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Our self is the main character of the movie that is our life. Our self is the only one we wake up to and stare at in the mirror, and at the end of the day, it is our self whom we go to sleep with. So, you better like yourself because there is no finding another roommate inside that head of yours. Subjectively and quite literally, the self is everything to us as individuals, and the way we think about ourselves truly defines who we actually are.
This is the essence of self-esteem, in how we think about ourselves, while self-image is how we think others think of ourselves.
The two have a relationship which draws the line between a pure and an untrue identity with one’s sense of self. This important relationship might explain why self esteem is one of the most researched subjects amongst scholars. Lauren Slater, author and psychologist, writes “If we were to deconstruct self-esteem, to question its value, we would be in a sense, questioning who we are, nationally and individually.
” (Slater, 1). It is interesting to note Slater used the word ‘nationally’ alongside ‘individually’ as both terms seem to oppose each other, one as a group and one as singular.
Although the identity of an individual can presume the characteristics and attributes of a single person, you will soon discover that the components of an individual’s identity that make up the ‘self’ is ironically highly relevant to that of the ‘other’. The self-esteem of a member of a group or relationship, can be thought of as a gift or power-up from other members of the group.
In Burke & Caste’s A Theory on Self-Esteem, they introduce this concept known as self-verification. In essence, they say the identity of an individual is dependent on playing a role in a group or relationship.
“When individuals enact and verify an identity, they simultaneously produce and reproduce the social structural arrangements that are the original source of those meanings.” (Burke & Caste, 1042). Similar to that of an inside-joke within a group of friends, the understanding of humour and context of the joke, every time it is referenced, acts like a verification of identity within the group. As a result, self-esteem amongst the friends in the group is raised due to a sense of belonging.
However, an outsider attempting to fit in to the group of friends, might have their self esteem lowered every time the joke is referenced, due to a sense of feeling left out and a lack of verification of identifying with the group. The concept of identifying with groups sheds light on the formation of cliques in the average high-school. When hundreds of adolescent teens with pre-mature and vulnerable notions of self-image and identity are thrown together in a social jungle, it only makes sense they start to exclusively group up and form collective identities with peers of the same attributes.
As years pass and the students grow up to be fully mature and more aware of their true identities, only then do they realize a common interest in cheerleading, or the same taste in music, is not enough to justify the friendship and define their identity. This self-realization could explain why most clique-based friendships do not last out of high-school, but just goes to show the power of influence on the self by others. In a smartphone abundant world, a virtual dimension has been created to present, shape and maintain self-image through a social network of friends, family and acquaintances.
Whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, social media platforms are dependent on the user and their contribution to self-regulated posting. To talk about a specific social media platform, Instagram, a photo sharing app with over 400 million users (Kharpal, 1), would be the most relevant for discussing self-image. Instagram is an important tool for many to maintain and express their self-image all the while virtually receiving their dose of self verification through ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.
There are many factors to consider while discussing the relationship between self-esteem, self-image and identity with an Instagram profile page. Firstly, we have to understand that the majority of users post with the sole intent of the viewing of others. Every smartphone has its own photo library to store private content, therefore, the difference in posting on Instagram, is the displaying of content to your followers, who would see your posts on their feed every time they open the app. That being said, every time you post on Instagram; you are choosing what attributes of your identity you wish to express and display to the virtual world. It is easy to boost your self-image by only posting highlights of your life, shaping your profile page to reflect the best moments of who you are and what you want others to see.
On the other hand, because it is unusual for users to post anything that makes them look bad or something that would rather not identify with, every profile is, in a way, an exaggerated reflection of that individual’s identity. We are presented with only what the individual wants us to see, therefore it is more of a profile of their self-image, rather their self-esteem. However, I believe there is an interesting relationship between certain user’s expressed self-image on Instagram and their self-esteem in reality. For example, as a twenty year-old student living in the city, I meet a lot of friends and acquaintances at work or school and eventually trade social networking information after bumping into each other for so long.
In many instances, more commonly in females than males, I would come across a profile of someone I knew as shy, quiet and quite self-conscious, while their Instagram was loaded with dozens of self-taken portraits. All of them taken with the same background of her bedroom wall with the same position of her slightly tilted head and facial expressions of seductively puckered lips. Now, without knowing her personally, most people would probably judge her for being narcissistic, vain and superficial, when really, that is only the falsified self-image she has decided to express. Ironically, it is those individuals with a ‘selfie’ type of profile, who seem to be confident enough to consistently post pictures of themselves online who have low self-esteem issues in reality.
This kind of self-defense mechanism for self-esteem is a desperate attempt at virtual, negative and temporary self-verification from others, in which online followers fulfil through obviously baited ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and complements in the comment section. Kristen Marcussen, expertise in ‘Self’ and ‘Identity’, discusses the three forms of self conception that is the actual, ideal and ought. The actual is the self, consisting of the characteristics and attributes an individual really has. The ideal refers to what attributes the individual wishes or hopes to have and the ought refers to what the individual believes they should have. This ideal self is a representation of aspirations as the ought self is a representation of obligations. Now when there are discrepancies between the actual and the ideal or ought self, that leaves the individual with feelings of disappointment, frustration and anxiety. (Marcussen, 4).
The expectations and unrealistic standards of beauty portrayed through mass media is a major factor in the self-esteem issues suffered by millions. Adolescent teens constantly exposed to advertisements, sexualized music videos and famous Instagram celebrity accounts, are immersed in a false ideology and as a result are extremely vulnerable to suffer from psychological stress. “Mental health scholars argue that stress has direct implications for one’s sense of self. Self-esteem involves affective responses to how individuals view themselves and how they believe others view them.” (Marcussen, 7). As a result, the self-image suffers as it becomes mistakenly undervalued compared to the worshipped self-image advertised in popular culture. Due to this mindset, the actual of the self is flooded with influences of ideal and a falsified ought, leaving individuals with low self-esteems and untrue self-images.
Self-image should be an outcome of self-esteem but when self-esteem is dependent on self-image, that is when an unhealthy relationship with the ‘other’ defines your identity. Self image should not be a sole motivator for an individual’s identity, behaviour and reality. Western culture can learn a few things from Tibetan philosophy when it comes to Identity and Self-image. “We think and talk as though we could actually touch or see our self image.
However, two separate qualities are involved: our ‘self’, or ‘me’ or ‘l’…and our self image. This ‘l’ experiences and feels and sees things in a way which is very alive and immediate. When this ‘I’ becomes filled with the self-image, the person begins to act as though he were someone else.” (Tulku, 3). It is natural to express yourself through self-image with a healthy self-esteem, but as soon as the self-esteem is dependent on the self-image, is where an individual’s identity and sense of self is questionable.
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