Sunday, April 7, 2013

Monthly topic #9: Love Yourself

There's never been a better time to be a young woman, so make the most of it! Here's a little guide to being truly, deliciously happy with who you are – not what others want you to be.

The bills are piling up, your friends are making zillions of demands on you, and your boss wants that report, like, three weeks ago. Oh, and did I mention that your parents are putting pressure on you, too? You feel torn in all directions and long to scream, “Enough already!” And yet, there has never, ever, been a better time to be a young woman than today. Okay, so it might not feel like it right now, or even very often. But the fact is, young women have it made. You have more choices than ever before – even if those choices do occasionally make your head spin (all right, more than occasionally) – there's more of life to go out and grab, and more freedom than our parents could have dreamed about.

It's your life, so live it up!

And yet many of us worry that we aren't making the most of ourselves or all those opportunities that are out there just screaming at us. Yes, it can make you feel a bit dizzy contemplating it all, like choosing a new dress from a staggering array available. And psychologists do agree that sometimes too much choices makes us feel frozen, a rabbit in the headlights. But, come on, isn't lots of choices better than none? Would you really want someone else making all your plans for you? Of course not. So, if you do feel scared sometimes that you aren't embracing life to the full, don't be. Part of being a young woman in this day and age, is having the right to step out of the frentic pace sometimes. Be who you want, not what others want you to be.

Women have far more control over their lives today than 30 or even 20 years ago. But that power to decide brings with it a negative side: all this extra control means more stress, more fear about making the wrong decision, less chance to just let life go along and take its course. So, how do you handle all the choice yet still make the most of your freedom years?

First and foremost is that we work on our self-esteem, in that way we will tend to like whatever choice we make.We find a positive in whatever outcome. It's sad but true that many women do need to work on their self-esteem. For while life offers so many exciting vistas to young women, there is alongside it this a chronic fear of getting it wrong, or not feeling happy as you can about yourself.

Give yourself a break

The first lesson in loving yourself is accepting yourself. You'd want a boyfriend, or your friends, to love you as you are wouldn't you? And I bet they do, warts, faults and all. Just as you love them for their little foibles, the things they get wrong, their sheer human-ness. Yet few of us apply this warm, loving criteria to ourselves. Daft, but true. We're harder on ourselves, we beat ourselves up, we even admit candidly to a spot of self-loathing in an “oh that's so typical of me” way. We wouldn't dream of being so harsh about our friends. Why are we so tough on ourselves?

Most women still reel under the conditioning of being expected to be pleasers, rather than be pleased. Parents are frequently more critical of daughters than sons. That whole indulgent boys-will-be-boys mentality never seems to apply to women. Girls tend to have their fun curtailed at an early age and are often expected to help out at home – much more than their brothers, uncles or fathers, for instance.

Most of us have heard the apocryphal, yet based-on-truth story about a mother who complains endlessly that her daughter is really lazy, never helps around the house and shows no consideration whereas her brother, ah, such a saint her brother is, so caring, so thoughtful. But guess what? Turns out the daughter cleans, cooks and cares 24/7, while the brother visits a couple of times a year.

Practise being positive

So, that's what we're up against. And even if you're blessed with nice parents who wouldn't dream of heaping the future of low self-esteem upon you by constantly criticising and carping, then society and much of the media will do the job instead. Look at how actresses, especially Hollywood actresses, get criticised in the media. Too thin, too fat, too tall, too short, too much make-up or not emough.... they can't ever get it right. They aren't objects for admiration, they objects for all our insecurities to be projected upon. This is best summed up when it's said that a woman's place is in the wrong.

However, having accepted that all this goes on, you can do something about it. In fact, you can turn it to your advantage. How? By facing what's out there you learn to filter out the messages of disliking yourself just because you're a woman. And there are positive messages too, if you look. Let's face it, all this knocking ourselves is really so boring. If you are to spend one more evening with girlfriends going on about who has the biggest thighs, you'd probably scream. Instead, insisit on saying three nice things about yourself before going for a girls night out.

It's easy enough giving a compliment but taking one is much harder. So you say to a friend you like her new dress and she dismisses your comment and says she looks fat in it. What does that say about a friend who's been kind enough to offer a sweet remark that should boost her friend's confidence for the evening?

Learn to accept a compliment

It's actually rude not a accept a compliment graciously yet we fear if we do accept it, we'll be considered rude or boastful. And, be honest, how many of us dish compliments out like fortune cookies becase what we want, really, is to get one back? I know I do. So why not try that forementioned exercise? Why not, whether you're with friends or alone, say something nice about yourself. Go on. Do it. Say it out loud. Pick something about your appearance – since this is the one area where women are most likely to be fiercely self-critical – and also something about your character.

If you find it impossible to find just three nice things to say about yourself, you could have serious problems. Low self-esteem is one thing, and that's very common in young women despite these being such great times for them. But being unable to find a single positive thing about yourself is bordering on depression. If you can't see any light in your life, you should maybe consider seeing your doctor to find out why life seems so unremittingly bleak for you.

But happily most women aren't suffering depression or even low self-esteem. It's my belief they put themselves down because they think it's what expected of them. A kind of false modesty they don't really mean. Look at the success of the television show Absolutely Fabulous. Much of the humor comes from the inflated high opinion the protagonists have of themselves. It makes them funny and it makes their conversation far more interesting than the “oh my thighs are so big I should kill myself” variety. I also reckon there are a few of us who wish we could be as confident as the Ab Fab stars appear. But we can all learn to like ourselves a bit more, to cherish our little faults, to find our failings endearingly human and part of what makes us the unique people that we are.

Stand tall, speak slowly

I have a friend who is three inches shorter than me, but until we compared our heights, when out shopping for stiletto heels, I'd neve realised it. She stands tall. She has confidence, bearing, a kind of graceful assuredness about her. I am not particularly tall, though I am about average for a woman, yet I don't feel as tall as my friend. But I'm trying to learn from her and how she conducts herself.

One thing she does is to speak slower. Now me, I'm a gabber. It'a sure sign of nervousness, insecurity. Learn to speak slowly, though, and others will think you have more confidence. Why? Because you don't assume you only have the floor for a very short amount of time before someone grabs it from you. You take your chances to speak and make the most of them. Men tend to speak more slowly too, and more assuredly. They know it's their world and they act accordingly. If we knew, or truly believed, that it was our world, too, perhaps we'd all sail forth like princely galleons expecting others to show us respect.

But they never will while we don't respect ourselves. It really is true that if you want others to like you and treat you well, you have to set them a good example. Do what psychologists call modelling. Act towards yourself the way you want others to and the way you treat your best friends and colleagues. Then they're more likely to take your example and run with it. The golden rule of human behavior is said to be “act unto others as you wish them to act unto you”. Sadly, many of us are far nicer to others than we ever are to ourselves. It's become kind of inverted.

So why not try out a new golden rule for the 21st century? Act unto yourself as nicely as you act to others. Love yourself. You're worth it, you are.


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