How Self-Loathing Harms Others

Far too often, I hear women critique themselves. I hear them attack their bodies, abuse their appearance, slate their imperfections and grade their actions. Everything from the way they look in a pair of jeans, the food on their plate, and their frequency of workouts becomes subject to judgement. In fact,  it’s probably the one trait we all as women have in common. Whether conscious or not, we have a tendency to pick ourselves apart.

Perhaps the most terrible thing about insecurity is that it rarely stays silent. Whereas humility hushes self-celebration and keeps us quiet over our feats, low-self esteem seems to bubble to the surface, taking shape in our words and speaking volumes in our actions.

In the past, self-quips have only played for an intimate audience. They’d appear as a passing comment in the gym changing rooms. ‘I need to lose weight.’ ‘I need to shift ten pounds.’ ‘I need to go on a diet.’ Or over dinner. ‘I shouldn’t have eaten that.’ ‘It probably had thousands of calories.’ ‘I’ve got to work that off tomorrow.’ But social media has elevated these little remarks to become headline news. People publicly demonise their pitfalls with essays-worth of self-berating content or spotlight snaps of full stomachs. Lengthy blogs and even whole profiles created to document the quest to kick bad ways, change how we look, the food we eat and the things we do.

This act of self-shaming is often disguised as a motivational promise to quit these wrongs so as to never experience such humiliation again. But, whilst we’re busy making stabs at our own worth and consuming our energy with insults and self-assault, we neglect to see the damage we cause beyond the corners of our mind, the seeds of doubt and self-loathing that we plant in others through the jabs we direct at ourselves and our condemnation of imperfection.

When we make a statement about ourselves, it’s also a statement about those around us. Our brains catch the words of others and imprints them within our own own lives in order to understand it in a context relevant to us. Therefore, those attitudes we have about ourselves become attitudes of others as well. Consider it this way. If you go out for a meal and announce you can’t get dessert because you’re “trying to be good.” Think how others might then question their own desire to order something sweet. Likewise, if you call yourself fat to a similarly shaped friend. How might that comment be heard by them? How might they perceive themselves after hearing your attack?

On a larger platform like social media, where our audience is already susceptible to comparison, the damage can be infinitely more impactful. For instance, an Instagram transformation from physically dissatisfied and unconfident to smaller and skinnier insinuates that those who are the ‘before’ and who aren’t also on a journey to slim down and transform, can’t be confident the way they are. That those who eat the food named as personal past sins should also ‘clean up’ their diet in order to feel better about themselves.

An attack on yourself in whatever shape or form is an attack on others too and so self-criticism reinforces stigma around body types, food habits and lifestyles across the board. For this reason, when we showcase aesthetically-focused transformations and insecurity-driven goals online, we are creating barriers to body positivity and unconditional self-love. At their core lies a hatred towards not only what we used to be, but towards what someone else in this world is right now.

Our voices and our words are so powerful. If we use them to carry our insecurity, we are abusing the influence endowed to us. Therefore, in criticising ourselves or demonising food, bodies and habits before the eyes of others, we are proliferating insecurity and we are responsible for a form of shaming. But there is a flipside. A positive that can come from the realisation of the impact our comments about ourselves have upon others.

If we turn things around with motivational messages, congratulatory words and celebratory remarks about ourselves, we can spur others on to follow suit. We can stop attacking ourselves, past or present and, in turn, we can give people permission to celebrate themselves too.

Keep your focus on the present and keep it on the positive. Your words can be a vehicle to help others achieve a healthy mindset about themselves. So, before you even think about attacking yourself, even if it’s a small remark on how you used to be, just stop, hold back and don’t add any more fuel to the fire of insecurity. If for no other reason, because they don’t deserve to hear it.

Maxine Ali