Effects of Discrimination on Self-esteem

Written by Dr. RJ

  |  Reviewed by Jen Bell

One of the many obstacles on the path to good self-esteem and a healthy body image is discrimination. Discrimination is often defined as the unjust and prejudicial treatment of people based on a particular category they belong to. This includes marginalized groups of people based on race, mental and physical disabilities, LGBTQIA+ status, religion, and other identities. When we think about what self-esteem is — the way we feel about ourselves and how we think about our own worth and value — it can be easy to see how discrimination impacts our self-esteem. When people treat someone unfairly because of things they identify with or that are inherently part of who they are, it can lead to all sorts of unfavorable impacts like chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. This in turn can impact negatively on an individual’s self-esteem, especially if that individual lets other people’s opinions weigh heavily on them.

Discrimination can cause people to begin to believe that they are not worth much. Often youth might wonder “Why me?” This is because they don’t understand why someone might treat them in a different manner. Discrimination serves to make people believe they don’t deserve certain things that are a basic right for everyone. For example, when some people don’t have opportunities to participate in certain clubs or activities, it can be because of discrimination. In some schools, certain students get to be in advanced classes more than other students, and typically it is Black students and people of color that are kept out of those classes. People with physical disabilities may be passed up for a job; or perhaps a person is not promoted solely because of what they look like or that they identify as a woman, instead of basing that promotion on the work they have performed.

Remember, there are many ways to counter the external challenges you will face in your journey to develop a healthy body image and self-esteem. Since Day 1, you’ve had everything you need within yourself – don’t let the world convince you that you do not. Know that YOU are inherently worthy and have the power to love yourself in the way you desire by making small choices and commitments to yourself everyday. Remind yourself of this truth daily. With practice it will get easier and you will likely start to notice a difference in the way you feel.