Originally posted on Facebook ~ 14 February 2016 here.
It may come as a surprise to a lot of people but I’ve spent many years dealing with low self-esteem. It’s not been a constant struggle like one may assume, it comes and goes. But it’s a battle I’ve fought to varying degrees of success.
Self-esteem, the emotional evaluation of oneself and one’s own worth, takes many forms and can have many focuses.
Many judge themselves based on very specific criteria or standards such as their appearance, their weight, work and finances, relationships and how successfully they interact with others, etc. Some may even use much more “obtuse” criteria like social media followings or equating possessions with success, and so on. Some may focus on just one of these categories while others may take on multiple things.
When we don’t meet those standards we can beat ourselves up about it regardless of what we know or what others tell us. On the other hand, if we do attain or exceed them there’s potential to get too wrapped up in it. How we perceive these elements and how we value them can affect our behaviour and choices as well as our general emotional well-being.
It can either drive us forward or stop us in our tracks.
These days I tend to dance all along the spectrum between self-loathing and over-confidence and sometimes the transitions happen so quickly I get whiplash. But it wasn’t always like that. It’s rather tough to explain let alone analyse.
For a while there I felt as though I didn’t matter, which is bizarre. I live a good life, I did very well in school, I have a supportive family and great friends, I didn’t exactly have it as easy as some have assumed as there were the usual obstacles many of us encounter but I never faced dire hardships that might’ve ended me. And yet, along the way I had periods where I felt I just wasn’t good enough.
And it’s difficult to pinpoint where any of it came from. I mean I could guess and rattle off a small laundry list of ideas: Being Asian and growing up in Australia surrounded by folks that didn’t look like me made me question whether or not I fit in? After high school I put on a lot of weight. I’ve “officially” been single forever (yeah, it’s too complicated to get into here) but once upon a time I wasn’t very successful in that department. I’ve spent the better part of a decade working as a graphic designer but it’s been so tough to get steady work in a small city like Adelaide. I could go on but these and other factors made me question myself, my abilities, and my value in the world.
Now some of those things may not seem too terrible to many of you but unless you’re experiencing them in your own head then there’s no way to understand how these things can build up over time and become this dark figure whispering in your ear. Besides, I’m not saying that these were the causes of my low self-esteem but they most likely didn’t help.
What changed? Well it depends in what area. Some were light bulb moments, some were a lot of hard work, and some things haven’t really budged that much.
University life influenced me to be more outgoing (I love pub crawls). The more outgoing I became the more people I met and the more comfortable I grew. And all I had to do was be myself of course. That’s something I had to discover over time and I eventually came out of my shell (for the most part). At one point I went to karaoke every week and that experience helped me be more comfortable in front of people and in some instances a little more comfortable on stage (I have my own coping mechanisms for that).
I stopped looking for “the one” and just enjoyed going out and meeting new people. At the same time I fully embraced my nerdy interests and pursuits as I no longer thought of them as “lady repellent”. And that led to meeting a lot of wonderful, like-minded women. Not to brag but I do okay these days for a fat little bloke!
This ability to talk in front of people and well as to them has been a great help in my career as a designer. Being able to engage clients, suppliers, even co-workers is absolutely vital and has helped me get over the line in interviews in the past but I must admit that it was always a struggle to get that interview in the first place and it still is. So that is still a work-in-progress.
None of these are perfect mind you as I still have my moments. There’s still effort to be made and to maintain but from what I was to what I am now is a marked difference.
Self-Esteem and Cosplay
Cosplay has played an important part of my life for the last 9 years and in a symbiotic manner, my self-esteem has not only been transformed by the hobby but my direction and embracing of the hobby has been informed by my self-esteem.
Just being seen in public in a costume requires a certain level of confidence because it’s an open and rather showy hobby. But if you were to look at most of my choices over the years then you might see a pattern…
The majority of my costumes cover my face. At best this is perhaps a coincidence as I don’t purposely pick characters that hide my features, I just pick ones that I like. If there truly is something more going on under the surface then that is kind of fascinating. If I were to over-analyse this I might come to the conclusion that this relates back to one of my issues to do with body image or even a possible self-loathing about my heritage. Being Asian, born and raised in Australia I didn’t have a lot of Asian influences. Hell, I’ve said elsewhere many times that my childhood heroes were a truck, a turtle, and balding starship captain.
I must also admit to the cocoon-like nature of some of those outfits. There’s a comfort in that. They might be fake but some of those armoured suits feel like they do protect me from the nastiness outside (even the bio-hazard suit with the clear face shield).
The confidence that I have developed through cosplay has helped me grow as a person but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
As I mentioned before, body image is sometimes still a bugbear of mine. I always do my best to encourage cosplay regardless of body shape and you know I try my best with that too (I’m way too short to be a 7 foot Spartan from Halo) but comments that focus on my weight, even in jest, have bothered me in the past. I mean it still bothers me but I try to brush it off.
I also get annoyed when people focus on my ethnicity. I know that’s strange but I didn’t spend all this time and money on an Iron Man armour just to be called “Asian Tony Stark” over and over again. Nor do I appreciate boring cosplay suggestions just because the character is Asian. It makes me wonder whether or not people see me beyond my squinty little eyes? And if they don’t then why do I bother? That’s the spiral I have fallen down before when shit like that occurs.
My least favourite thing to get hung up on is my social media. It’s a terrible thing to fixate on but it happens, we all do it to various levels. There are people who declare over and over until they are blue in the face that “likes” don’t matter yet still count them or have a sook when no one pays attention to their page and posts. I’ve tripped over this myself, get annoyed when I post something I am proud of and no one sees it. I can tell that maybe Facebook has limited the reach of the post but I get the nagging feeling that maybe no one really liked it. I’ve been known to get pissy in the past when I see lesser makers get more followers than myself. I’ve succumbed to this pettiness once upon a time and I hated myself for it. I hated that I questioned my work, I doubted my abilities, I thought that maybe my looks played a part, I’d go through so many combinations just to figure out what the hell was going on. Again that spiral.
Am I completely past it all and over it?
But I do my best to build myself back up again. Sometimes that is much more of a struggle than I care to have experienced.
The lowest of lows
A few years ago I experienced traumas that set my development back quite a ways. Someone I trusted like family not only stabbed me in the back for a “better offer” but they sided with a someone who thought bullying me would be fun. There are no words to properly describe how horrible a human being this person is. I was already at my lowest point when this narcissist targeted me with threats and what I can only call “suicide encouragement”. Not only did I feel worthless but for a brief period I felt unsafe because of how unstable this individual was (he’s been described as abusive to his partners).
Although the person closest to me walked out on me I eventually found that I did have people I could turn to and I will forever be grateful to them for all their help and support. I also threw myself into my hobby. I distracted myself from the barrage of abuse and the attempted smear campaign. I did what I do best: be me. And that entailed making things, having fun being creative, being honest and genuine with the people around me, as well as open about what was going on.
It was a long climb but I soon crawled out of the hole I was hiding inside my mind. I made my way back better than ever, more defiant than before, and adamant that I would never let another feel that way or be the target of such horrendous bullying. This is why I write, tackle various topics, and tell others about the goings on that many may not be aware of.
This individual is still around, looking for sympathy and attention, lying about his work bought from the RPF, pretending to be a victim, manipulating people with his money.)
Building myself up to a level I am comfortable with (or trying to anyway) doesn’t always work as intended. Sometimes I overshoot the mark and get a bit too sure of myself. And I’ve seen this in others too but that’s for next week’s “sermon”.
We spend so much energy telling one another that “likes” don’t matter, that we should cosplay anything we want regardless of our shape, colour, gender, etc, and that we shouldn’t rely on the opinions of others to determine our self worth. And yet we sometimes don’t listen to ourselves.
KNOWING these things isn’t the same as FEELING these things. And that can screw you over.
There is no magic solution to confidence and a good self-esteem.
You’ll notice that in some of the instances I described I seem to magically overcome my issues. Obviously that wasn’t the case but in all honesty it’s difficult to explain what happens in one’s mind, what switches get flipped in order to get something going. I’m not the type of person that tells you to “just do it”, life doesn’t work that way. What worked for me won’t be the solution for someone else. I had a combination of good people I can trust as well as diving into something I am passionate about and good at.
We can often feel pointless and without direction or purpose. I think a lot of people come to hobbies like cosplay to find that direction but even then it’s tough to feel like you belong. So then maybe I think it goes back to finding out what drives you in the first place? What is it you want to get out of it? And if you can’t answer that then perhaps finding something else to hold and latch onto and keep you anchored could help.
It’s only ever a starting point but it’s an important one.
Here endeth the sermon.
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