Self Worth & Weight
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of worthiness, especially as it relates to those who struggle with food and body image.
Many of us have seen the messaging — “your body is not your worth” — but do we believe it? And if we do, what IS our worth?
A few years ago, my body image coach asked me what I believed made a person worthy (after a long conversation in which I described all the ways I felt I wasn’t good enough), and I was stumped.
I didn’t think a person was worthy based on their size. Did I? I mean, that just sounded so obviously superficial and untrue, and yet…
Well yes. Yes, I did believe that. Shit! I believed that!
I’d never put it into words before, but there it was. At the end of the day, if I wasn’t thin, the rest didn’t matter.
If I wasn’t thin, I didn’t feel worthy of:
- Contributing to a conversation (and being taken seriously)
- Feeling attractive
- Wearing nice clothes
- Going shopping
- Being part of a group
- Having sex
- Having fun
and on and on this list seemed to go.
It was insidious, though, because it was subconscious. I never would have articulated these things out loud, but my actions spoke for me.
I constantly felt less-than, or like my accomplishments and feel-good moments weren’t real, because I didn’t have the body that deserved to own them.
For example, I remember being at my best friend’s bachelorette party and having an amazing time. I was dancing, laughing, talking, feeling completely in the moment. Later that night, when I saw pictures of myself doing those very things that had made me feel so alive, I instantly deflated. I remembered that my body wasn’t what I imagined it was, and so I didn’t deserve all that happiness. I felt foolish for thinking I had a right to it.
I felt unworthy of my experience because, and only because, of how I looked. Carefree happiness was for thin people.
Fast-forward to the conversation with my coach, who asked me a simple question that would bring this limiting belief to light, and invite me to dismantle everything I knew about worthiness and rebuild it from the ground up.
I’ve learned a lot since then.
While I wholeheartedly reject the idea that body size has anything to do with worthiness (and this process took a couple of years, by the way), I have also come to reject the idea that we get to define our worthiness at all.
While self-esteem is something we can build up by recognizing our achievements, skills, and character traits, our worth is something more fundamental, more intrinsic, and doesn’t vary from person to person based on merit.
Allow me to explain:
Clients come to me admitting that they lack self-esteem, and it’s something we work on cultivating during the course of our work together.
We focus on things that make them unique, positive traits they naturally possess, proof of ability to accomplish meaningful tasks, reasons people like and love them.
Oftentimes, these are things that have long been buried or gone unrecognized, so we bring them to light and validate them all so they can breathe and grow and flourish.
But clients also come to me saying they have no sense of self-worth.
Even with the accomplishments and kudos, it all feels like a rat-race, a perfectionistic sprint to nowhere.
There is a sense that when they can’t juggle it all anymore (which is usually the point when they come to work with me), they will just drop everything and be left with nothing.
Essentially, they are telling me that they have little value outside of how they look and what they achieve.
But I don’t think that’s their call.
I think one’s worth is much larger than that. It’s not something we get to decide if we have or not. Worth, as I am beginning to understand it, is the value we have by virtue of being human, and being connected to other humans (and everything else, really).
This concept can quickly become vague and woo-woo, so allow me to illustrate it this way:
When a client — let’s call her Jenny — tells me she doesn’t have self-worth, I understand that she doesn’t feel like she has worth, but she doesn’t get to be the one to determine that.
Every time I get off of a call with Jenny, I feel connected to her. Personally, she has impacted me in some way, and there is nothing she can do to change that. I now care about Jenny, whether she likes it or not.
Likewise, when Jenny goes to the grocery store and smiles at someone in line in front of her, or says “thank you” to someone holding the door for her, she impacts their life, even if just for a moment.
There is something about Jenny’s existence that impacts the existence of others, and by virtue of that potential, Jenny is meaningful to this world.
Our worth is much larger than our self-esteem. It’s much larger than us. I believe that our worth is our ability to connect to the rest of the world, even if just in theory.
It would be egocentric of us to imagine that we can even comprehend the magnitude of our impact on this wide, wide world.
So if you’re here, congratulations — you’re worthy. You have nothing to prove or to earn. You’re worthy because you matter to other people, and other processes, and other energies, that don’t care what you look like or how much money you make or how many trophies you’ve earned.
You just, simply, matter.