Self Esteem, Self Image, Happiness and Weight

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For women, losing weight and keeping the body at the right weight has an importance that extends beyond strictly physical issues. Weight means more than being an ideal weight or calorie counting.  It goes far beyond the boundaries of what the scale says. For many women, weight is about something less tangible and measurable. It is about self-esteem and one’s self-image.

Defining Self-Esteem

Simply stated, self esteem is defined as what you think of yourself. It is a general term used to define to what extent we love, like or approve of who we are. It is your opinion. While it is usually based on how you perceive the world, the relationships with your family and others growing up, the opinions of your peer group and a thousand other possible influences, self esteem boils down to this: your opinion, outlook and attitude concerning yourself. If you are said to have high self esteem, this indicates you are comfortable with who you are and have confidence in your abilities while poor self esteem indicates the opposite.


Self image is usually considered similar to self esteem. Yet, it is more closely associated with the physical appearance of the individual. Self image refers to how you believe you look. Similar to self esteem, there are many different factors that go into forming your self image. Research indicates the role of such things as the media in the current construct of the “ideal” body. Self image is often used interchangeably with body-image.

Self Esteem, Self Image and its Relationship to Weight

Self esteem and self image are linked when considering how many women regard their weight. The relationship is not a simple one. For example, research on women who suffer from various eating disorders indicates they have low self-esteem. They seek approval from others. One way they do so is by striving to become the ideal of perfection in Western society – thin. In attempting to do so, women put themselves at risk for developing eating disorders like bulimia. In fact, low self-esteem is a significant indicator of individuals who may be at risk of developing these kinds of eating disorders or other health problems.1 The risk is high particularly if low self esteem interacts with low self image and the desire to achieve perfection.

Women who attempt to become the ideal body also may face a serious problem if they fail. If they are unable through circumstances, genetics or other factors to achieve this goal, they reinforce their feelings of inadequacy. This lowers both their self esteem and self image. The result could be further determination to become thin in spite of all health risks. It could also result in becoming increasingly overweight as women turn to comfort food in an attempt to ease feelings of inadequacy.

When looking at men and women in terms of weight, Furnham et al (2002)2 discovered women more than men consistently described themselves as “fat.” Women weighed themselves more frequently and noted they were dieting. Women were more likely than men to state they were not happy with their weight or appearance. Overall, only in women was there an association between their dissatisfaction with the appearance and weight of their body and the concept of self esteem.

The interrelation of self esteem, self image and weight is obvious in many instances of obesity. Overweight and/or obese adolescent women and girls are more likely to have lower self esteem than are those young women who weigh within the normal or below normal range.3 The lower self esteem and self image arise from the association of lower weight with such aspects of life as:

  • Romantic appeal or attraction
  • Competence in sports and other athletics
  • Social acceptance
  • Overall self worth

In fact, those females who are perceived as and perceive themselves as overweight are affected in more ways than purely physical. The excess weight impacts upon different interactive aspects of their life. These can range from simple acceptance by peers and teachers to simple positive self esteem.

And What about Happiness?

If you have a low self image tied to low self esteem, the chances are you will not be happy. Happiness lies within the individual. Someone is not going to be happy who is:

  • Incapable of accepting themselves as they are
  • Incapable of perceiving the circumstances objectively
  • Unable to determine whether they actually do need to adjust their weight
  • Incapable of determining logically and accurately what is truly “normal” for them

They will not be able to improve their self esteem or self image. They will become trapped in a cycle of low self esteem and low self image and unhappiness. In fact having low self esteem may lead to depression in certain cases and under specific circumstances.4


The determination of the ideal weight for certain individuals has a huge impact on women. While the body mass index (BMI) may determine the ideal weight for women falls within a certain range, the media, friends, family and peer groups may make them believe it’s not accurate.

If you do not fall within the parameters of this manufactured ideal or do not live up to their expectations, it increases the risk of low self esteem and low body image which may also lead to some form of eating disorder. Anorexia and obesity are often reflections of the same problem. Individual women attempt to conform and in succeeding – becoming thin, thinner and thinnest, or failing to do so – become overweight or obese. Either way they tend to reinforce their already low levels of self esteem, body image and unhappiness.


1 Baumeister, RF; Campbell, JD; Krueger, JI; and Vohs, KD (2003). “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” Psychological Science In The Public Interest 4(1):2-44.

2 Furnham, A; Badmin, N; and Sneade, I (2002). “Body Image Dissatisfaction: Gender Differences in Eating Attitudes, Self-Esteem, and Reasons for Exercise.” Journal of Psychology, 136(6): 581–596.

3 O’Dea, JA (2006). “Self-concept, Self-esteem and Body Weight in Adolescent Females a Three-year Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Health Psychology, 11(4): 599–611.

4 Baumeister, et al. (O’Dea)


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