poor self esteem is an equal opportunity employer



According to recent Dove Global research, only 11% of girls worldwide are comfortable using the word “beautiful” to describe themselves. In fact, when girls feel bad about their looks, more than 70% (age 15-17) avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school, going to the doctor, or even giving their opinion.


So. While poor self esteem may be an equal opportunity employer. it seems like it is making a concerted effort to recruit the female population and begin the recruiting at a fairly young age. Let’s say about 13 is the age poor self-esteem has identified as the key recruiting age.

That said. We have all heard of the terms self-concept, self-image or self-esteem.


Self-esteem is a measure of how you feel about yourself. Good self-esteem is when you have a favorable opinion or judgment about yourself and, ultimately, liking and respecting yourself.

Now. While self-esteem is important to everyone, I tend to believe it is especially important to pay attention to <we adults> because Life can be a little harsh toward young girls and, eventually, women <by the way … contrary to popular belief, research has shown that there are no significant differences in the way boys and girls feel about themselves during those periods of development>. And the truth is <and I do have research, but this just seems like common sense> that the longer you feel unappreciated <or under-appreciated> and taken advantage of, the worse you will feel about yourself <especially when you aren’t in a relationship where someone appreciates you> but, in general, the worse you will feel about yourself when you are alone <which is where your thoughts gnaw at you>.

I admit I get a little pissed off when I watch how low self esteem is in young girls, and those young girls who have turned into women, because it is needless. Not that we can solve all self-esteem issues but we can certainly take significant steps at key moments in a young girl’s life to manage it … if not even completely head off self esteem issues.

All that said let me highlight what one company is doing to address this. Dove and the Dove girl’s self-esteem campaign. It is brilliant not because it will sell one bar of Dove soap <it may … but I will leave all that analysis to the brand building experts> but rather because it is a great example of the right brand offering the right message with the right objective. And doing what is … well … right.

Let me begin with the video that kicked off this Dove self esteem fun initiative. It is called “onslaught:”

Dove Onslaught: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJN-3yTr3KU

Okay. After watching that video do we doubt this factoid?:


“72% of all girls say they feel pressure to be beautiful.”


<note: everyone should read the guest post my friend Jen wrote called ‘all dolled up’ which also points ot the messaging in women’s magazine which I also believe feeds into this issue> >

Now. Dove. A bunch of people will probably write about how this is a smart marketing idea (consistent with brand, establishes the product positively with a young audience, bla, bla, bla) so I will write about how this is just a good human idea.

Self esteem in youth is tricky in general. Young girls? Exponentially trickier. If you can solve it <or at least manage it> in youth, the benefits carry over into a healthier adulthood. And that is why I love this campaign as a human idea.

Let me say that the web video is something they should be proud of. I cannot imagine the political maze and how many meetings they must have had with corporate communications <remember…Dove is a Unilever brand> discussing risk and crisis management and media relations and all the crap everyone worries about when you actually take a stand on something.  The video takes the issue head on.

I also like that it does several things:

–          Mainly it opens the discussion

–          They make the discussion about perfection within the imperfections

–          and it also takes on society pressure head on <and Dove is part of a health & beauty company for gods sake>. The campaign aims to boost self-esteem by reshaping the definitions of beauty forced on viewers by the beauty industry.

Now. I am not suggesting appearance is the only self-esteem issue that should be discussed but feeling comfortable in your own skin is especially important to young girls. Research shows that it is around the age 13 when self-esteem and appearance reaches a critical point. Let us call it a defining moment in their lives.

Bottom line is that it is wrong to tell CHILDREN <not just girls>that “this person is attractive, therefore, this person is better than you and you will never be attractive as long as you don’t look like this person.”

Look. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make yourself pretty as long as you’re not going to extreme lengths like most of the beauty industry promotes. Being comfortable with your appearance, and not feeling odd or even simply ‘unusual’ is important because having a good self-esteem is needed in youth both today and tomorrow.

I tend to believe we all see young girls struggle with confidence and perception issues as they move into this tween period. It is a tough time in many ways. The crossover from being just a girl to a maturing young tween.

Yes, I know adult women have these issues too, but I would argue the root of the issues resides somewhere in their past.  I think the series of videos Dove produced do a great job of gaining attention and making adult women aware of the program and hopefully remind them they can do something to insure it doesn’t happen to tomorrow’s future female generation.

Dove Self Esteem:

<and … it is excellent use of music … using probably one of the truly unique women of our generation … who was probably esteem-challenged in her youth … Cyndi Lauper>

Every girl, yes, every girl <traditionally pretty or nontraditionally pretty> will go through a phase where self-image and self-esteem are questioned and molded. During this self-examination phase it is important to establish a healthy sense of self-worth and maintain well-being. Unfortunately I believe we need to proactively cultivate and engage the activities and relationships that will build up rather than tear down.

Uhm. Yes. We need to ‘proactively’ take steps. Because, left alone, society will kill self esteem with a death of a thousand cuts. We need to proactively remind all young girls that they have strengths and weakness, and it’s important to begin focusing on the positive attributes and start building from there. And even if it is difficult to see these strengths <because it is really easy to suggest to yourself  … ‘well  … that isn’t really a strength  … because someone is a lot better at it then I am’> we need to remind, and teach, young girls to grab onto their own strengths and hold onto them.

And that is a responsibility we adults need to assume <because society will not>.

Silence just will not hack it in this case.

If you let that ever-hyperactive tween mind wrestle with the doubts and societal cuts it is a self-esteem accident waiting to happen.

One Tree Hill Brooke

Anyway. This topic also reminded me of a One Tree Hill episode in which each of the students as a class assignment had to define themselves. One of the characters, Brooke, who is smart, beautiful, popular who only defines herself through the negative … through her ‘self seen’ flaws, finally, with the help of a friend/classmate, sees herself in a different, more positive/stronger, way.

I am not recommending everyone watch One Tree Hill <although this one episode is a defining episode>, but it points out that self awareness leads to addressing self esteem issues <and, in her case, leads to a happy ending>.


“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”



Now. Does this end up being an example of maybe ‘are we teaching them they are better than someone else’?

Well … sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes they are actually better and sometimes not. But it doesn’t matter. We are teaching them they are what they are good at and it is okay to understand that being good at something doesn’t mean you are the “best’ but rather you are good at something. We end up teaching them to work with whatever their strengths and natural abilities are.


Research factoid:

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland made this finding after analyzing U.S. survey data of more than 7,000 young adults from 1994 to 2008. The participants ranged in age from 14 to 30 years. Over the course of 14 years, the study authors examined how five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) affected the youth’s self-esteem. In addition, the researchers also looked at the participants’ sense of life mastery, risk-taking tendencies, gender, ethnicity, health and income. “We tested for factors that we thought would have an impact on how self-esteem develops … understanding the trajectory of self-esteem is important to pinpointing and timing interventions that could improve people’s self-esteem.”

The researchers found that conscientiousness, emotional stability, a feeling of mastery and being extraverted are key to predicting the direction a person’s self-esteem will take as they grow up, and that income did not affect this course.


Why do I believe we really need to get our shit together in helping tweens <say 11 til 14 in particular> in dealing with self esteem?

Well. Several things make you the person you are today. Confidence and self esteem and emotional intelligence. And you aren’t given these things when you are born. You accumulate them and they grow into what you “have” as time goes on. Our self-image <and self esteem> is an accumulation of years. From childhood on on we collect ideas of how smart we are or how non-smart, whether we are confident or have specific fears, we decide how we look in comparison to our peers and the list goes on and on. Oh. And then society steps up to the plate. And they pile on to everything you have stored in your head.

not good enough tryingBasically our entire self-image has been made up from all our experiences throughout our childhood. We carry these beliefs, whether they have any truth to them or not, into the post-tween years and into adullthood. And at the core of whether we are happy or sad people, successful or unsuccessful, is our self esteem and self image.

It is true we are what we believe we should be.

People with low self-esteem have a very distorted image of themselves. In a book called ‘Self-Esteem’ <McKay and Fanning> they use the analogy of a circus mirror where all our assets are minimized or twisted, and all our defects are magnified. Youth or childhood certainly plays an integral role. This is what makes up the differences of people in society, for some their self-image has been molded and shaped in a very positive way. Yet for others it can be drastically damaged through destructive criticism received throughout their childhood.

All adults play a big role in the person’s development.

Yes. All adults.

Okay. And the role of appearance in the self esteem issue?

I actually think of all this as ‘abusive verbal experiences <‘you look different’>’ which join with cultural messages to assault female self esteem. Instagram is a veritable minefield of abusive verbal experiences compounded by visual ‘signaling’ references.

This kind of subtle abuse is pervasive and cuts across all socioeconomic lines. It invariably sends the message that the victim is worthless or certainly that they are not even close to being the best.

I bring up verbal abuse because many women believe that verbal abuse has hurt them far more than any physical act. As one woman has put it … “words scarred my soul.” Women whose verbal abuse started as children end up having the most fragile sense of identity and self worth often resulting in depression and anxiety. Physical health suffers as well. Many times, women with low self esteem don’t go for regular checkups, exercise, or take personal days because they really don’t think they’re worth the time. And relationships are impacted as well. Their needs are not met by their partner because they feel like they don’t deserve to have them met, or are uncomfortable asking. Their relationships with children can suffer if they are unable to discipline effectively, set limits, or demand the respect they deserve.Worse yet, low self-esteem passes from mother to daughter. The mother is modeling what a woman is. She is also modeling, for her sons, what a wife is. More? It bleeds into the workplace where women with low self-esteem tend to be self-deprecating, to minimize their accomplishments, or let others take credit for their work. They never move up.

Well. That was a lot. And that was depressing to write.

And even more depressing? We can do something about it, but we don’t seem to do anything.

I say all this to say the obvious — building self esteem at a young age is important because people with high self-esteem tend to do well and achieve success in their life because they feel confident about themselves mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. It is a truth, in fact … a fact, that no one goes through life unscathed. Poor self esteem is an equal opportunity employer.

Okay. We can do something about this.

I am going to focus on adults here. I will begin with something someone wrote:


Life is a hard situation but one sure way a parent can help a young girl is to help the teen build their confidence and self worth. A teen with high self confidence and self-esteem are not simply manipulated into making the incorrect decisions because they don’t feel the pressure of the crowd.

Parents should be in a position to teach their youths that folks come in all shapes and sizes that way they will be ready to be more accepting of their physical features and would also be non-judgmental of others. Inspire them to get into activities where the field is equal. Good social skills, and confidence in self, helps a teen deal with differing types of scenarios and people. And guiding them to utilize their strengths helps because excelling in anything can enhance a young person’s confidence and self esteem.

Parents cannot be there all of the time but they must be ready to lend a hand when their kids need a hand to hold on to. For sure there’ll be screw ups along the way but a little failure is always a good sign. Most importantly, you must teach resilience to your kids.

Parents are not designed to shield their youngsters from discomfort and discomfort but rather for them to make certain they can go through pain and pain and then come out fine. Ensure that it is clear that you will never abandon them no matter what. Respect their autonomy by giving them the vote of confidence that they can handle any situation


Good thoughts. You don’t need to be some radical cheerleader. You do not have to be a parent to be this kind of teacher. ALL adults can play a role. It is a research driven truth that quiet expressed belief in a child has more impact than being a loud cheerleader.

That quiet belief leads to quiet <inner> strength. Which is important because in life it’s difficult to stay tough specially when things and people around you keep pulling you down.

We should also be teaching young girls that they have their own identity. They do not get defined by us <adults> … i.e., if your parent is a failure in some way, it doesn’t mean you have to be a failure too. We should teach them they can learn from other people’s experience so they can avoid the same mistakes because you are, well, you and not them.

I do not believe some people are born leaders or positive thinkers. I do believe being positive, and staying positive, and leading is a choice. Building self esteem and drawing lines for self improvement is a choice, not a rule or a talent.

Because, once again, in life it is hard to stay tough specially when things and society and people around you keep tearing at you.

We need to teach them that Life isn’t always easy.

Tell them they are going to get hit, and even bruised, by life.

You have to be resilient. But resiliency implies you have a good foundation to protect. That foundation is the right attitude, the right behavior and the right way of thinking. If we start to teach our young people that if they become responsible for who they are, what they have and what they do … it effectively spreads out into the rest of their life – the today and the tomorrow life.

These are smart girls.

One day they will be smart women.

This young tween age a defining moment. A reflection moment some day in the future. A point on which they will reflect upon their actions and life. If they are ashamed?  It will gnaw at them. And that is why I applaud Dove for taking this step. Their actions today try and build the women of tomorrow.


Originally published October 2012

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Written by Bruce