In the age of the body positivity movement, why are so many women still struggling with our self-worth? It’s an important question – low self-worth can affect almost every area of our lives.
To define what ‘self-worth’ means, we have to look beyond body image. Of course, feeling good about our appearance is positive for our well-being! But the real meaning of self-worth runs a lot deeper.
So what is self-worth? It’s all about understanding our value – as women and as human beings.
In practice, self-worth includes self-compassion, fully embracing who we are, and ensuring our needs are met. In fact, believing we deserve to have our needs met is central to strong self-worth. Self-worth gives us room to be imperfect, make mistakes, and still believe we’re worthy.
Here are some key questions for measuring self-worth:
- Do we treat ourselves with unconditional love, acceptance and patience?
- Do we believe we deserve to take up space in the world?
- Are we receiving the same respect and grace we give to others?
If you’re struggling, there is hope. I spoke to Vanessa Haldane, founder of Journey to Worthy, to find out more.
Read on to learn all about the power of self-worth!
Are Self Worth and Body Positivity the Same Thing?
Holistic self-worth can easily be overlooked in the body positivity movement. On visual platforms like Instagram, the way we look still dominates the self-esteem conversation.
It’s fantastic when we aim to love our curves, stretch marks and wrinkles through every stage of life. But it’s possible to love the skin you’re in and still struggle with low self-worth.
If you’ve heard the debate between ‘body positivity’ and ‘body neutrality’, this gives you a glimpse into why self-worth is so critical.
With so much pressure to ‘love our bodies’, it’s easy to feel guilty when we can’t summon up 24/7 delight in our bodies. It can feel like letting down an entire movement when we still cover a spot with concealer or avoid posting a ‘bad angle’ on social media.
When we turn the spotlight back on self-worth, it shifts the conversation away from policing our feelings. Instead, it’s about the way we truly value ourselves – and how this flows through the rest of our lives.
That doesn’t mean self-worth and body positivity aren’t connected. In fact, nurturing our self-worth is an essential part of learning to love who we are! Instead of flaws, imperfections are transformed into something else: part of what it means to be a whole, complete, and utterly worthy human being.
Why is Self Worth So Important?
Self-worth is essential for women, both in the way we feel about ourselves and the relationships we have. Low self-worth has a flow-on effect, impacting every part of our life. From our career choices to relationships and parenting, healthy self-worth leads to a rich and fulfilling life.
There’s also a strong connection between self-esteem and mental health. Negative self-image is a mental health risk factor, and makes us more likely to choose unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Here are some examples of how low self-worth can hold us back:
- Being afraid to ask for what we want
- Doubting our own capabilities
- Struggling to set boundaries
- Negative self-talk and self-criticism
- Accepting mistreatment in relationships
- Social anxiety or withdrawal
- Feeling like a failure or disappointment
- Lack of fulfilment or direction in life
- Struggling to model self-esteem as a parent
- Self-destructive or risky behaviour
Do these symptoms sound familiar? Keep reading to learn what causes low-self worth, and how you can still heal.
The Hidden Causes of Low Self Worth
When it comes to self-worth, Vanessa emphasises there are always underlying factors: low self-worth is never just low self-worth.
In order to build self-worth, it’s important to understand the issues you’re facing now.
Common causes of low self-worth include:
- Early role models: We know that modelling is essential to raising kids with healthy self-esteem. If you grew up seeing your mum criticise her body or weight, this sets the stage for self-worth struggles later. Similarly, seeing our mothers mistreated in relationships or struggling with boundaries can impact what we think we deserve.
- Body change: This is common during pregnancy or post-partum, but any change in our weight or appearance can trigger low self-worth. So many women struggle to embrace their post-baby body, and you’re not alone if you’re finding it tough! Aging is another thing that can impact our body image.
- Mental illness: From depression and anxiety to eating disorders, mental health challenges can fuel low self-esteem. As well as the symptoms themselves, mental illness can disrupt the things we used to gauge our value before: like a high-performing career. It can also fuel a pattern of negative thinking, reinforcing beliefs that hold us back.
- Trauma: A strong sense of self-worth empowers us to set boundaries and standards about how we’re treated. Experiencing trauma is a key factor in developing low-self worth – whether that’s in childhood or later in life. Low self-worth and feelings of shame can also keep women trapped in a destructive cycle of abuse.
Wondering how you can make a change? It’s never too late to build your self-worth. Keep reading to find out how you can start today.
How to Improve Self Worth & Body Positivity
Here are six great strategies to heal your sense of self-worth:
- Understand your journey: Understanding the root causes of self-esteem issues is vital to overcoming them. This will be different for everyone – so take the time to understand what’s going on below the surface. Strategies like journaling or even therapy can help uncover the root causes of low self-esteem.
- Challenge your comfort zone: Vanessa says that sharing her first ‘bum pictures’ on Instagram was a transformative experience – stretch marks and all! It doesn’t have to be public, though – in fact, dancing naked in front of the mirror is Vanessa’s go-to body positivity tip. It’s a great way to celebrate your body for the joy it can bring you, and even feel sensual again after having kids.
- Make time for yourself: Not only does this give you time to reflect, but it’s also a powerful reminder for busy women: you’re just as worthy of your own attention and care! Take the time to reflect on and understand how you’re feeling. This may be through journalling or taking a walk alone – whatever works best for you.
- Tune into positive influences: Want to change negative thought habits? Surround yourself with self-worth advocates! Look for influencers whose stories you identify with – whether that’s trauma survivors, mothers, or plus-size women. Vanessa’s podcasts (Journey to Worthy and So Unladylike) are also a great place to start.
- Talk to someone: Struggling with self-worth can be isolating – so it’s time to break the silence. Reaching out to a friend is a great way to start! Outside your circle, consider forums like the Butterfly Foundation (for eating disorder recovery). You can also post anonymously in the Journey to Worthy Army Facebook group.
- Reach out to a GP or psychologist: If you’re having a hard time, consider talking to a health professional about how you’re feeling. Your GP can help identify if there may be underlying depression or anxiety contributing and connect you with the right support. You don’t have to do this alone!
If you’re struggling with self-worth, you’re not alone. Taking back your power can be daunting, and community makes all the difference.
Vanessa has some powerful advice for women who don’t know where to start:
“What I tell people when they inbox me on Instagram now is, with everything going on, if you could magically make one problem disappear, which problem would it be, and how would your life look?”
I suggest picking one of the six strategies above (the one that speaks loudest to you) and starting there. If you need support, Vanessa has some great resources on the Journey to Worthy website, or you can listen to our full interview on Healthy Her. Whether you’re experiencing a crisis or just need someone to talk to, don’t be afraid to reach out.