Americans spend an awful lot of time worrying about self-esteem.
We worry that our children won’t have enough self-esteem. We worry that we’re not learning to “love ourselves” properly. We worry that if we aren’t surrounded by a cocoon of people who validate our choices, our self-esteem might be compromised.
Maybe we’re worried about the wrong thing. Maybe we ought to be worried about making good decisions, and earning self-esteem the old fashioned way.
That possibility springs to mind thanks to a new study from the journal Obesity. That study surveyed some 23,000 British overweight and obese adults, and asked them to estimate their own weight. Nearly 60 percent of men underestimated their weight; approximately 30 percent of women did. Researchers found that people who improperly assessed their own weight were 85 percent less likely to try and lose weight. This makes sense: why lose weight when you’re perfect the way you are?
And this raises another question: are we doing the right thing when we urge people to see themselves as already perfect? When it comes to weight, we’ve been told that the best possible strategy for helping others is to help them see themselves as beautiful—that boosting self-esteem is key to success. This is the so-called “body positivity” movement, which aims to help people feel better about themselves.
Indeed, nobody should be “fat-shamed”—mocked thanks to their weight. There’s no reason to mock somebody for their appearance. That’s nasty stuff, and counterproductive. In fact, studies tend to show that mocking people for their looks leads to “psychological distress, unhealthy behaviours, physiological stress, and weight gain,” according to Dr. Rebecca Puhl of the University of Connecticut.
With that said, it is also counterproductive to praise people for things about themselves they ought to change, particularly regarding health, assuming change is possible.