Appearance and self-esteem

How we view ourselves, our value and worth as a whole, otherwise known as our ‘self-esteem’ can be influenced by several things. One is how you feel about your appearance (your body image). If you don’t like something about your body or appearance, it is often difficult to feel good about other aspects of yourself.

People are not born with high or low self-esteem. Self-esteem develops over time and this can fluctuate. This is the same with body image, your perception of your own appearance may change over time, along with how much emphasis you place on looks and appearance.

How does self-esteem develop?

If someone has negative experiences (for example, due to bullying or difficult relationships), this can, understandably affect their self-worth, leading to feelings of pessimism and struggling to see or feel anything positive about themselves. When a person’s self-esteem is very low over a long period of time, they may feel like they don’t know who they are any more – a loss of identity – and this may cause them to feel very unconfident about many things. Generally, when someone has higher self-esteem, they are able to feel good about themselves and recognise their abilities, strengths and achievements.

Early life

If you were born with a visible difference or acquired this early in life, you may have had some very difficult early life experiences for example; being teased or bullied, spending long periods in hospital, not being able to play or do things you saw peers doing. If people made comments about your appearance, you might have started to feel negative about how you look. This could, in turn, have affected your overall self-esteem from early on, causing a general lack of confidence and difficulties in seeing positive qualities in other aspects of yourself.

Later life

Self-esteem and body image can change over time. If you experienced a change in appearance later in life, you may have low self-esteem as a result of the change. The change in your appearance may affect your identity – and you may feel like you don’t recognise yourself or that you don’t know who you are any more. Many people also experience a strong sense of loss in addition to this – a loss of their self-image, self-identity and who they were previously.

Faces and voices can be particularly important to our identity. Therefore, any change to the face is especially likely to need a longer period of adjustment. However, some people find a change to their body equally difficult. Additionally, if a person’s looks were highly valued by themselves or others, this may also have a big impact on how they feel and think about themselves with a changed appearance.

Although negative experiences can certainly influence our self-esteem, there are many things that can help to maintain healthy self-esteem when we are experiencing difficulties.

  • Have a good support network around you (family / friends)
  • Don’t suffer in silence, speak to someone if you feel low
  • Take control of the things you can control (e.g. you can’t change your condition, mark or scar, but you can change how you feel about it – you might need some support with this so take charge and speak to someone about how to access this)
  • Recognise your strengths. You are not the sum of all the bad things that have happened to you. You are the sum of everything that has happened, good, bad and in-between.
  • Do the things that you enjoy. Have things in your life that make you happy or fulfilled.

I have found remaining positive challenging at times but can honestly say it is the best path to take. My disfigurement has made me feel inferior, unloved, inadequate at times and it is difficult to replace these feelings with positive ones particularly if you’ve had negative experiences. Over the years I have also learnt that my disfigurement is a small physical part of me so I make sure that when I go out I take care with the rest of my appearance. I make sure my hair looks nice, that my clothes are presentable and I wear accessories. I find a pretty scarf or a chunky necklace distracts attention from my face.


For more information on confidence and how you can build this, you might be interested in the other self help in this section.

  • Visible difference
  • About confidence

We also have a set of Confidence Tools to improve confidence

Appearance and self-esteem


About confidence


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