Self-esteem is a buzz word at the moment and has come to be associated with many things, image obsession, cyberbullying, anorexia, teen depression amongst others.
Yet when you strip it back to its Latin derivation - value of oneself - it's clear that we are focussing on the symptoms rather than treating the cause.
In fact self-esteem is a relatively recent newsworthy phenomenon. For along time it was confined to the realms of psychology and self-help books for adults in search of greater well-being. It was rarely discussed in the media, at home or at school.
But lack of self esteem has existed since the beginning of time and it is only in the past few years that we are finally acknowledging it's importance.
During the formative years between 0 and 5 the seeds of self-esteem are sown, through parental reinforcement of a child's talents and achievements. If there is emotional instability, disruption or lack of self confidence in a parent a child will learn to doubt first and believe second.
But even if your parents fill your bucket full with praise there are still subtle gender stereotypes that can undo all their good work. Sheryl Sandberg identified that complements for girls are often 'pretty' or 'cute' and for boys it's 'smart' or 'strong'. But if a girl tries to be tough she is considered bossy. These inconsequential remarks create early benchmarks that haunt you in adulthood. He didn't say I'm pretty, so I'm worthless. I'm a hard boss so that makes me a bitch.
But it is as a teenager that we face the greatest test of self-esteem. We become aware of how we look, how others see us and worst of all we become aware of a world that judges us. From every angle teens are told to be prettier, sexier, skinnier, to wax, to colour and to fake it. Very few talk about anything other than they we look.
And this is where the confusion lies. Self-esteem has become about the backlash against airbrushing and obsession with perfection, so it's still focussed on image, on hair skin and teeth. Of course loving oneself is about accepting one's freckles, frizzy hair and gappy teeth but this is the result of self-esteem not self-esteem itself.
True self-esteem is about discovering all the bits that make you unique and celebrating every one. And the net sum of all these traits and characteristics are a wonderful individual. It is about redefining beauty to be more than skin and teeth, to be the real you. Most of all the real you is more than good enough, it's great.
Yet media and brands are far from this definition.
Which female product has celebrated humour or courage or creativity in women? Which media focuses on anything other than beauty? Dove has got close with their self-esteem workshops that encourage girls to explore inner beauty but they are a lone voice.
The huge question of course is how can we create the step change when false ideas about beauty and ones worth are ingrained in society. The answer is simple, each parent needs to become more conscious, every educator needs to put self-esteem into their classes and the powers that be need to debating the new pandemic of low self-esteem. And the change has to happen as teen suicide is on the increase, the cyberworld is fuelling self-worthlessness and happiness in many countries is at an all time low.
My small and personal contribution is a trilogy of books that help build self-esteem. Books help you on the inside, they trigger imagination and connect with your private interior world. The Ugly Little Girl is about a little girl who doesn't like herself much and escapes in her pyjamas to a magic night school for self-esteem. There the children explore who they are in the truth mirror and nurture their true passions. There is no stupid or clever or good or bad, just acceptance and appreciation of what makes you, you.
If only real school was like that.
If you're a parent reading this, or a teacher or an adult who suffered from low self-esteem please join the movement. It's a very intangible problem yet it can be as damaging as a punch in the face or worse. Children won't start believing in themselves until we accept how big the problem is and commit to helping them.