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Personal Essay About Self-Esteem

An Open Letter to the Men Who Chipped Away at My Self-Worth: I Demand Better

You didn't know me then, but when I was a young girl, I was partial to t-shirts that made bold proclamations of female empowerment. My favourite of the bunch said "Girls Jam" on top of a splatter-paint background. Somehow, I knew that women possessed a special strength, a quiet power that was wonderfully unique to them. But somewhere along the way, that part of me was slowly eaten away by the learned shame I felt for reasons like the fact that my thighs touch. I spent my entire adolescence blaming myself for the lack of perceived interest boys had in me. I was still outspoken and opinionated, but my youthful vibrancy faded, diminished by the negative energy cast toward me by others. The constant focus on my physical appearance made me believe it was more important than I now know it to be.

For far too long, I surrendered control over my sense of self to others who had no interest in protecting or promoting it. I gave men like you the ability to affirm or reject the suspicions I had about myself; namely, that I was pretty, attractive, and generally inoffensive in my appearance, enough so that I was worth sleeping with. Depending on the day, the men oscillating through my life would either invigorate me, buoying me for another day, or crush me as quickly as they came. You took advantage of that, preying on my weaknesses and exploiting my faults.

You took pieces of me. The pain you left behind made me feel heavy. I wonder if all those pieces of me are weighing you down. Sometimes I wonder what it is like to be you. Do your hands burn when you think about how they held your phone so you could film me without my consent or when they touched me when I did not want them to? Does your tongue feel thick and heavy when you think about the times you made a nasty comment about the way I looked or coerced me with enthusiastic but empty words to satisfy your personal pleasure agenda? How did it feel to take my virginity just to turn and mock me on the internet 24 hours later?

Thanks to you, I am hell-bent on making sure the women all around me never have to feel the ways I did.

One day, somewhere between Uzbekistan and here, I realised my self-worth was not held within my physical appearance. I am proud of who I am on the inside, which makes me proud of who I am on the outside. It took me roughly my entire life up until this point to learn to no longer place my self-worth in others, thus stripping you of any power over me.

I want you to know that calling women negative names based on their appearance is doing them a disservice in so many ways; not only is it unkind, but it undermines the truth that women have more to offer than their bodies. When you call me fat or ugly with the intent to hurt my feelings, you are assuming that those are my most vulnerable places to strike. That implies that I, as a woman, place more importance on my physical attributes as opposed to all the other traits I have to offer to the world. Can we please start respecting women a little bit more? Close your eyes — imagine another man saying the things you have said and doing the things you have done to your mom, sister, niece, closest female. Understanding this pattern has shown how shallow and systematic your actions are.

There's some good news. I am no longer mad at you. I realise your faults, your own fragility and inadequate emotional abilities, and I feel bad for you. I empathise with your struggles. You too have been failed, raised within limited constraints that inhibit your outlook. Because of your shortcomings, I have learned many important lessons. The past few years have felt like a lifetime, but in the grand scheme of things, I am still young, vibrant, and thriving, with my entire life ahead of me. I have now learned what may take many of my sisters out there more time to understand, though I hope not. I have a long life ahead of me, during which I will always carry these lessons. Another day will not pass without me striving to be an example and beacon for all the women in my life. Thanks to you, I am hell-bent on making sure the women all around me never have to feel the ways I did. I am inspired. I stand in awe of the women in my life with empathy and understanding pouring out of me. I will unflinchingly support the women of this world and strive to bring up a new generation of girls who will be free of the burden of people like you.

I was kind to you when you did not deserve it, for much too long. My goodwill has run out, and I will no longer struggle to obtain the affection of someone who doesn't care enough to walk me to the door after taking my clothes off or someone who will only accept my mouth on their c*ck as if I'm not worthy of their lips.

I urge you now to reflect on your habits, your attitudes, and the behaviours that have been silently engraved in your psyche. In life, just because you can doesn't mean you should. You have a lot of work ahead of you to attempt to tilt the karmic balance of the universe in your favour after all the negativity you have emitted into this world.

From now on, I promise to honour myself by not holding anyone else's opinion of me over my own opinion of myself. I deserve better, and from now on, I demand better. I am released of you, and I hope life is as kind to you as you have been to it.

All the best,
Tess

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