Mainland an Oct. 1, 2013 “New York Times” article states that New York Mayor Bloomberg started a campaign that tells girls that they are beautiful the way they are. It aims to reach girls from about 7-12, who “are at risk of negative body images that can lead to eating disorders, drinking, acting out sexually, suicide and bullying.”

The ads show “girls of different races and sizes, some playing sports and one in a wheelchair. Each one ends with the campaign’s overall slogan: ‘I’m beautiful the way I am.’”

In New York, I’ve sometimes seen the chorus and dancers include women who might be considered overweight. Beauty’s parameters are being expanded. Maybe one day beauty will be determined by how well someone can love and appreciate others and themselves.

Until then, advertising agencies will try to make you feel that you need to look, dress, and act certain ways, and that their clients’ products can help you create it. Seriously? Do boys and men really think that getting a certain vehicle will attract hot, richly dressed women to come lean on the hood? Treat a woman kindly and with respect, and she might do more than that. She might just lean on your shoulder.

Girls, I know for a fact that when some boys see tight, suggestive clothing that they aren’t thinking about a long-term relationship. Who would want their girlfriend to be displaying the image that they’re sexy and ready! I know a 14-year-old boy who told me he broke up with his girlfriend because she “dressed like a ho.” If that’s the image you want to project, then be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Over a billion hits to the web came up when I Googled self-image, and 26,200,000 came up for improving self-image. Most were for adults. Some were for parents to help foster a positive self-image and self-esteem in their children. The adult sites told the reader to undo faulty self-image thinking that was established when they were children (like having a big nose). Here are some other points on creating a positive self-image from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/mental_health/hic_fostering_a_positive_self-image.aspx  (the bold words)

• Take a self-image inventory. How do you see yourself? What do you think you project to the world?

• Define personal goals and objectives. What do you want to do now and later with your life? Make decisions in the present that will help you get there.

• Set realistic and measurable goals. How will you know you’ve reached your goal?

• Confront thinking distortions. What part of your thinking about yourself might need correcting? Are old labels still valid? You may have been shy, but are you now?

• Stop comparing yourself to others. You are a wonderful, original, perfectly created human being, with your own unique gift to share with the world. You’ll never discover what it is if you keep trying to be something else!

• Develop your strengths. Find out what you are good at and what you like to do. Practice it. A community is a mosaic of many different people with different abilities. We need it all. I believe that sometimes kids have gifts that won’t be appreciated until the future, when they are adults, and being their most productive.

•  Learn to love yourself. If that’s hard, ask your parents and friends what they love about you.

•  Learn to laugh and smile. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to feel bad sometimes. That shows us that something needs to change. Figure it out and do it.

Appreciate yourself, and be your own cheerleader. Doctors are finding out that doing something that you don’t believe in or is right can make you sick in time. (“Mind Over Medicine” by Dr. Lissa Rankin) Let your own beautiful light shine!

Questions?

Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues.   Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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