On the Myopia of Low Self Esteem – Coming to Accept Ourselves as God Has Made Us

Most of us have certain things about our physical appearance that we hate, and can even obsess about. When I was in high school I was extremely skinny (130 lbs at 6 feet tall). My knees and elbows protruded, and I was embarrassed to be seen in shorts, or even short sleeved shirts. Generally I stayed covered up even when I ran or played sports. I used to wear tall socks to hide my boney legs and protruding knees.

Today I have the opposite problem, and it is my belly that protrudes, and I’m always looking for over sized shirts to hide the excess. The cassock also helps to hide a lot. 🙂

Another obsession, that I have largely been freed from, is the gap between my two front teeth. I used to be so embarrassed by it that I would tie them together with floss and try to get them to move together. But once I removed the floss they’d always move apart again.

I got both of these things from my father. He was stocky also had a gap between his teeth. He too was always trying to get the gap to go away and always trying to lose weight. But the fact is, he looked just like his father, as I look like just like my father; almost an exact replica. I can even wear the last set of eyeglasses my father wore before he died.

Pardon my personal reminiscences but it’s just a way of saying we all have things about our appearances that we wish we’re different.

I know that women generally have a lot more crosses in this area since there are so many expectations about what a woman should look like. The video at the bottom of the page says a lot about that. I have often been surprised how unhappy about their appearance some women I know are. These are women who I consider quite attractive.

But even as I puzzle over them feeling that way, I remember me and my obsession about the gap in my teeth. I remember a girl once told me she thought it was cute. And though I heard the words she said, they had no impact on me. I was just absolutely sure I looked goofy, and that everyone laughed at me behind my back. One friend told me he’d never really noticed the gap before, until I mentioned it. But still it remained my obsession for many years. It seemed no amount of contrary data would sway me from my conviction that the gap between my two front teeth, not even that big, really, made be look like a total goof.

Somewhere we lose touch with the fact that God knows us, loves us and has made us a certain way. Apparently God likes tall people, because he made a lot of them. He also likes short people, thin and fat people, Black, white brown, and everything in between, he’s made a lot of them all.

People talk today about self-esteem and the phrase, while not wrong, misses a step. For as the old saying reminds, “No one can give what he does not have. Hence self esteem requires that we have first experience esteem from others, and most ideally from God. Until and unless we have learned to experience God’s appreciation for us, and appreciation from others, it is pretty hard to to esteem ourselves properly. Either we go to the one extreme of obsessing on certain aspects, or we go to the other extreme of puffing our self up with phony pride and silly ostentation.

In a sense low self esteem about our physical appearance is usually a form of myopia, i.e. being “near” or “shortsighted.” For in it, we obsess on a few details but miss the whole picture. A false cure for low self esteem tries over look our flaws or insist they are not there. But the fact is, we all do have flaws, both physical, moral, spiritual and intellectual.  But the key is to see something bigger.

Consider the painting at the upper right. It hangs in my rectory, and is of the Blessed Mother. Looking at the painting, many have said, she is beautiful. And so she is. But on closer inspection many of the details are amiss. The hands are out of proportion, almost grotesquely large.  The eyes are “bugged out” and the ear is misplaced and underdeveloped by the painter. Yet, these details cannot spoil the fact that this is a beautiful painting of a beautiful woman, Mary, the Mother of God. When I point to the “flaws” most people tell me they didn’t notice.

Exactly! It is the near sightedness, the myopia of low self esteem to magnify the flaws we all have and miss the big picture which is most often quite acceptable, even beautiful. Truth be told, we’re all a mixed bag and there are flaws in us all.

Of course Satan would prefer us to sweat the small stuff of our physical appearance,  and our flesh, cooperates quite nicely. And Satan gets double payment. For, in focusing on our physical, in a myopic way, we are not thinking as much of spiritual matters.  And secondly, because we feel so lousy when comparing ourselves to the perfect standards of the usually computer enhanced, if not surgically altered, models and actors, we don’t feel as capable of any physical value, worth or excellence, let alone spiritual excellence.

Somewhere God is saying, I like you the way I made you. Become the man or woman I made you to be. Watch your health but don’t obsess with physical perfection. I didn’t make any two of you exactly alike and there’s a reason for that.

And to me I can hear God saying, You’ve become rotund alright, but it’s a sign that you have become more spiritually “well rounded.” Besides it keeps you humble, and pride is your worst enemy. And as for that gap in your teeth? I put it there. It is a sign of intelligence. You’re smart like your father was.

So, be of good cheer and don’t sweat the small stuff. Look to the bigger picture, count your gifts and blessings.

Here is a remarkable video of a young lady singing both parts of the same song in split screen. The words are a poignant expression of the pressure many women face to look beautiful and perfect. Consider some of the words:

I wish I could tie you up in my shoes, Make you feel unpretty too. I was told I was beautiful,  but what does that mean to you…. My outsides are cool,  my insides are blue.  Every time I think I’m through, it’s because of you…

You can buy your hair if it won’t grow,  You can fix your nose if he says so.  You can buy all the make-up that mac can make,  but if you can’t look inside you,  find out who am I to be,  in a position to make me feel so damn unpretty…

At the end of the day, I have myself to blame,  Keep on trippin….

I feel pretty….but unpretty

24 Replies to “On the Myopia of Low Self Esteem – Coming to Accept Ourselves as God Has Made Us”

  1. Somewhere God is saying, I like you the way I made you.

    Good thoughts overall (but, as usual, Bender passes over that and zeros in instead on one tiny thing to dispute).

    It is both spirit AND body that make up the person. If we acknowledge that it is God and God alone who made our soul, can we say the same of our body? Or is that a joint project between God, mom, and dad?

    If God made the entirety of us — if He and He alone made our bodies — then are we to say that He likes the way that He made the person with severe birth “defects”? That He likes that He made someone blind, and another deaf? That He likes that He made someone with conditions that are severely painful and cause a lifetime of suffering and misery? That He likes that He made one person with cancer and another with stubs for arms and yet another with deformed bone-structure in the face? That He likes that He made someone in such a physical manner that He knew they would be rejected and alone, unloved by others?

    I’m not sure that we can go that far. God likes that we exist, to be sure, and we exist only by and through Him, and He loves us with an infinite and everlasting love regardless of physical condition, but He has a lot of explaining to do if He is the cause of physical misery (and, worse, that He likes it too!), rather than it being caused by us, by the happenstance of one particular set of chromosomes joining with another particular set at conception, rather than some other combination, or environmental factors causing physical defects in that DNA, or perhaps the fallen human condition resulting from Original Sin, which He did not make.

    That God and God alone is the maker of our broken physical bodies is not a comfortable thought. As the saying goes, God don’t make junk.

    Rather, God is the one who takes the broken and fixes it. God loves us in our physical shortcomings, but does not accept the hardship it entails, and He does not like that other people might reject us for it; rather, He seeks to overcome those shortcomings by offering us grace to endure while giving us the hope that the physical “defects” do not matter in the end. The “end,” which is really the beginning, when in the transformation of the resurrection, He will make for us a body that He likes, one that is glorified.

    1. I’m gonna remain a little agnostic on this one Bender, since I am not prepared to dismiss the notion entirely that God does delight in the handicapped and may have a special place for them in his kingdom. You have reminded me of a post I did some time ago that I may adapt and re-post. So stay tuned.

      1. I went ahead and re-posted the article I referred to from 2 years ago. this evening and would be interested in your remarks there too. I think you and I may be emphasizing different things. I respect your concerns raised here but then too, I think I have a different position ultimately from what I think you stake out here. At any rate let me know what you think of this: http://blog.adw.org/2011/10/disabled-or-differently-abled-toward-a-deeper-recogition-of-the-dignity-of-the-disabled/

        1. I recently had an epiphany. Everything that is good comes from God. It is the devil that has brought suffering and death and other bad things into the picture. But God allows it. I am often mad at Him for not vanquishing the devil (shades of my 12-yr-old self) but I have to accept the fact that I will never understand why (not in this earthly sojourn anyway). I only know that He gives us the grace to live in this sinful world, to repent, turn closer to Him. Grace is everything.

          So who is to say that a profoundly disabled person is not “good”? God made us the way we are, but we are also products of the sin that entered the world.

          I’m sorry that I cannot express myself better, but I am very thankful to the Msgr. for helping me grow in my faith.

          I also have the Omar Shariff gap that every dentist wants to close 🙂

  2. I had a hard lesson in this I will never forget. As a young pathology resident, I was called in to do an autopsy on a baby born at home. The baby had anencephaly, a severe and grotesque malformation in which there is no brain. God forgive me (He has), we residents tended to make light of these cases; probably it was a way to keep darker worries at bay. In any case, I went downstairs to read the chart. Most of the time these babies die quickly; this one had lived for a month. I went in to start and found her dressed in a pretty pink dress, clean and well cared-for. I read in the chart that the parents simply thought this was the way she was supposed to be–and then (I am reading between the lines in the chart here) opened their home and heart and treated her as lovingly as any other baby until she started having trouble breathing and they brought her to the emergency room. I was shamed by them then; I am humbled by them now. If they could love that baby, who was so seriously deformed, who am I to complain to God about fat calves? The memory still stuns me. I still do not understand the mystery of babies born like this, who are so wrapped up in the mystery of suffering, but those parents taught me even back then in my pre-Church days that there is meaning, dignity and beauty to be found in ALL people. We really do just have to look with the right eyes.

    1. Sounds to me like the ‘mystery’ was solved when your lenses were focused and you were able to see God at work through the short life of that child. A lesson that has lasted a lifetime and taught you how to see through the eyes of God. Well done, faithful ‘student.’

  3. It’s ok to want to look our best, but when it starts consuming us, then we are ignoring God’s great gift. I always think that looking at all of the plastic surgery out there now. Usually the person looked better before, God knew what nose to give them.

  4. I smiled at the reference to the front-tooth gap.

    In a family portrait taken when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, one can clearly see the gap between my father’s front teeth reflected in my sister’s and my smiles. Fortunately for us, we were issued retainers and rubber bands so that we didn’t have a gap one could drive a truck through.

    My daughter didn’t inherit the gap, but my youngest nephew has! The family genes will out one way or another.

    The obsession with our appearance has been around almost as long as we’ve had eyes – consider that Adam’s and Eve’s first course of action after eating from the Tree of Knowledge was to hide their nakedness. We now have a new obsession – our DNA. It may be useful to know whether one has inherited a family propensity for a particular disease, but when one looks to one’s DNA to explain (or excuse) who one is, it gives a whole new meaning to “self-examination.”

  5. Although we struggle at time to accept God’s creation of ourselves … the plan finds its completion in our “Glorified” bodies…. I love what He has given me and do look forward to the “finished” product!! Again, great video!

  6. I just wish to add this quote from Saint Josemaria Escriva hoping it may help anyone with low self-estem.

    Cast away that despair produced by the realization of your weakness. It’s true; financially you are a zero, and socially another zero, and another in virtues and another in talents …

    But to the left of those zeros is Christ, and what an immeasurable figure it turns out to be.

  7. I think that God, with His infinite and perfect love of us, doesn’t care about the “flaws” we have; such as a front tooth gap (I’ve only recently developed one and the only regret is about the decrease in my whistling skill. But that’s probably because it occured in my fifties.)
    Low self esteem seems to have a lot to do with fear about other people’s attitudes and I have found that; while I have a have a capacity for fear and, if I fear someone I become vulnerable to being manipulated (or worse) by them but, if all my capacity to fear is directed to God (leaving none to direct elsewhere) His infinite and perfect love will not only be a safe haven under His protection but can also protect me from human abuse through my fears. Perhaps this may explain why a Holy Fear of God is stressed so much in the Old Testament.
    I try to avoid portraying myself as wise here because I didn’t come by this belief easily and not without a lot of calls to God for His help in my struggle to free myself from my self from the vulnerability of self esteem issues.

  8. Thank you for the post and your personal examples of issues we all have had at some time in our lives and will likely be challenged with again.

    Beautiful post and guidance.

  9. Surely the point is that we are made in the image and likeness of almighty god but because someone displays traits which are not fully ‘mainstream’, we ,in our weakness, feel uncomfortable if another person has a condition way outwith our idea of what we think of as the norm. I think we should remember that god has a purpose for everything he does and though we may not readily understand what that reason is if we have faith then ultimately all will be revealed to us. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote “God has a plan for me and that plan is for good,not for disaster, to give you a future and hope.” I have nine children all of whom are smart and good looking (so others tell me) and I am grateful to god for that . One of my friends has five children the first ,and only one, is severely disabled and I am truly humbled by the way they love and cope with him and I am not sure that could handle that problem,because I am a sinner. My mother always said to be grateful to god for what he sent you given what he could have sent you. Thank you god for that gift of faith because it is the only thing which sustains me when I am in a depressed state. Ah, qu’il est bon le bon dieu. AMDG

  10. Concerning Bender’s reply: what about original sin? I assume our bodies are not perfect and have flaws due to original sin. Same with severe illness and disability. God can give us the grace to endure our imperfections if we ask Him, but it still can be a major cross. In my studies on mental health, the professionals often speak of how stressful life events and imperfect environments (like severe parental discord in the home) can render a person vulnerable to physical or even mental illness. There is that biological component (genetics) and then the factors in the environment that might set off that genetic component to become malformed. When I’ve studied this, it made me realize how fragile human nature truly is. It is sin in the world that causes great suffering and we can only pray to be delivered from it on a daily basis (either from sinning ourselves or from being victims of the sins of others).

  11. Oh, I wanted to comment on the picture too. I did NOT guess that was our Blessed Mother. I know our Lady has appeared in various “forms” in other countries when she has spoken to saints (as in apparitions), but I always picture Her as a young Jewish woman. 🙂

    1. I have seen Mary presented in every way, as a Japanese woman, Chinese, European etc. here in Washington she is depicted in every ethnicity in the various chapels that are built by every country. Down In Mexico Mary appeared as resembling the indigenous people who called our Lady of Guadaupe La morena (the brown skinned lady).

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