Negative self-image…it seems to be a plague upon man and woman, adult and child, and perhaps it hits most monstrously the teenager and younger woman. It punches at our self-esteem and attacks our fundamental self-worth. Why is self-image such a powerhouse of negativity in our lives?
It begins fundamentally with the world “self.” Note that self-image does not necessary imply a true image. What it means is that it is the way we see ourselves. And often, if we see ourselves incorrectly, it may also mean that we see others incorrectly as well. Because a good deal of negative self-image is spurred by comparison. But the negativity spurs from an even deeper place. The real problem is much further under the surface that most of us ever suppose.
I remember the day I changed my self-image, and it happened in a way that I would never have expected. And the change didn’t take place in my appearance. What I saw in the mirror didn’t change. Other people’s fundamental appearance or actions didn’t change. What changed was my sudden discovery of a truth—a fabulous and amazing truth.
I am not an object.
It seems to me that one of the primary issues with all of the problems that revolve around self-image, self-esteem, and even self-worth revolve around the false idea that we are an object. I’m talking about self-objectification. Now, let me explain.
If I see myself as an object of sex, then I’m going to weigh my self-image against what the world tells me the perfect object of sex looks like, or acts like. If I see my body as an object to be used in sex, then I’m going to hate it unless I can somehow transform it into what the perfect sex object looks like.
But what if I have the perfect Barbie or Ken body? Am I safe from objectification? No. Because I’m still functioning under a lie. I will treat others—who do not look like sex objects—with contempt. And, at some point, the lie will be revealed. I will eventually be rejected even though I look like a perfect sex object. What then happens to me? I may mentally create imperfections to be fixed? I may imagine I overweight when I’m not? I may become more overt in my actions to get attention. I may become subject to an eating disorder or depression.
When we derive our personal value based on the belief that we function only as an object, we will always undervalue ourselves. We will always see ourselves in comparison to other objects. We will develop the idea that our “use” is where our value comes from.
Let’s talk about other types of objectification.
What if I see myself as a sports object? My body is then an object to be used for sports. If I determine my value based on how well my body performs as a sports object, then anytime I fail to perform as well as I’d like, or anytime I perform worse than other object of sports, I will assume there is something wrong with me or that I’m not good enough. My self-image will plummet because it is based on my “use” as a sports object.
What if I see myself as a mom-object? Then, when I fail to do what other mom-objects do, I will find reason to devalue myself as a mother. Or, when my kids at last leave home I will become depressed because my function is no longer needed. Right?
What if I see myself as a business-person? My objectification is in regards to my “use” as an object of business. My talents in business define my value. If I fail in business, then I lose value.
What is an object?
An object is something that has no life. It does not have complex potential. It is developed to be of use to beings that have life and will power. An object serves a specific function. An object can be a goal, an ideal, a building, or a tool.
A person never will be, and never should be, an object. This is because people are not for the “use” of other people. People are not “tools” of other people. People are not “goals” of other people.
Using other people, or ourselves, is objectification. Making a person a goal is obsession—a form of objectification. Neither is healthy. Neither is right. All objectification of a person—with infinite capacities and potential—is wrong and will lead to actions that damage self and society.
Pornography is a form of objectification. Either we objectify someone else so that we can “use” them for our own pleasure. We turn them into objects. Or, we objectify ourselves trying to “use” others to create value in ourselves as a sex-object. We dress and act in ways so that people will see us as objects of sex to be “used” by them. All-in-all, no matter what the world says, a disgusting and incorrect thing to do.
Self-mutilation is a form of self-objectification. We turn our body into an object that we can damage in an attempt to make ourselves feel better, or to punish ourselves for being worthless, or to make a point to another person that we are willing to damage ourselves to get their attention. We are using our body as an object to make a point—the same object that is trying to keep us alive every moment of every day.
The ability to hurt ourselves comes when we turn ourselves into an object. Suicide may also result from the idea of self-objectification. The powerful sense of failure to “be” what people expect, or even what we expect, may find its root in self-objectification.
Objectification is not satisfying
In John 3:16 we learn that God (our Heavenly Father) sent the Savior, Jesus Christ—and Jesus was Himself willing to do it—to suffer and die and expiate and heal all sin and human infirmity. No object can be atoned for because it has no action. An object cannot sin. An object can not do good. Thus, the atonement of Jesus Christ was for you and I—children of God, humans with godly potential. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). We were created “to act (or to use objects), not to be acted upon” (or to be used) (2 Nephi 2:14).
We were not created to “use” each other, though because of imperfection and sin we often try. And because of imperfection and sin we often let others use us. But, at some point we must come to understand that this “use” is ineffectual. When we allow others to use us it does not bring lasting peace or joy. And, when we use others, it does not bring us lasting peace, joy, or fulfillment.
One of the snares of turning ourselves into an object of desire is that it creates, rather than solves, our negative self-image. It creates misery instead of self-worth. Even if for a while we consider ourselves as having succeeded as looking or acting like an object of desire, at some point it leads to pride and contempt for others to whom we compare ourselves.
One of the snares of pornography is that it becomes addictive because it is not ultimately satisfying. It creates, instead, an immediate hideous self-loathing and misery that is never outweighed by the fleeting sexual pleasure. People return to it again and again—eventually seeking new and more exciting objects of pleasure—because the other objects became too familiar and boring. The addiction begins with the justification of objectifying others for self-pleasure. However, most people do not realize that this is what they are doing. Some do, and do it anyway.
The same snares can be found in any objectification—as a mother, sports-figure, etc. At some point all objectification leads to pride and conceit or self-loathing, hatred, and despair. Thus, part of the cure for any of these personal struggles lies in reversing this tendency to objectify.
I have always been a healthy person. I grew up learning many talents. I could sing, play sports well, and move about as well as anyone could. But as I got into my early teen years—the years when most of us really begin to take notice of our self-image—I began to notice that I was much taller than other girls. Not only was I taller, I was just a bigger person. I was not overweight, but I felt overweight simply because I was bigger. I was taller than all the boys—that didn’t help. So, I began to objectify myself as an object of desire.
If I wasn’t desirable to boys then it was because there was a fundamental flaw in me. I wasn’t functioning well as an object. I compared myself to all the girls who did seem to be “functioning” well as objects of desire. And, I always fell short.
Now, I did not realize that what I was doing back then was self-objectification. I went to church. I had an amazing family. I had been taught since I took breath in this world that I was a child of God. But, I didn’t know how to reconcile that with my inability to “function” as I thought I should. I wasn’t of “use.”
Now, if you’d asked me, “Do you want to be ‘used’ by others?” I would have answered emphatically, “No!” But that’s because I didn’t understand what I was doing. And, I didn’t understand until I was in my early 30s.
I remember the day so clearly. I was at the gym, walking on the treadmill, horrifically comparing myself as an object to all the other objects in the room (because that was how I saw them…though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing). And, as always, my body—as an object—fell short in comparison to others bodies—as objects.
Then, so tired an exhausted of feeling negative about myself…since I recently gone through a divorce. I got fed up! I was just too tired to do this anymore. It was then that I looked around the room and saw everything differently. What I saw were people. They were all people, with bodies like mine. Bodies that did amazing things. Bodies that were healthy and strong and powerful. Bodies that could walk and move and run and lift weights. Bodies that could serve and bless. Bodies that were moms and dads and friends and sisters. Bodies that held the minds of people with infinite potential.
Then, it hit me, “Bam!” I am not an object. You are not an object. No human being is an object. We are children of God with talents, wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and a capacity that makes inanimate, lifeless objects worthless. People are of infinite worth. We are not, nor ever will be, objects.
So, how do we stop objectifying ourselves and others? How do we find our self-worth, our true self-image, and increase our self-esteem? How do we strengthen our capacity to stop comparing ourselves? How do we begin the process of overcoming some addictions?
Pick up any object in your house—any object. Now, ask yourself, “What do I use this for?” Do this with as many objects as you can see. It is critical to learn to see the difference between an object and yourself—between an object and another person.
Notice especially that you are the operator of every object you pick up. Not only are you not an object, you are one of the only beings in all of existence that can make use of and operate, even create, every object within your sight. Objects are inanimate. They can’t operate one another. You are alone in your ability to see an object, recognize its function, and make use of it to do good in your own life and in the world.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, or when you see other people in the world, you must see them as children of God (Romans 8:16-17), with the potential—if they seek it—to become very much like Him! You, and any person in the world, have the capacity to shape lives, change lives, and to change the world. No object can do that. An object in the use of a person can. You are that person. You are not the object.
Your value is not in how others can make use of you. Your value is not in how you can make use of yourself. Your value is not in how you can make use of others. Your value lies in your potential to use real objects (not people) to create a life of happiness and peace.
Another critical aspect of learning to value yourself and recognize your potential is to realize the power that is in your body—in you. Study about what your brain does every second of every day. Read about how you develop cognitively, how you are capable of learning and growing and being creative unlike any other being. Read about what your physical body does every second of every day. It’s miraculous! Learn to see the wonder in the power your body has to keep you alive and to do amazing things. Bask in the power a human being has to change. We don’t respond merely to instinct. We can choose how to respond, or how to bridle, instinct. It’s amazing! Your body is you. And you are a being of power.
You have power
As you learn to not objectify yourself and others, you will begin to notice, very clearly, when others try to objectify you. Do not allow them to do it. If you see others objectifying themselves, help them to see that they are not objects. Help them to see their value and potential.
As you begin to see yourself as what you are, a powerful being, you will find empowerment to define yourself by that potential and power. You will wake up anxious to use your power to make a difference in the world and to help others. You will wake up happy to make use of real objects in their correct functions and in ways that bring true happiness and peace to yourself and others. You will be less tempted to compare yourself or to value yourself, or others, by how they function as an object. You will be better at seeing similarities, that they are very like you—subject to their own genetics and life circumstances, and simply doing the best they can with what they have to be happy in their lives.
The only satisfaction, peace, and joy that can be found is in learning to see ourselves and others as we really are—human beings, children of God, with the capacity to act, with the power to make our lives what we wish (without objectifying others), and learning to use real objects in ways that bring peace and joy to the world. Now go and find that satisfaction and peace—you can have both of those things precisely because you are not an object. You have power that no object ever will.