Low self-esteem holds too many of us back

Young girls are made to feel inadequate, and that feeling can last for life

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The Independent Online

I had a healthy childhood, comfy family life and a great education. On the surface I was a balanced and promising kid. Yet I always had this feeling deep down that I just wasn't enough - not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough.

It all dates from that moment when I stopped being the carefree girl that loved having her photo taken and I began to notice what I looked like. It was bad enough with my geeky glasses, buck teeth and frizzy hair but then girl's mags bombarded me with images of the ideal body, face, haircut. And that was back then. Now it's off the Richter scale with a glam selfie or airbrushed ad being posted every second, making girls feel impossibly imperfect.

At the same time I also began to notice how other people spoke to me compared to boys. The first thing people would comment on was what I was wearing whereas the guys were congratulated on their football goals.

And then the of the ultimate of self-esteem crushers hit - bulling at school. Everyone gets teased but real bullying is not something you can manage yourself. Nor is it something that ever leaves you, the sticks and stones might, but the words stay engraved on your soul.

From 10 to 15, till I found my academic hole to hide in, I dreaded school every morning. I would dream of getting flu or snow closing school down. As for school trips they were a living nightmare. I used to go home, shut the doors on their nastiness and bury my woes under my pillow. Yet today there is no hiding, cyberbullying is everywhere, pretty vs ugly videos, gang emails and deleting friends when you've fallen out. There is no escape.

Low self-esteem leads to irregular behaviour, so I somehow chose guys to date that brought me down, to reinforce the negative perceptions I had of myself. I also developed an eating disorder, to control the one thing that belonged to me, my body. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 80 per cent of ten year old girls are afraid of being fat. Anorexia has also risen by 130 per cent in the last five years. Thinspiration nowadays starts from a very young age with unrealistic Barbie dolls that then become lollypop catwalk models.

There are very few secure places for children today, where they can be themselves with like-minded children. For me, self-esteem comes from loving who you really are, warts and all. Girls especially are made to feel inadequate at every level due to our image based definition of beauty. In my book beauty is all about your unique you-ness, all the things that you special, whether it's your gifts, talents, quirks, freckles, or ginger hair.

We often don't realise how damaging low self-esteem can be in later life. Even the great and the good like Jennifer Lawrence, Jessie J and Rebecca Adlington have all come out saying they had troubled teen years.

2013 was the year of the selfie, the means of approval in the eyes of others, of creating an unreal ideal version of how they would like to look. I propose we make 2014 - and International Women's Day - all about self-esteem, for we are all more beautiful, more intelligent, and more wonderful than we think we are.

Elizabeth Kesses is the author of The Ugly Little Girl trilogy