Maintaining self-esteem in a world obsessed with appearances is tricky. Ruth Bratt shares a few tips on how to not let anyone piss on your you-parade.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
It’s easy to maintain high self-esteem…
Ignore EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.
OK, that’s impractical, much as I’d love to do it.
Though I don’t get my self-worth or validation through the way I look, we live in a society obsessed with what we look like, and I’m in a profession that does place a lot of stock in appearance, even if I try not to. As a performer, I’ve been in a few things on telly: sometimes as an actor, sometimes as myself. The characters I play tend not to be too glam, but as myself I’ve been dolled up by an amazing makeup team, had clothes picked by a stylist, had my hair curled and tweaked, and my bald patches filled in with makeup (oh yeah, there’s a self-esteem denter: a makeup artist finding bald bits you never knew you had).
After the recording of my first TV show – an early panel/chat show which I’d had to battle to get on in the first place (because as we know there are no funny women anywhere) – the producer said to the men, one after the other: “You were so funny”; “You were hilarious”; “God, you were great tonight.” To me? “You look amazing tonight.” Which was nice, but I had a makeup artist and someone choosing my clothes. It was almost impossible for me to look awful. Was I funny? I was under the impression that was why they’d hired me. I soon found out because the anonymous man on the internet told me: “The overweight brunette is painfully unfunny.” BAM! I never googled myself again (first rule). I made myself feel better by using all the mean stuff on posters for my shows. It took the sting out.
Then I invented a personal guide to avoid having to take the sting out by avoiding the sting in the first place:
Never read the comments
On anything: articles; links; posts; nothing. Especially on things you care about. The comments are rarely nice – and even if they are, you’ll only remember the vile ones. People are nasty as a defense, so the comments are usually snide, cynical and mean. Some people start nice then put something vile in. Recently I blocked a man on Twitter who seemed normal but when I tweeted, “Why do people always argue on Twitter?” responded “You just seemed like a cute little bitch who wanted an argument”. UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE. Do NOT engage.
NEVER READ THE COMMENTS
I know I’ve just said it, but you can’t say it enough. NEVER READ THE COMMENTS. See? Even on topics you don’t think you have strong feelings about. You will find people who agree with you but there will be more who wind you up. Then you either simmer silently or you have to write a comment. And then you BECOME ONE OF THEM. This includes not getting into discussions on Twitter or Facebook with anyone. Particularly people you don’t know or who are “friends of friends”. Why argue with strangers on the internet? It’s a waste of energy; they’re not suddenly going to see the light and agree with you. Arguing is horrid at the best of times; don’t do it with strangers.
I left Facebook a few years ago, partly because of a man who sent me pictures of flowers asking if that was what my vagina looked like before asking me on a date, but mostly because a friend of a friend took umbrage at something I’d written and verbally attacked me for daring to express an opinion. I realised I was allowing meanness into my home via social media. So I got out. (I’m back on now, but only to plug gigs and shows. Oh, and to share videos of men calling cows with trombones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs_-emj1qR4).
DO NOT click on websites that have pictures of celebrities with sweat patches and cellulite
Even if you are reading them “ironically”. These things are insidious and snake their way into your consciousness. They chip away at self-esteem, even while you are laughing at them.
Remember, social media is evil and a lie
Everyone is having an AMAZING time ALL THE TIME. They’re not; they’re boasting/ overcompensating/ exaggerating/ bored/ having an amazing time. We’re battered by images of people who look better than us, who have more money than us, who are living life more fully than us, who laugh at yoghurt and tickle their lover first thing in the morning and aren’t grumpy. Keep off social media as much as possible (or stay on it BUT REMEMBER it’s all lies).
On that note: remember all adverts are lies. They are actors paid to look like they’re having fun. And the photo adverts are photoshopped to within an inch of their life. I know because I’ve done adverts and, though nicely paid, they’re not glamorous: they tend to involve sitting in the snow on a canal side pretending it’s warm and drinking ice water so that your breath doesn’t cloud, so you can pretend it’s summer, or smiling as you walk for the 50th time through a rain-soaked field and have to pretend that your feet are dry.
Adverts are pretending. Social media is pretending. Don’t fall for it.
Don’t go to shops
The internet is (only) good for this. Real shops have horrible lighting in the changing rooms that highlights spots (though that’s good for a squeeze) and make you look bad in EVERYTHING. There are also skinnier, younger people right next to you to make you realise you no longer belong in Top Shop. Buy it online, try it on at home. If it doesn’t fit, there’s no audience, but there’s tea and cake. If it looks really awful, do a dance in it, pull stupid faces in the mirror – the clothes are awful, not you, and they need to be reminded of that and put in their place.
If you must go to a shop, go with a good friend who likes to laugh when things look bad, and who will try on things with you
I remember with huge affection an awful pink tube dress that a fab friend and I both tried on in H&M. We looked HORRIFIC, but god it was funny. If I’d been there alone I’d have had a self-hate meltdown… I wish I still had the photo of it but that was lost when I left Facebook because of a stupid row with a stupid stranger (see above).
Give away all the clothes that don’t make you feel great
Doesn’t matter how new it is, how much it cost, or whether it “might come in useful”, if you don’t feel brilliant in it give it away or sell it because it’ll make someone else feel brilliant. Taking stuff to the charity shop is great. I did it last week (and came back with a Chinese Magician outfit. It might come in useful).
Remember when you were at your thinnest?
Did you think you were thin? Were you happy with how you looked? Do you now think, “God, I looked good then, why was I so unhappy with that?” I do. All the times I’ve been skinny, I’ve thought I was fat. Also the skinny years were generally as a result of heartbreak and misery and illness, so I may have looked good but I was MISERABLE. When I weighed 8.5 stone I thought I was fat and ugly. I was not fat. I was not ugly. And I’m not now.
So remember: when you do find yourself having a really bad self-esteem day, just let yourself have it. Sometimes I look at myself and think, “I am so ugly”, but other days I look at myself and think “oooh, hot stuff”. Both are right and both are wrong. We know that warmth and love and wit and wisdom and kindness are more important than appearance, but it’s also okay to want to look nice, and to feel bad that sometimes we don’t. So I try to accept rubbish days and have them with a big slice of cake, a big cup of tea and friends who make me laugh, while ignoring the people who bring me down.
That last one includes me: that inner voice that says I’m not good enough… Enough is a bad word. My therapist taught me that (if all else fails, therapy is great…).
These are Ruth’s ways of keeping her pecker up. We’d love to hear yours on Facebook or Twitter #selfesteemSIM
Ruth is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the short half of double act Trodd en Bratt. She is rapidly becoming a middle class cliche who likes to bake and knit. Ruth is in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical currently in Edinburgh and about to embark on a West End run. www.theshowstoppers.org