EDIT: It has been pointed out by several commenters that my post here could be taken as an attack at the original commenter. That was not my intention. While I tried to use the comments to frame a general discussion, leaving room for the commenter to be correct while also demonstrating another option, and speaking to a general audience rather than the commenter herself, it seems that I have failed by some readings and for that I deeply apologize. I’ve sent the commenter an e-mail apologizing.
In a comment on a recent post a reader expressed some thoughts about self-esteem and arrogance in Size Acceptance that I wanted to address here. While I don’t think it’s intentional, her quotes may be triggering to some so they are in italics, you can skip the italic parts and still understand the blog:
I find a lot of what you say upsetting because I can’t say I’m intelligent, amazing, beautiful, or that I have a great personality, because if I did that I would be shot down for being arrogant… I think in many ways it’s become acceptable for people who aren’t ‘typically’ accepted by society to proclaim that they’re awesome and beautiful all the time, but as a kind of standard person I’d just sound like a t*** if I said that.
First, I have not found that it’s acceptable for me to claim that I’m awesome and beautiful. I’ve found that when I do so people suggest that I am everything from arrogant, to in denial, to literally mentally ill. I think the difference is that I refuse to choose my thoughts based on what other people think of me or say about me. I believe that my body is amazing and that I’m beautiful and I do not care if other people agree, or what they think of me thinking that. Size Acceptance is about my acceptance, affirmation and love of my body, not about whether or not someone else accepts it – that’s not anybody else’s job.
I also have a sense that the kind of self-esteem your promoting is stupid, since it seems totally unconditional.
Yes!!!! It is totally unconditional. I choose to love myself and my body unconditionally. Even when I make mistakes, even when I get sick, even if I can never do the side splits, no matter what. It’s self-esteem, it’s not what-other-people-think-of-me-esteem. We are each the only person who can choose how we feel about ourselves. We can choose to take the opinions of others into account but that’s still our choice. Thanks to the Underpants Rule, some people can choose to love themselves unconditionally, and others are perfectly within their rights to make their self-esteem conditional and that’s ok. People can make different choices and in no way invalidate each other – so if someone thinks that loving yourself unconditionally is stupid, they don’t have to do it, but nobody else has to care that they think that, or take that into account while making decisions about their own self-esteem.
Beauty generally is something reserved for the people who are the most attractive to the most people. Not everyone can be beautiful. I think it’s because ‘beautiful’ has come to mean ‘a worthwhile person’ in so many contexts that it’s the natural way for people to affirm their worth as a person, but it lessens the term if you’re going to say everyone is beautiful.
I think that definition of beauty is constructed by society to make us buy expensive wrinkle creams and weight loss pills and any number of things that create billion dollar profits for the beauty and diet industries. I also think that it’s highly problematic since what “most people” find attractive is often deeply rooted in a society’s bigotry, oppression and injustice. I think that the ability to perceive beauty is something that we develop, and some people never develop past looking for a superficial, arbitrary social construct either because they don’t think it’s possible, don’t know it’s possible, or simply don’t want to. That doesn’t make anyone else not beautiful, it just means that most people haven’t developed a strong ability to perceive beauty in different forms. I believe everyone is beautiful, and I think that the only way that “lessens” the term is if someone is trying to use the idea of beauty to make them feel better than, or superior to, others.
What are the legitimate sources of self esteem?… What gives all of you the confidence to say you’re amazing and beautiful… Half of me feels like it’s a really hollow chant, since it just isn’t really the case that everyone is equally awesome, or that everyone is awesome at all, but the other half of me is just really jealous that everyone on here gets to talk about how great they are all the time while most people don’t get that kind of self esteem despite having a ton of real, objective things they can say are great about themselves….Though I also think this is slightly skewed by the fact that I’m in England, where saying out loud that you have self-esteem is taboo in a lot of circles.
All sources of self-esteem are legitimate if we decide they are – again, it’s called self-esteem – and I give me the confidence to say that I’m amazing and beautiful, and it’s totally ok if someone else feels that it’s a hollow chant or if they disagree because that has nothing to do with me – that’s their deal. I won’t speak for everyone here but, for me, it’s not that I “get” to talk positively about myself and my body – as if I’ve received permission…it’s that I choose to celebrate my body despite that fact that I often don’t have the permission or approval of others to do so.
There seems to be a belief that there is only so much self-esteem to go around, and that in order for some people to love themselves, others have to hate themselves. As if some people should be pushed down to prop up others who can’t develop their self-esteem independently. I absolutely reject the premise – we can choose to stop competing and we can stop trying to develop love for ourselves by hating others and putting them down. We can encourage each other to see how beautiful and amazing and awesome we are, rather than trying to tear down anyone who dares to love themselves without the permission of society.
I spent years self-loathing and self-deprecating and it sucked – I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t healthy. I spent years hating my body because no matter how much I abused it, including being hospitalized with an eating disorder, it just wouldn’t became what “most people” in my culture find beautiful. I spent years looking to others to tell me that I was worthy or beautiful. Then it hit me: For me, all of that self-hatred and self-deprecating was cowardice – I was choosing what to think about myself based on what I thought everybody else wanted to hear. I was miserable just so I wouldn’t upset or offend anyone because the fact that I loved myself might upset them in some way.
No more. In a country where the government encourages the eradication of people who look like me, where little girls say that they would rather lose a parent that look like me, where people spend billions of dollars and millions of hours trying not to look like me, I stand for my beauty and my inherent amazingness. And anyone who feels that I should give up that painstakingly hard won ground because it upsets them should prepare themselves to learn to live with disappointment. My body, my self-esteem, my life, my rules
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