Physical appearance and self-esteem are often closely linked. Our perception of how we look can have a big impact on the value we place on ourselves and how much self-confidence we have in our day-to-day lives.
Although low self-esteem can be a particular problem for people living with a visible difference, it is not fixed and there are things we can do to improve it.
On this page, we explore the effects of physical appearance on self-esteem. We also look at how you can improve your self-esteem if you are living with a visible difference or disfigurement.
Self-esteem is the value and worth we attach to ourselves as a whole. It can be influenced by several things. One is how we feel about our appearance, also known as our body image. If we don’t like something about how we look, it is often difficult to feel good about other aspects of ourselves.
Self-esteem is often connected to self-confidence. Self-confidence is the level of trust you place in yourself to do well in a particular situation, and it can vary for all of us depending on our mood, our recent experiences or the context. For example, you might feel confident in your ability to do your job well, but less confident about socialising with work colleagues.
If your sense of self-esteem is low, it can leave you lacking in self-confidence as you approach different situations in your life.
You may find that your feelings about your physical appearance and self-esteem go hand in hand, particularly if you experience frequent negative reactions or comments. You may be familiar with being stared at every day. People may even make unkind or pointed comments.
Although this says more about others than it does about you, it can be difficult to feel confident when you frequently experience people acting thoughtlessly or unkindly. Understandably, you may fixate on these negative reactions, leading to feelings of worry, depression, distress, upset or anger, as well as apprehension that others will stare or be unkind. This can make you avoid certain situations or feel anxious about going out at all.
People are not born with high or low self-esteem. Self-esteem develops over time and 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 your appearance. Feelings about our physical appearance and self-esteem are often related because we live in an image-orientated society.
Feelings of self-esteem can vary depending on whether you were born with a visible difference or disfigurement, or acquired it early in life, or experienced a change in appearance later in life.
If you were born with a visible difference or acquired this early in life, you may have had some difficult early-life experiences. This could include being teased or bullied, spending long periods in hospital, not being able to play with others, or being unable to do things you saw others around you doing.
If people made comments about your appearance, you might have started to feel negatively about your physical appearance. In turn, this may have affected your self-esteem early on, making it difficult to see positive qualities in other aspects of yourself and leading to a general lack of self-confidence.