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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.

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What is self-esteem?

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.

How are physical appearance and self-esteem related?

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.

It’s never nice when people say unkind things about how I look. When I was younger, I used to take it really personally and feel really bad about myself. Now I’m older I just think it’s really sad that people have to say horrible things about how another person looks – they must be really miserable. Fair enough if people are curious, but what possible reason does anyone have to be that unkind to someone they don’t know?

Kerry

How does self-esteem develop?

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.

Early 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.

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British Skin Foundation

The British Skin Foundation is a registered charity which raises money to fund research into skin diseases. They offer patient information on a range of skin conditions including acne, a number of online forums to talk with other patietns with skin conditions as well as medical epxerts, and opprotunities to hsare your story and raise awareness of the impacts of acne.

Visit their website

 

Later life

Self-esteem and body image can change over time. If you have experienced a change in appearance later in life, you may have developed low self-esteem because of the visible difference or disfigurement. It may have affected your sense of identity – perhaps you feel like you don’t recognise yourself or that you don’t know who you are anymore.

Many people experience a strong sense of loss as well – a loss of self-image, self-identity and of the person they were before the change in appearance.

What affects our self-esteem?

We have limited control over the things happening around us and other people’s actions (our external world). How we interpret these situations and behaviours affects how we think and feel about ourselves (our internal world). Our self-esteem is influenced by the interaction between our external and internal worlds.

This can explain our behaviour as well as how we feel. Being SCARED connects our feelings to our actions:

Other organisations

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British Association of Dermatologists

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) is a registered charity which specialises in the practice, teaching, training and research of dermatology (the branch of medicine dealing with the skin). The offer advice and leaflets on a range of skin conditions and opportunities to get involved.

Head shot of Leanne, who is wearing a blue shirt and has long blonde hair and a fringe

British Skin Foundation

This is a registered charity which raises money to fund research into skin diseases. They offer patient information on a range of skin conditions, online forums to talk with other patients and medical experts, plus opportunities to share your story and raise awareness of acne and its impacts.