By Khalida Jalil
Taking about 200 selfies every day, a teenage boy almost killed himself due to his addiction.
When she did not earn grades high enough to attend her first-choice university, a smart teen took her life.
While undergoing surgery for beauty purposes, Iranians most commonly choose to do a nose surgery. If that is not surprising enough, Iran is one of the top 10 countries in the world for performing plastic surgeries.
These are all three different stories, but they have one commonality: Self-esteem.
When we post a selfie on social media, we often expect viewers to ‘Like’ the picture and/or ‘Comment’ on it. However, it becomes destructive when we begin to crave that ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’. We claim that our self-esteem is not built up on people’s praises, but still have an unhealthy attachment to praise.
How do we react when someone comments, “You look alright,” or “You are ugly”? Does that shatter us? Does that make us doubt ourselves?
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that taking selfies indicates having a low self-esteem. The problem is not with taking selfies; the problem is with our intentions and objectives behind taking them. Do we take selfies so people can praise us, or is it for some other reason?
As humans, we enjoy being praised because in the instances that we are praised, our brain releases dopamine, a pleasure hormone in the brain. Although it is generally important for our bodily functions, excessive dopamine levels do play a role in forming addictions (read: 200 selfies per day story!). So it clearly isn’t healthy to base our self-esteem on people’s praises or criticisms.
It is important, however, to be realistic.
We may not look like celebrities on a daily basis, but guess what! They themselves wish that they looked like that. Why, you ask?
Because the beauty standards on the media are not real. The images are all fictitious facades hiding flaws through Adobe, Photoshop, filters, make-up, and even surgery in some cases.
We may not be as “beautiful” as some people we see, but we are beautiful in our own way. Imagine a world where everyone looked the same. Wouldn’t that be boring? I think so.
Through the media, we also see posts by “successful” people who have the “best” careers, the “perfect” families, and the “happiest” lives.
How can we possibly develop and maintain a positive self-esteem amidst all the standards that the media, our families, and our cultures set for us?
Well, self-esteem consists of how we view ourselves and others. And how we view ourselves includes how we value, respect, and trust ourselves (e.g. trusting our ability to learn, judge, and/or decide); it also includes our competence in handling life’s challenges.
Do not worry – Developing a good self-esteem is a gradual, dynamic process. It takes both effort and time. So take it slowly.
The best way to nurture a healthy self-esteem, in my opinion, is to understand the Quran as if it is addressing us – which, it is. We often do not think that the Quran teaches us about confidence and how to have a good self-image, but it does.
In the Quran, we learn that we have value and are honorable simply because we were created by Allah:
“…وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ…”
And We have definitely honored the son of Adam (al-Israa; 17: 70)
Our value and honor are not dependent on what people think of us, how we look, what grades we earn, the job we hold, our salary, or where we are from.
Our worth and honor are based on how God views us. Our value is in how God-conscious we are, that is, how we conduct ourselves based on God’s words.
“The father of the self-esteem movement” Dr. Nathaniel Branden, says in his book The Power of Self-Esteem, “We cannot work on self-esteem directly, neither our own nor anyone else’s, because self-esteem is a consequence — a product of internally generated practices — such as that of living consciously, responsibly, purposefully, and with integrity”.
And subhanAllah, we have been taught all this in the Quran:
Allah tells us why He created us so that we live our lives with that purpose in mind. He reminds us to have taqwa – to follow Allah’s commands and stay away from His prohibitions to protect ourselves from His punishment – which essentially requires us to live consciously and responsibly.
Living consciously helps us to assess ourselves realistically, rather than negatively. It teaches us to exert our utmost effort into anything we do, but to then leave its results to Allah. If we do not reach the perfection we aimed for, we do not pressure ourselves because we know that we invested our best effort into it.
This subsequently teaches us to accept ourselves as we are, even if there is a characteristic in us that we do not like. We then learn to acknowledge our strengths, accept our mistakes as learning opportunities, and aim for improvement. We do not obsess about our “flaws”; instead, we correct ourselves to the best of our abilities and work on what we can change.
By living consciously, responsibly, purposefully, and with integrity, we naturally value, respect, and trust ourselves. We would then begin to live in a way where we can best cope with life’s challenges and interact with others in a healthy manner.
Let us always remember that while we should beautify ourselves outwardly, we should not forget to beautify our soul and character too, both of which are the main foundations for a positive self-esteem and success in both worlds.
Disclaimer: In this article, I am not referring to surgeries needed for health reasons; I am talking about surgeries people undergo solely for “beauty” purposes. I believe in feeling comfortable in the body God created us with.